The highway tractor trailers that pull loads of goods across our country are about to get faster, more efficient, cheaper to run and WAY, WAY cooler looking. That's all thanks to a startup called Nikola Motor Co., which is taking orders for a new 2,000-horsepower, natural gas-fuel, turbine-powered, electric drive truck it calls the Nikola One.
The company's name is from the first name of Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla, whose last name is famously used by another electric vehicle company that is taking orders for a different vehicle that is also not yet available.
The Nikola One (they pronounce the name like the Italians do: "Nee-kola.") has electric motors driving all its wheels and stores its energy in a 320 kilowatt-hour battery pack that is triple the size of the one in the Tesla Model S, for comparison.
But even that large a battery would go dead very quickly when towing a trailer load of goods, so the One's true energy source is a natural gas-fuel turbine that drives a generator to keep the batteries charged. This makes is a series hybrid electric vehicle, whose combustion engine only charges the batteries and never directly powers the wheels.
Diesel-electric locomotives employ a similar system for its tremendous efficiency, but the One goes that model one better by using inexpensive and clean-burning natural gas in place of grimier diesel fuel.
This arrangement gives the One a driving range of 800 to 1200 miles per tank, compared to 500 to 700 miles for a conventional truck. It has about quadruple the horsepower and double the torque of a regular truck, so it can power up steep hills at 65 mph, when today's trucks would slow to 20 to 40 mph in such climbs.
Zero to 60 acceleration time is halved, from one minute to 30 seconds. But most critically for truck operators, it will get the equivalent of 10 to 15 miles per gallon, as compared to 5.5 mpg for a diesel.
And in addition to using less fuel, that natural gas is also cheaper than diesel and the first 5,000 customers to place orders are promised free gas at Nikola's 20 nationwide fueling stations for their first million miles.
All of this surely sounds like a no-brainer to truck drivers, but the sound we want to hear is that of this turbine-powered hybrid electric on the road. It will surely sound like the future.