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Nikola electric transport truck in the works

320 kWh battery would grant range of 1,475 km on electricity alone

Published: June 14, 2016, 10:30 PM
Updated: June 21, 2016, 3:29 PM

Nikola One

Another electric vehicle company aims to cash in on the Nikola Tesla name, and this one is hoping to do for long-range trucking what Elon Musk’s Tesla is doing for luxury sedans.

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Nikola Motor Company has unveiled the design of its first electric vehicle — an electric hauler with a natural gas powered range extending engine — and it makes a lot of sense.

First of all, because of its size, it can be equipped with a massive battery pack — 320 kWh, compared to the 18.4 of the Chevrolet Volt. Using simple math (because that’s the way electricity works), that would mean a range of about 1,475 km on electricity alone. The maker claims an overall range of 1,200 miles, which means an extension of 400-500 km on the NGV generator.

The bad news is that it takes about 4.5 hours to fully recharge a Volt battery pack plugged into a 240V outlet (like that used by your stove or dryer). However, we don’t expect owners of the Nikola One to have the truck off the road for the three days it would take to fully recharge the trucks battery. Rather, truckers are most likely to make use of the growing network of DC (direct current) charging stations that are able to put about 400 km worth of electricity into a battery in about an hour, or about the time of a rest stop with a meal.

That would quite automatically add in the mandatory rest stops that many jurisdictions are mandating long-haul truck drivers take. And, it would eliminate the possibility of fudging the logs because the truck driver wouldn’t have a choice but to stop for an hour in order to get another four hours’ worth of highway driving. If they want to stop for less time (say for only 20 minutes), they would just have to stop more often.

Since natural gas is still not a widely available fuel source for vehicles, pushing the driving into the NGV range would be a gamble. Some would probably take it but many likely wouldn’t. And if the 320 kWh battery is a reality, I would recommend doing completely away with the range extender and make the trucking companies make do on electricity alone.

On that note, trucking companies would be able to install their own DC chargers at their depots and completely recharge a truck overnight.

Now, the company claims the truck doesn’t need to be plugged in because the onboard turbine charges the battery as the truck’s on the road but that doesn’t make sense because the fuel to run the turbine would eventually run out and then the batteries would deplete with no quick way to top them up (the truck naturally takes advantage of regenerative braking but that contributes peanuts toward increasing driving range).

“Our technology is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions,” claims Nikola CEO Trevor Martin. “We are the only OEM to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds.”

The efficiency claims may seem pie-in-the-sky, but the idea of an electric truck is apparently gaining momentum, with Martin claiming Nikola has already received 7,000 pre-orders (worth about $2.3 million US to the startup). The company is hoping to build and unveil a prototype by the end of 2016. The company also claims it needs more than ten times that amount to build the prototype and start production.

Only early, vague specs are available at this time but Nikola claims a 6x6 electric drivetrain, with motors supplying 2,000 hp and 3,700 lb-ft of torque.

The truck was designed by former Isuzu of America’s commercial truck head designer Steve Jennes (now Nikola’s Chief Designer).