It was perhaps the most important sentence this Wednesday in an industrial area of Ulm: “It’s real, I promise you, it’s the truck,” Nikola boss Mark Russell said, pointing to a fuel cell tractor that will be used in this Iveco plant from 2023 is to be built. To this end, the German-American joint venture presented an electric truck with a range of 560 kilometers, which will be produced at the new Ulm plant by the end of this year. However, only once in a version for the US market. It will be necessary to wait until the end of 2022 before the model is also on the roads of Europe.
Hardly any other business alliance comes under such critical scrutiny. Arizona start-up Nikola, founded in 2015, has been regarded as the maker of utility vehicles Tesla ever since company founder Trevor Milton announced a heavy fuel cell truck for long hauls, before even established market gardeners. But then Nikola fell into disrepute, as several of Milton’s claims about the truck’s progress turned out to be false. For example, a prototype only started to move because it was rolling down a hill. Milton resigned about a year ago after the scandal and was recently charged with securities fraud in New York for manipulating the novice’s stock price with false information, prosecutors said. Nikola was sometimes worth around $ 30 billion more on the stock market than automaker Ford.
“The idea lives on, now we’re going to do it without him,” Iveco boss Gerrit Marx said on Wednesday when asked about Nikola’s founder. He never doubted the partnership with the American start-up, “we knew from the start where Nikola’s skills were”. It is above all the software. The Swabian commercial vehicle manufacturer, on the other hand, is an expert in building large, heavy machinery. The new trucks will run under the Nikola logo. The German side can hardly express its confidence in its American partner better.
Reduce CO₂ emissions in heavy traffic
The central question is what is the right way to reduce CO₂ emissions in heavy traffic as well. And when the right time is right for the respective technology. Most truck manufacturers rely on battery-powered trucks for shorter distances, but hydrogen for trips over 500 kilometers. According to the EU, manufacturers must reduce the CO₂ emissions of their fleets of newly registered vehicles by 15% by 2025 and by 30% by 2030 compared to the baseline period between mid-2019 and mid-2020 . Otherwise, there is a high penalty.
“We are promoting the hydrogen fuel cell and battery,” says Andreas Gorbach, CTO at Daimler Truck. Fuel cell trucks are sure to be able to compete in this decade. “We believe that it is possible to achieve costs of around four euros per kilogram of green hydrogen. And then that tilts,” explains Gorbach. Unlike passenger cars, commercial vehicles are not primarily about the purchase price, but the total cost over the life of the vehicle. “Our customers are professionals who determine exactly if and when the vehicle is worth it for them,” says Gorbach.
An electric truck still costs about three times as much as a comparable diesel truck, while the price of a fuel cell is even four times as much. For customers to buy now, the state pays up to 80% of the additional costs. Truck manufacturers agree that it depends on the framework conditions: according to Andreas Gorbach higher diesel prices, toll exemptions or no-go zones for combustion engines in cities could speed up the switch to battery trucks or fuel cell, as well as lower electricity prices.
But the question of infrastructure remains. From October, Daimler will produce its eActros in Wörth. It has a range of up to 400 kilometers and recharges from 20 to 80% in about an hour. It is intended for distribution traffic, for example for deliveries of goods from a warehouse to the supermarket. Daimler offers a charging solution so that the vehicle can fill up with electricity, for example when loading or unloading. In addition, Daimler, Volvo and Traton are jointly investing in a fast-charging network on motorways for long-distance traffic. But with the hydrogen infrastructure, there is still a lot to do. There are currently only twelve filling stations in Germany and the hydrogen stored there is just enough to fill one truck.