New Nikola Motor president Mark Russell recently provided some updates on the company’s efforts to establish its hydrogen refueling stations across the United States, as well as his thoughts about rivals like the Tesla Semi and other hybrid trucks like the modified Kenworth-Toyota T680 long-hauler that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January.
Russell, who used to serve as Worthington Industries’ president and chief operating officer, notes that Nikola is notably different from other ventures that he had been involved with in the past, thanks in part to the trucking startup’s pace. “We get so much done; it’s just dizzying,” he said.
Nikola Motor had changed directions several times over the past years. At one point, the company had announced plans for the production of a truck powered by hydrogen and natural gas, before shifting to an initiative aimed at developing hybrid battery-electric and fuel cell hydrogen long-haulers. Most recently, Nikola announced that it would also be producing battery-electric trucks, placing its vehicles in even more direct competition with the Tesla Semi, a vehicle that is expected to begin production late 2019 or sometime next year.
Speaking with trucking publication FreightWaves, Russell explained that the Tesla Semi would not be competing with its long-haul vehicles like the Nikola One, due to the Semi’s limited battery range. The Tesla Semi is offered at 300-mile and 500-mile variants, though Elon Musk has teased that improvements to the vehicle’s design will place the truck’s range closer to 600 miles per charge. This is impressive for a pure-electric truck, but still less than the range of the hydrogen-powered Nikola One, which is expected to have a range of over 1,000 miles. The Nikola President notes that the Tesla Semi is rather simple, and it is a vehicle that the trucking startup could easily do.
“Their truck is our truck with a bigger battery, and we can easily do that. It Nikola’s recent electric vehicle announcement is not as big a deal as people are making it out to be. It’s not a strategy shift. Our model is still attacking the long haul market. We will sell battery electric vehicles based on the same design, and they’ll be great vehicles for those applications. If Tesla can produce their truck and meet the specs, we’ll be competing with them in that market. Tesla doesn’t have anything to compete with us in long-haul,” he said.
Russell also asserted that Nikola would be producing all its hydrogen from renewable resources. The exec further added that the use of hydrogen, provided that it is drawn from renewable energy, is even more environmentally-friendly than the use of batteries to store energy.
“That’s the problem with renewables; they only generate when the wind blows, or the sun shines, and what do you do with them when you don’t need it? You have to store it. One solution is to buy expensive batteries that consume commodities scarce on this planet and then have hazardous waste when they are done. Or you can make hydrogen. Once you’ve made hydrogen and stored it, it can sit there forever. It doesn’t degrade. It doesn’t leak. And when you turn it back into electricity, it becomes water. It’s an elegant, beautiful, simple solution for storing energy, so much better than batteries. You break down water; you put it back together,” he said.
With regards to other hybrid trucks that have been unveiled recently, such as the modified Kenworth-Toyota T680 long-hauler that debuted at the CES, Russell proved mostly unimpressed, stating that such projects are more like a Frankenstein monster that’s cobbled together from existing components. The executive explained that Nikola’s trucks would be designed from the ground up to be environmentally-friendly vehicles, and this is something that will make them truly unique.
Nikola has a tendency to be quite protective of its vehicles. Last year, the trucking startup filed a lawsuit against Tesla claiming that the Semi’s design was copied from the Nikola One. Neither Nikola nor Tesla has issued an official update about the case so far. Nikola Motor is currently preparing for its Nikola World Exhibition this coming April 16-17, where the company is expected to showcase its vehicles like the Nikola Two daycab and the Nikola Tre, a vehicle designed for European markets.