Truck maker Nikola Motors, created five years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA and based in Phoenix, Arizona since 2018, went public last week. This they did not via a traditional IPO, but by merging with VectoIQ Acquisition Corporation.
Nikola’s stock price more than doubled following the announcement of the opening of online pre-reservations for their Badger pickup truck, which is expected to enter production with an established OEM partner—yet to be selected—sometime in 2022. It’s said to offer up to 965 km range; 1,330 N·m torque, 676 kW, and go from 0 to 100 km/h in about 3 seconds. We note an interesting driver vision system configuration, with sideview cameras (not yet legal in North America, the Badger’s intended market) and amber rear side marker lights (they have to be red), as well as turquoise side accent lights (conflict with turquoise autonomous-mode front lights?) and prominent LED DRLs, headlamps, and integral driving light bar.
Nikola, who have yet to begin marketing any vehicles, now have a capitalisation of USD $26bn, eight times their valuation when they last raised funds in September. The level is close to that of Ford’s $30bn—Ford sold 2.4 million vehicles last year—and higher than that of FCA or PSA.
Nikola’s unique proposition is vehicles powered by hydrogen. Mixed with oxygen, it is transformed into electricity via fuel cells. This mode of propulsion is considered very promising because it releases only water and promises a user experience closer to petroleum-powered vehicles than to battery electric vehicles: greater autonomy and refuelling in a few minutes. Detractors point to the high cost of deploying a charging network, and the energy loss linked to the process: its yield is currently limited to 20 to 30 per cent.
Nikola co-founder and President Trevor Milton says 14,000 pre-bookings for the Badger pickup have been registered online. If maintained, they will generate more than $10bn.In the meantime, there are Nikola’s commercial freight trucks with conventional electric batteries. He will use IPO funds to build his own factory in Arizona and plans to produce 600 semi-trailers with electric batteries by the end of next year. These fuel-cell trucks, intended for both the North American and European markets, are in the prototype phase and on track for production next year; they’ll be built in Germany with Nikola partner CNH Industrial, who build Iveco trucks.
Nikola also want to implement their technology beyond trucks—such as on a buggy, 4×4, or jet ski. Competition will be fierce, with announcements on the development of hydrogen propulsion increasing among manufacturers, aware that the ramp-up of battery-powered vehicles will not be enough to meet growing environmental constraints.