Nikola Motors and Tesla Inc have several things in common. Possibly the most obvious – for those of us interested in history – is Nikola Tesla, a very famous electrical engineer who designed an AC powered induction motor, a radio controlled boat and really helped define the alternating current structure that we all use today.
As an aside, Nikola Tesla was one of millions of people who through military history could technically claim multiple citizenships. He was born as an ethnic Serb in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in what is now called Croatia! He ended up as an American citizen.
Both companies specialise in electric vehicles and both have launched electric trucks this year. Nikola Motors was founded in 2014 – about twelve years after Tesla Inc and are based in Salt Lake City in Utah. Their first concept is now called a Utility Task Vehicle and they have created a division called Powersports to sell it. This vehicle uses a motor on each wheel with around 100Kwh batteries providing the power. It is called the Nikola Zero.
For their next vehicle, the Nikola One, they designed a massive truck using six electric motors providing a combined equivalent of 1,000hp. To give the truck a range of 800-1200 miles, the company has found a different way to provide power to the lithium batteries that ultimately power the motors – they have fitted 300Kw hydrogen fuel cells that are fed from tanks containing the compressed hydrogen. Here’s a short video from Nikola Motors of the truck:
To accomodate the market, Nikola has developed their own version of the Tesla supercharger – an “H2 Station” that can fill a truck tank in 15 minutes. The first network will cover 2,000 miles and include sixteen stations with a further fourteen to be installed later. The H2 Station will use electricity to perform a hydrolysis process to create hydrogen onsite. It’s a circular process: use electricity to create hydrogen that is then converted into an electric charge to fill a lithium battery that powers an electric motor!
The plan is to hold 4,000 kgs in storage for vehicles to purchase and each station could produce as much as 29,000 kgs a day. By the way, New York is only 2,900 miles from San Francisco, so their network covers most of the coast-to coast journey and could easily be expanded if successful.
Tesla’s truck on the other hand uses their tried and tested rechargeable battery packs to power four motors. Interestingly both trucks look very similar with aerodynamic styling and both are absolute head-to-head competitors – so much so that Nikola has launched a $2B lawsuit against Tesla claiming infringements of patents awarded to Nikola.
The battle continues on though – in the emerging market place. Tesla said that they received 450 pre-orders when they launched their truck and then Nikola announced 800 of their trucks had been pre-ordered by Anheuser Busch, the beer company. Tesla then announced that they had increased their pre-orders to 2,000 including some from the same customer! Another difference appears to to be company cashflows: Nikola allows you to pre-order with zero down whilst Tesla requires around $20,000. It is known that Tesla has an open financial artery that is pumping out more money than is going in, so they desperately need the cash.
I like the Nikola One, it looks like it will be a winner – I think Tesla are still too focused on the future with their untested AutoPilot. I say untested because it still hasn’t been tested in all situations and we can see that with some of the high profile accidents that have occurred this year. If you think a car accident is bad, wait until a Tesla Semi has one!
The Nikola One is a good looking truck as well – the days of big ugly juggernauts are long gone. The Nikola One still looks a little futuristic yet has been designed to eke out as much economy through better airflow and aerodynamics. Nikola have also worked hard in the past four years to define the vehicle and (importantly) the eco-system that is needed to ensure that the trucks can be used across the US, their home market. That means that they have created partnerships for the H2 Stations and for servicing of the vehicles.