Nikola One Hybrid Electric Semi

A hybrid electric big rig semi from a new motor company? You have to see this.

Features
• Automotive: Electric Cars • Automotive: New Cars
• Automotive: Technology

Matt Anderson's Take
Nikola One is a hybrid electric semi from the Nikola Motor Company. Never heard of them? Me neither, but it sure appears as though they're the Tesla of the big rig world. I mean, the company is called Nikola as in Nikola Tesla. Clearly they're heavily inspired by all that Tesla Motors and CEO Elon Musk have created. And that seems like a good thing.

While their Nikola One semi isn't a pure electric vehicle like the Tesla cars, it is a hybrid that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) to power a turbine that generates electricity. That electricity charges a huge battery pack, one that is 3 times the size of a Tesla Model S 90D battery, and that then powers the vehicle.

Most of us don't think of the world of semis as all that exciting but this is a pretty big deal. You see, just about everything you get from food to electronics was transported from one place to another on a semi trailer. There are zillions of big rigs traveling the globe constantly and that's a lot of diesel emissions spewing all over.

Even making a small dent in efficiency there has a major global impact. If the Nikola Motor Company can mass produce these big rigs then they could help with a major reduction in greenhouse gasses. Pretty interesting, right? Let's look further.

Powertrain


Most semis use a large diesel engine that can pump out 500 HP, take a minute to hit 60 MPH, and average around 5.5 MPG. The Nikola One offers 2000 HP on tap, can hit 60 MPH in 30 seconds, and should average around 10-15 MPG. Impressive stuff.

It does all of that using natural gas so the first issue is where do you get the fuel from? The company is planning to build over 50 CNG refill stations across the USA. Doesn't sound like a lot but you have to understand that the range of this semi is 800-1200 miles. That's far more than the 500-750 miles a diesel rig gets. Also, the stations are strategically placed along the nation's main long haul corridors.

So we're talking about more power, more miles per gallon, and a longer range than current long haul semis. That's impressive.

Safety


It's great that your massive truck can go faster than a regular truck but if it's not safe then what's the point? The Nikola One claims that it can stop up to twice as fast as a regular truck under full load. That's less than 150 feet of stopping distance and it will even charge the batteries while braking.

Without a giant engine in the front they're also able to move the drive further forward and make a large panoramic window that offers better visibility. A giant battery back low on the vehicle means a lower center of gravity and a vehicle that's more in control.

One of the cooler features is torque vectoring, something you usually only find on supercars. Each wheel can be controlled independently while cornering, accelerating, and braking which keeps things under control.

Charging Up


As already mentioned, you'll be filling up with CNG and probably from one of the 50+ Nikola owned stations that they plan to build. What about charging those batteries? You don't charge the batteries, the CNG turbine handles that for you.

It also offers regenerative braking as I touched on earlier. That means you'll be charging the batteries any time you're going downhill or touching the brakes. It also uses less friction based braking power and thus brake pads last longer (and in turn there is less nasty brake dust floating around the air).

Interior


They claim that the interior is 30% larger, which makes sense since you don't have a huge engine up front. This makes getting in any out of the cab easier but also allows for some cool things inside. You can literally make a home inside one of these cabs since they offer features like two full size beds, full size refrigerator and freezer, a closet, microwave, and computer desk.

You can even get a 40 inch curved TV inside. Of course, if you pay attention to this site and have read Curved TVs: To Buy Or Not To Buy, you'll know that maybe a flat TV is better. Toss in some WiFi and 4G LTE and life on the road almost looks appealing. Almost.

Price

It's hard to know the exact price for a Nikola One since they seem to be more interested in leasing one to you. I saw one price mention $375,000 but can't verify that. If you want to lease one you can for only $5,000 USD per month. That actually doesn't seem that high considering they'll give you free fuel for the first 1 million miles. That price even includes a full warranty and free scheduled maintenance.

Is It Real?

It sure seems to be real but it's also very early and hard to know if and when it will truly come to market. It goes without saying that they'll certainly run into challenges and delays just like Tesla did. On the flip side, they're not selling to the general public but a specific type of buyer so they don't exactly have to ramp up production to hundreds of thousands of units per year right now.

Is this the future of big rigs crossing the globe? Probably, but it's not going to happen over night. I also wonder how efficient they'll be in colder climates since batteries often don't do as well in the cold. So maybe we won't see these on Ice Road Truckers any time soon.

I also wonder why there is no mention of self-driving hardware or software. Larger companies are working on that right now so it seems odd to introduce a vehicle with such advanced technology that doesn't have some autopilot features or aspirations. Then again, maybe it's smart to walk before you can run.

It's a company to keep an eye on and I look forward to seeing these on the road someday.
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