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Future Wars: Hydrogen vs. Electric Semi-Trucks

By admin on November 20, 2017

A battle is looming on the horizon of the trucking industry. This future war has high stakes and promises to change trucking forever. Within the next 3 years’ competitors will vie for the right to put diesel-free trucks on the road. Nikola Motor Company and Tesla have both revealed their perceived future for trucking in the form of Hydrogen Fuel Cells (Nikola) and Electric Battery Powered (Tesla). Both these units ambitiously aim to replace diesel powered trucks in the coming years. While the results will not be known for years both offer lots of benefits and a few possible negatives.

Nikola Motors Hydrogen Fuel Powered Semi-Truck

Nikola Motor Company’s Nikola One (Sleeper) and Nikola Two (Day Cab) both have estimated release dates of early 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells fully power Nikola trucks, eliminating diesel dependency forever. Nikola Trucks claim double fuel efficiency from the standard 7.5 MPG (diesel) to 15.4 MPG of Hydrogen Fuel. Additionally, Nikola trucks come with an on-board computer system to help drivers select optimal routes and find refueling stations. Nikola Motor has announced a partnership with Ryder to build over 360 locations for refueling hydrogen powered trucks. These locations will be primarily in continental America but will also have a presence in Canada and parts of Mexico.

In addition to the numerous features the Nikola trucks offer they are designed with driver’s lifestyles in mind. The Nikola is built with mid-cab entry, meaning that drivers will no longer enter the cab via the driver’s seat. This design is like an RV which eliminates the hazard of a driver falling while entering or exiting. Nikola One is also a very modern looking truck; surrounded by panoramic windows on all sides with an aero-dynamic design. Drivers can tell instantaneously that this truck is not like ones they’ve seen before.

Tesla Electric Powered Semi-Truck

Nikola’s primary competitor is ironically Tesla itself. In mid-November, the industry finally got the first look at Tesla’s Electric Battery Semi-Truck. Like the Nikola this is a truck that has a space-age look and feel to it. The Tesla Semi estimates 500 miles’ in-between charges going from zero to sixty miles per hour in 5 seconds. Drivers who invest in a Tesla will never again calculate miles per gallon, instead they’ll evaluate miles per charge.

At a fully loaded weight of 80,000 pounds the Tesla can go from zero to sixty in approximately 20 seconds. The Tesla will also come with an “Enhanced Auto-Pilot” safety feature standard on all models. This auto-pilot will help maintain your lane of traffic and have some auto-breaking features as well. Many believe this design will eventually lead to fully autonomous tractors with one driver followed by a robotic convoy.

Both the Nikola and Tesla are designed to change the industry for the better by lowering emissions, operating cost per mile, and increasing driver safety over the road. While both trucks accomplish this task and do so with style, there are some potential pitfalls that potential owner operators and companies should be aware of.

Potential Problems

First off, both trucks will operate on revolutionary technology. While appealing, consumers understand new technology often has some bugs that will need to be worked out. As both Tesla and Nikola have extremely high reputations it is more than reasonable to believe they will work out any kinks. Drivers, however, should be aware that with new technology comes new problems.

Another issue of concern for both units is refueling capabilities. Nikola’s partnership with Ryder is ambitious, aiming to provide nationwide options for drivers operating hydrogen powered units. The concern here is twofold, will drivers have to avoid lucrative loads due to needing to stay on a certain route and will anyone have trouble getting these units serviced? The Nikola / Ryder partnership does anticipate truck maintenance being performed at most (if not all) of the refueling depots. Bear in mind qualified mechanics for this type of engine are very rare right now.

Tesla has some similar concerns in that recharging stations are simply not found as easily or often as gas stations. With an estimated average of 500 miles per charge the initial usage of these trucks will likely be limited to regional hauling, at least in the immediate future.

Big Investments

Both units are quite costly. The Tesla, which will begin production in 2019, has an estimated price of $250,000.00. The Nikola One will have an outright purchase option estimated at $375,000.00. Nikola’s also offer a lease option which could range between $5,000.00 to $7,000.00 per month. While the Nikola is the more expensive of the two it is heavily rumored that hydrogen fuel will be prebuilt into the overall cost.

The industry is already heavily investing in both trucks with Nikola reporting over $2 Billion dollars’ worth of pre-orders. Tesla has already attracted pre-orders from Walmart as well as a variety of other larger carriers. It’s not hard to imagine that one or both units could become the norm of trucking in the next decade.

While the price tag is high right now it is likely that more cost affordable options aren’t far behind. For example, flat screen televisions when first released were offered at extremely high price points, but within a handful of years more economic options quickly became available. As neither Nikola nor Tesla is a known commodity in the world of trucking it is not hard to envision established OEM’s like Kenworth and Peterbilt having their own options in development.

While the price ranges remain high most drivers will likely avoid investing in these trucks, however it is clear that the industry is moving in a new direction. With fuel prices going ever higher, eating increasingly into driver profit, it is imperative that the industry adjusts to this new technology.

Only time will tell if either or both trucks will be able to truly reshape the trucking industry. However, anything that makes drivers safer, more comfortable, and more profitable will be a great boost to trucking worldwide. Nikola Motor and Tesla may have fired the first shots in the battle for the future of trucking but the war is just beginning.

 

 

 

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