Arizona’s new Nikola plant readies to roll out zero-carbon big rigs

Nikola Motors has broken ground in Coolidge, Ariz. for its new manufacturing plant that will start rolling out emission-free big rigs next year, company executives said. 

A carbon-free pickup truck also is in the works. Called the Badger, it is being hailed by company officials as future competition for America’s most popular truck, the Ford 150 Crown.

The manufacturing project is part of the race by Nikola and other truck makers to commercialize heavy-duty vehicles to meet standards to reduce greenhouse emissions across the globe.

New plant in Coolidge to hire 2,000 workers to build plant 

Last week, the battery-electric and hydrogen-electric truck maker broke ground on 430 acres near Houser and Vail roads in Coolidge in Pinal County. Initially, the plant is expected to hire 2,000 workers to start building the plant. It will first produce Nikola’s battery-electric Class 8 “Tre” semi-trucks.  

The startup has raised over $200 million from investors for the $600-million project that will eventually encompass 1-million square-feet. At build out, the plant is expected to produce 35,000 battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks a year.  

Nikola will produce heavy-duty and pickup trucks in phases including:

Battery-electric “Tre” for urban driving    

The battery-electric cabover Tre model will be the first truck off the assembly line next year. 

These trucks are designed for urban deliveries with travel routes of less than 300 miles. Nikola will start producing the Tre model in the next few months as part of a joint venture with European truck maker Iveco at a plant in Ulm, Germany. Production of the Tre in North America will start in Coolidge next year after the slightly smaller European model has been tested.   

Nikola “Two” fuel-cell big rig to offer more horsepower, distance  

By 2023, the company plans to produce its first fuel cell semi, which will use hydrogen gas to power an electric motor. The truck will have up to 1,000 horsepower and travel 500 to 750 miles between fill ups, company officials said. 

Nikola already has 14,600 orders for the longer-haul trucks. Anheuser-Busch has committed to buying 800 trucks.

“Badger” to compete with Chevy, Ford pickups 

Nikola also is taking preorders for its battery and fuel-cell Badger pick-up. The goal is to eventually compete with popular trucks like the Ford F-150 crown, said Trevor Milton, executive chairman and founder.  

Milton, who called the Badger “the coolest pickup truck the world has ever seen,” plans to unveil the model in December with a competition against competitor trucks, he said on CNBC’s Fast Money

“It’s really a true truck like Americans are used to,” he said. “It’s the size of an F-150. It’s used for job sites. … It’s got all the doors for a family. You can put carseats in it. You can put a four-wheeler in the back.”   

Partial opening to meet demand for carbon-free big rigs 

With buyers already putting in requests, the company has pushed up deadlines with plans to open the Coolidge plant partially to get moving on production of the Tre model. 

“[The .5 phase] will be a partial facility so we can start as soon as possible. We are very early in the development of that plan,” Mark Duchesne, Nikola’s global head of manufacturing told Transport Topics this week. “We have a need to build trucks even sooner than what we planned on, and we are working on how we can do that.”

Nikola plant to support jobs on both sides of border 

Initially, 2,000 workers will be employed to build the plant. At build out, the project will represent a $1 billion capital investment and the creation of up to 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, company officials have said. 

Milton cited Gov. Doug Ducey for helping bring the innovative truck maker to the state. Ducey also is credited for helping attract electric vehicle manufacturer Lucid Motors to Casa Grande in Pinal County. Lucid broke ground last year at the Casa Grande plant where it will produce its first car, the Lucid Air luxury sedan. 

Race to commercialize zero-carbon trucks 

Nikola is one of a number of truck makers racing to commercialize battery-electric and hydrogen fuel big rigs to meet greenhouse emissions standards across the globe. Among them are Daimler, Hyundai Motor, Tesla, Toyota and Volvo Trucks. 

Nikola, which based its headquarters in Phoenix last year, estimates sales will reach $150 million in 2021 and jump to $3.2 billion by 2024 as it ramps up production. By 2024, it expects to sell or lease 7,000 battery-powered units and 5,000 hydrogen fuel cell trucks, according to its Securities Exchange Commission filing

Arizona’s proximity to Mexico’s auto manufacturing supply chains helped play a part in Nikola’s entrance to the state, said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“In emerging sectors like electric vehicle manufacturing, the Arizona-Sonora relationship is a key driver for major investments in Arizona,” Hamer said. “For both Lucid Motors and Nikola Motors, the auto part supply chain between the two states was a major factor in winning the hyper-competitive manufacturing investments in Pinal County.”

Victoria Harker

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