US electric truck start-up Nikola also wants to stir up Europe

HANNOVER Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Nikola is making progress with its expansion. In Europe, for example, the group is now accepting orders for its battery-electric Nikola Tre BEV truck, the production of which started in the USA in the second quarter. The company is still small, in the months of April to June it produced 50 of the all-electric trucks in its US plant. But the ambitions are far greater: “In Coolidge, Arizona, we have an annual production capacity of up to 20,000 trucks,” said Lohscheller. “In our joint venture with Iveco, we can initially build around 2,000 vehicles in Ulm – expandable to 10,000.” Nikola currently also feels comfortable with these orders of magnitude.

After the affair about the promises of the founder and ex-boss Trevor Milton, the former stock market shooting star Nikola is struggling to convince with successes in the operative business. Because of misleading statements, Nikola had meanwhile been targeted by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and had to accept significant price losses after allegations of fraud against Milton. Milton is currently facing trial. Meanwhile, Nikola was worth almost $29 billion on the stock market in mid-2020, and it’s currently just under $2 billion.

The former Opel boss Lohscheller is to drive international expansion in the company. At the turn of the year, the German will also become CEO of the start-up with currently almost 1200 employees. He wants to actively use the possibilities of a small company in order to be faster and more manoeuvrable than the large truck and bus manufacturers such as Daimler Truck and the VW subsidiaries and Traton brands MAN, Scania and Navistar. “We make our software ourselves – as a small, young company, that’s possible, even with relatively few people,” said Lohscheller.

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“In order to have a chance as a new player in a market against the top dogs, we also give the customers demo trucks, like a test drive for several months,” said the manager. “And drivers love our trucks because we attach great importance to driver comfort.”

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Lohscheller sees the low maintenance requirements of the Nikola vehicles as a big plus. “With the battery-powered Tre trucks, we achieve an availability of 94 percent, so only very short breaks, for example for maintenance – the competitors with diesel drives can’t manage that and it pays off for the customers. A truck has to run all the time.” What is known in the industry as “uptime” for trucks plays a major role for freight forwarders, because repairs and maintenance cost them time and money.

The all-electric Tre BEV truck is to be launched in Europe next year. The company specifies the range as 530 kilometers with one battery charge. For comparison: The heavy-duty battery truck Mercedes eActros LongHaul from Daimler Truck announced at the IAA for 2024 offers around 500 kilometers.

Nikola’s Tre FCEV hydrogen truck should be available in North America in the second half of 2023 and in Europe in the first half of 2024. According to the company, the range is up to 800 kilometers “in combination with the fast refueling time”. According to Lohscheller, the company wants to offer the fuel at the same time: “We also want to produce hydrogen ourselves with partners. That requires investments and cannot be done overnight.”

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