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This Company Wants To Take The Tesla Approach Large Scale With Electric Semi-Trucks

On Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Trevor Milton wants to do Elon Musk one better in the field of zero-emission transportation. With his Nikola EV semi-tractors, he hopes to disrupt the market for the largest commercial trucks on our roads, just as Tesla did for luxury sedans. His business model even borrows the inventor Tesla’s first name.

Tesla Electric Semi-Trucks

But Milton, who made his fortune developing heavy-duty natural-gas powertrains, is embracing hydrogen for his Class 8 long-haul trucks. “People are taking a lot of intermediate steps, and I think that’s the wrong way to do it,” he said of the slow crawl toward a hydrogen infrastructure. He plans to develop a network of refueling stations along the nation’s major shipping corridors concurrently with the introduction of his trucks.

Tractor Dream

The One isn’t all-wheel drive, because only one rear axle is powered. But there are two electric motors on both its front (1) and forwardmost rear (2) axles, which also enables torque vectoring. Those axles feature independent suspension, promising a smoother ride than most big rigs. The hydrogen tanks (3) sit aft of the cab, while the fuel cell (4) and the battery pack (5)—all 32,000 cells—are beneath the floor.

Tougher EPA requirements through 2027 essentially require truck manufacturers to embrace electrification. But diesel prices—not Milton’s lack of billions or his strategy to produce boundless quantities of hydrogen from solar arrays—may stop Nikola. Diesel costs about $2.50 per gallon at this writing. Even if it rises to $3.50—the threshold at which most large fleets would buy more efficient trucks, according to a recent University of Michigan survey—truck operators prefer more affordable upgrades such as improved aerodynamics, idle-reduction measures, and speed limiters.

There is some hope, however, in the same survey, which found that 30 percent of all operators said they would consider hydrogen and electric powertrains in the next two years. But those people might not stick around to buy once they see the Nikola’s price.

Space Truckin’

Who’d ever have thought that driving could be faster than the internet? With enough data, it is. Amazon’s Snowmobile is a 45-foot-long, 68,000-pound hard drive in a tractor-trailer. (The name is a riff on Snowball, Amazon’s large-scale data-transfer service.) For up to half a million bucks per month, Amazon will bring a trailer to you and transfer up to 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes) to it, then physically drive the data to Amazon’s nearest cloud server. Total upload speed: less than a month by truck versus a few years over even a high-speed internet connection.

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