Too good to be true?

Tur­bine-elec­tric truck that uses al­most no fuel

The Witness - Wheels - - TRANSPORT - ALWYN VILJOEN • [email protected]­

FROM the U.S. comes a tale that sounds a lot like South Africa’s elec­tric car, the Joule.

Much was promised and many en­gi­neers worked very hard to cre­ate a car they are still proud of, but at the end, only one work­ing model was built and the project re­vealed it­self as a cyn­i­cal ex­er­cise in rerout­ing mil­lions of rand in sub­si­dies. As a re­sult, govern­ment re­mains wary of any­thing to do with elec­tric cars.

Now Nikola Motor Com­pany prom­ises to as­sem­ble a tur­bine-elec­tric truck that uses al­most no fuel while putting out more power in the next “three to four years”. The truck, which to date ex­ists only as a screen saver, will cost $375 000 (R5,9 mil­lion), and can be leased or bought, but both op­tions re­quire a $1 500 de­posit.

All this come with the typ­i­cal hard-sell claim: “Due to high de­mand, the quicker you place a de­posit, the faster you can get your Nikola One.”

Nikola Motor Com­pany even prom­ises free fuel for the first mil­lion miles to the first 5 000 or­ders,

It is at this point where the Wheels de­tec­tor for di­gested mat­ter from the male bovine’s ru­men starts to make alarmed noises, but in all fair­ness, we will let you pe­ruse the claims be­low to de­cide for your­self how this won­der­ful truck stacks up to re­al­ity.

Af­ter all, China last month showed a supercar us­ing the same tur­bine-charg­ing sys­tem — which in­ci­den­tally makes the same claimed power as the Nikola trucks — so there is a chance it can hap­pen.

Latest soft­ware like a Tesla car

Nikola’s cus­tom elec­tric mo­tors op­er­ate at 95% ef­fi­ciency; so when it comes to hills they are quicker go­ing up, and they save money go­ing down. While other trucks are los­ing en­ergy and rid­ing their brakes, Nikola One is cap­tur­ing en­ergy, recharg­ing bat­ter­ies — sav­ing brakes, noise and money.

Nikola ve­hi­cles reg­u­larly re­ceive over-the-air soft­ware up­dates that add new fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity. When an up­date is avail­able, you’ll be no­ti­fied on the cen­tre dis­play with an op­tion to in­stall im­me­di­ately, or sched­ule the in­stal­la­tion for a later time. The av­er­age soft­ware up­date takes one to two hours to com­plete.

Clean en­ergy

The Nikola truck’s tur­bine out­puts nearly 400 kilo­watts (kW) of clean en­ergy straight to the bat­ter­ies, keep­ing them charged — a pow­er­house un­like any the world has seen be­fore. This pro­pri­etary tur­bine has the abil­ity to turn on and off within sec­onds — an­other first in the transportation in­dus­try. The tur­bine is also fuel ag­nos­tic, al­low­ing cus­tomers to or­der it in mul­ti­ple ver­sions: diesel, gaso­line or clean burn­ing nat­u­ral gas.

The tur­bine charges the bat­tery bank, the bat­ter­ies are also con­stantly re­ceiv­ing power through ro­ta­tional en­ergy via Nikola’s re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing tech­nol­ogy. With Nikola Motor, driv­ers re­ceive the most ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cle power sys­tem in the world.

The tur­bine is fu­elled by 570 litres of nat­u­ral gas on board to spin. Be­cause the tur­bine uses so lit­tle fuel, this tank has a range of just un­der 2 000 kilo­me­tres with­out stop­ping to fill up.

Nikola trucks take re­fill on nat­u­ral gas from any CNG sta­tion, or can fill at one of the over 50 planned Nikola CNG sta­tions.

Big cabin packed with lux­ury

Af­ter ask­ing driv­ers what they wanted most in a new truck, a larger cabin was one of the most sought af­ter fea­tures on the list. By re­mov­ing the diesel en­gine, re­design­ing the cab and mov­ing the driver for­ward, Nikola has added nearly 30% more cabin space for op­ti­mal com­fort and has a 15-inch touch­screen that con­trols most of the ve­hi­cle’s func­tions. The touch­screen dis­plays and con­trols a va­ri­ety of ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics in­clud­ing bat­tery lev­els, range, wheel torque, cabin con­trols, nav­i­ga­tion and ve­hi­cle data — a first for heavy duty truck­ing.

The driver hops aboard via a slid­ing mid-en­try door and is treated to a rather cushy sleeper spread in­side, com­plete with dual beds, a full-size fridge/ freezer, a mi­crowave, a 42-inch tele­vi­sion and 4G LTE In­ter­net with WiFi.

Torque vec­tor­ing wheels

Torque vec­tor­ing is one of the most ad­vanced fea­tures for heavy duty truck­ing. It al­lows con­trol of each wheel in­de­pen­dently through drive-by-wire.

By com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the mo­tors up to 30 times a sec­ond, the speed of each wheel can be ad­justed while cor­ner­ing, ma­neu­ver­ing, ac­cel­er­at­ing and brak­ing — mak­ing it safer for driv­ers.

While diesel en­gines re­quire high RPMs to reach peak torque, Nikola’s elec­tric mo­tors hit peak torque al­most in­stantly.

In­stant torque com­bined with all-wheel drive give Nikola One the abil­ity to ac­cel­er­ate nearly two times faster than a stock diesel truck.

More pay­load

When pulling at max ca­pac­ity, ev­ery pound counts.

With around 900 kg of weight sav­ings on the chas­sis, own­ers can throw more goods on each load. Ev­ery few kilo­grams af­ter max load may be worth as much as $50. By sav­ing up to 900 kg, own­ers could earn ap­prox­i­mately $1 000 in ex­tra rev­enue from ev­ery load, ev­ery day. Own­ers that run at full load could see up to $30 000 or more each month in rev­enue straight to the bot­tom line.


Many prom­ises are be­ing made about this fu­tur­is­tic truck but its mak­ers re­quire a $1 500 (around R24 000) de­posit to (per­haps) back their claims in three to four years.

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