Nikola’s Hydrogen Trucks Hit Production Snags

A shortage of pressurized fuel tanks and electric batteries has significantly disrupted production.

Photo of a Nikola EV truck
Photo via Nikola

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Maybe naming your company after one of the greatest inventors of all time set the bar a touch too high.

Nikola, the oft-bedeviled, legally challenged startup-turned-combustible-SPAC-star that’s long struggled to get its signature electric vehicles on the road, is now similarly flailing to manufacture its other alternative to gas-powered engine vehicles: hydrogen fuel cell big rig trucks, per a Wall Street Journal report published Wednesday.

Oh, the Humanity

Battery-powered EVs get all the spotlight, but some experts still see hydrogen fuel cell cars as the best carbon-free successor to internal combustion engine vehicles. That’s because hydrogen-powered cars can refuel far faster and have much better mileage than their battery-powered counterparts. The process of converting hydrogen into fuel also only has one byproduct: pure, clean H20. 

The downside? They remain far more expensive than either traditional EVs or traditional diesel cars alike:

  • Nikola executives said the cost to manufacture a single big rig in the fourth quarter was $679,000, while the company sold each truck at an average price of just $351,000 due to previous contracts; that’s as much as $150,000 more than a typical high-end gas-powered big rig.
  • Worse for Nikola, a shortage of pressurized fuel tanks and electric batteries has significantly disrupted production, CEO Steve Girsky told the WSJ. The company expected to deliver up to 350 hydrogen-powered semi-trucks this year but has shipped only 35 through the first quarter.

Golden State Opportunity: The timing couldn’t be poorer for Nikola. Thanks to new regulation in California that significantly strengthens emissions standards, demand for carbon-free big rigs has soared. “Right now, California has got tailwinds,” Girsky said. “We could have sold a lot more than 35 trucks in the fourth quarter if we didn’t have supply-chain issues.” Then again, given Nikola’s battery-powered EVs have a penchant for spontaneous combustion, we shudder to think what could go wrong with hydrogen, a notoriously combustible element.