There are around 6.5m trucks circulating around the European Union, carrying more than 70% of all freight transported over land. In North America the number of trucks is even larger, comprising an estimated 15.5m vehicles.
And each of these professional long-haul trucker travels, on average, more than 100,000 miles (161,000km) every year.
If they’re travelling in a diesel vehicle, that’s a whole lot of CO2 and NOx being splurted out into the environment.
The industry has long known this, and with on eye on coming regulatory change, has flirted with the idea of electric vehicles. The problem has always been range, as most electric vehicles can only manage short distances. And the price — it’s difficult to find efficient and affordable batteries for trucks.
Oh, and infrastructure — there aren’t enough charging points around a country, or a whole continent, to reliably power the vehicles at regular intervals.
Which is where enterprising CEO Trevor Milton comes in. In 2012 he founded Nikola Motor, a company pushing to find a way of producing a zero-emission ‘Class 8’ truck that would lower fuel costs for truckers.
His big innovation has been to switch from regular batteries to hydrogen fuel cells. Not only are these much lighter, which is beyond important for trucks transporting 70% of a country’s freight, but they also emit only water and can be refuelled much more quickly.
Nikola’s flagship product, Tre, has a 750-mile range (1200km), in part because of innovative design features: The truck comes equipped with a mirrorless camera system, instead of wing mirrors, allowing the vehicles to be more aerodynamic.
The company is proving incredibly popular: a recent valuation set the company at $3 billion USD, and they’ve already generated 14,000 pre-orders.
Major funding round
Nikola has just secured a $250m investment from CNH Industrial as leaders in Series D funding, which Nikola anticipates will raise over $1bn dollars.
CNH, which owns FPT Industrial and IVECO, aims to help accelerate the trucking industry towards “emission neutrality” across North America and Europe through the adoption of fuel-cell technology — in which the ‘eco trucks’ will be as cheap or cheaper than diesel alternatives.
Nikola stresses that hydrogen fuel-cell technology is the obvious next step for liquified natural gas (LNG)-powered engines as they can make use of existing refuelling networks and enable on-site production of hydrogen. CNH’s companies have between them powered or produced engines for almost 70,000 LNG trucks and buses.
Nikola says these partners will be invaluable to developing the required hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in North America and Europe.
This is something Milton says he’s keen on: working with competitors in the field to develop the charging infrastructure that other hydrogen-powered vehicles could make use of.
The partnership will affect the Nikola ONE, a NAFTA- compliant Class 8 sleeper truck; the Nikola TWO, a NAFTA-compliant Class 8 day-cab truck; and the Nikola TRE, a European compliant cab-over Heavy Duty Truck.