With just a cursory look, the planned semitruck (the “tractor” part of a “tractor-trailer”) from Nikola Motors (NASDAQ:NKLA) looks like a copycat of the all-electric rig that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has been test-driving for a couple of years now. Neither vehicle is powered by diesel fuel. Rather, both are powered by electric motors. It’s quickly become a mainstream source of automotive propulsion.
In some regards, though, Nikola’s heavy-hauling class 8 trucks will be different from Tesla’s take on rigs. Tesla’s truck will haul its heavy, rechargeable battery around with it. Nikola’s trucks use fuel cell technology to convert stored hydrogen into electricity. The latter concept is mostly foreign to most people, which might explain the world’s hesitance to embrace these motors. People understand batteries better. Besides, battery-powered cars are technically more efficient.
Class 8 trucks, however, are a different story. If a high-profile name like Nikola can show off the advantages of fuel cell mechanical engines — which are already in use in lots of places — it could prove to be a long-awaited boon for a couple of names in the hydrogen fuel cell motor business.
Not an either/or kind of thing
“Hydrogen is very light and batteries are very heavy,” explained Hugo Spowers, CEO of fuel cell car company River Simple Movement, in an interview with S&P Global late last year. He went on to say: “For long-range driving, batteries can become ludicrously inefficient, though for short ranges, they really make sense.” His conclusion? “We don’t argue about which will win. We need both.”
Spowers’ comment cuts straight to the heart of a long-standing debate that may never have a clear winner.