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Truck Tech: Desert bloom for electric trucks

Nikola is far from the only zero-emissions transportation startup to call Arizona home. It is helping lure neighbors to the desert. Meanwhile, in the Midwest, trailer maker Wabash sees potential in making its thermally efficient bodies for electric work trucks.

An electric desert storm

Nikola invited about 200 people to a launch event this week at its new but still under construction electric truck assembly plant in the Arizona desert. Besides showing the first of its regular production battery-electric Class 8 trucks are ready to ship, the startup talked a bit about the influence it is having on a growing electric ecosystem in the Grand Canyon State.

Mostly, it deferred to Gov. Doug Ducey.

During brief remarks following a plant tour on Wednesday, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery who leaves office next January listed the roster of electric vehicle and infrastructure companies that have set up shop in Arizona during his two terms as governor. 

There’s electric luxury carmaker Lucid Motors (a neighbor of Nikola 20 minutes away), three-wheel carmaker Electra Meccanica, and early-stage startups Atlis Motor Vehicles and Zero Electric Vehicles. 

On the infrastructure side,  lithium-ion battery cell makers LG Energy Solution and Kore Power, and battery recycler Li-Cycle operate in Arizona.


Watch now: Nikola and its gravitational pull to the desert


“I think it is fair to say there is no state doing more to advance the zero-emission future than the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.

Nikola CEO Mark Russell said he and Ducey recently discussed the sustainability of those investments when Ducey’s term-limited tenure as governor ends in January.

“The momentum is such that you probably couldn’t stop it if you wanted to in one term,” Russell said. “It’s like in the play ‘Hamilton’ where Thomas Jefferson says, ‘His financial system is the work of a genius. You couldn’t undo it if you tried, and I’ve tried.’”

Nikola CEO Mark Russell (L) and Mark Duchesne, head of global manufacturing, with one of the first Nikola Tre production trucks. (Photo: Nikola)

Gravitational pull

LG, which earlier this month announced a $1.4 billion state-of-the-art battery cell manufacturing plant less than 30 minutes from Nikola, got some neighborly encouragement.

“I am not taking credit, but I will tell you that we encouraged that,” Russell said. “We have our own gravitational pull, and [it is] now combined with our binary star Lucid over here.”

Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA) currently uses Samsung battery cells for packs manufactured by Romeo Power. Last  year, Nikola signed a cell supply agreement with LG that lasts through 2029. Proterra Inc., which will become a battery pack supplier to Nikola in Q4 this year, also signed on with LG through 2028. Samsung will remain a cell supplier.

Moving one of the 1,000-pound battery packs into position for one of Nikola's electric trucks.
Nikola workers prepare to lift a 1,000-pound battery pack module to place in a Nikola Tre electric truck. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

I’m in love with my car, er, truck 

Michael Lohscheller, the recently named president of Nikola Motor, told the gathering what drew him to Nikola from a long career running automotive companies, including Opel in Europe and most recently Vietnam-based Vinfast.

“I fell in love with the truck for personal reasons,” he said. “I’m 6-foot-8 and you have to watch your head from time to time, but not in our truck because there is so much space. This is the perfect truck for 6-foot-8 people.”

Later, Lohscheller told a few writers the rest of the story.

“I spent so much time in Europe transforming large companies to zero-emission mobility,” he said. “It’s very hard. You try to explain to 30,000 people that electrification is the future, and they’re like, ‘Really?’ Here at Nikola everybody is focused on zero-emission trucks. How great is this?

Nikola Motors President Michael Lohscheller in front of screen showing one of Nikola's electric trucks.
Michael Lohscheller, president of Nikola Motor, explains that the Nikola Tre works for people of his 6-foot-8 height because of its spaciousness. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

“I know it’s the future. I spent so much time with the German government, with the European Union. In Europe. It’s only a question of time when the first big city will shut down the diesel trucks.”

Not gonna take my shot

The production version of the Nikola Tre is at least a year ahead of the Tesla Semi, announced in 2017 and arguably a catalyst to legacy truck makers getting battery-powered trucks of their own to market.

Russell took the high road when given the chance to gloat over the company about which founder Trevor Milton obsessed and emulated.

“We’re grateful to be on our timeline,” Russell said.

“You’re not taking the bait on that,” I asked.

“I’m not, because we do wish the best for everybody in this space. This is about saving the planet. Honestly.”

Lohscheller was a little less charitable.

“It’s such a big difference between announcing and doing,” he said. “I mean our truck is here today.”


One more for the electric road

It is tough keeping up with all the players working on electric work truck chassis and bodies. I tried earlier this week. But I missed one serious contender — Wabash.

Yes, dry vans are the big ticket item for the West Lafayette, Indiana-based company. And Q1 deliveries were solid as Wabash added 300 workers for the second consecutive quarter.

On an earnings call with analysts on Wednesday CEO Brent Yeagy talked up the future of electric — and autonomous — efforts. 

Wabash (NYSE: WNC) is agnostic as to what alternative-powered chassis it builds on. It is pushing lightweight composite technology designed to offset battery weight and reduce conditions that corrode its bodies. Add to that aerodynamics and pleasing aesthetics.

“We believe additional chassis suppliers will be positive for customers as well as our manufacturing cadence,” Yeagy said.

Separately, Wabash said it is free of exposure to supply constraints coming from the war in Ukraine.

“We estimate that 95% of our Tier 1 spend is within North American resources and over 80% of our Tier 2 and Tier 3 remain solidly in North America,” Yeagy said.


Best of the rest …

Most of the Volvo VNR Electric trucks in use can be found at or near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. It is where most electric trucks will start their service life.

But a couple of VNR Electrics are moving north.

Producers Dairy, a Fresno, California-based dairy processor and direct-to-store supplier, has deployed two Volvo VNR Electric trucks on its delivery routes, the first battery-electric Class 8s to be deployed in the Central Valley. 


High Definition Vehicle Insurance (HDVI) says small-to-midsize truck fleets are paying less for insurance through its dynamic pricing model that relies on telematics data. HDVI Shift,which launched last year, used data from 20 million road miles to inform real-time risk models and cut the average monthly premium by 12% compared to traditional insurers.

HDVI customers have better than average safety scores with 30% fewer predicted crashes, the company said. More than 75% of its customers saw an improvement in speeding or hard braking in the first six months. That number exceeds 90% after nine months of becoming an HDVI Shift policyholder.


Used truck inventories are really light and prices are roughly double what they were a year ago. It’s practically a version of “Futurama’s” classic “Eyephone” episode that spawned the classic “Shut up and take my money” meme.

Navistar, for example, said it sold all but 800 of its 6,000-unit inventory at its 15 used truck outlets last year. Still, it is opening a new 13,000-square-foot facility near multiple interstates in Joliet, Illinois, to attract more customers than a previous location in Melrose Park.


That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Subscribe here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays.

Alan