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Can this startup revolutionize the trucking industry with an eco-friendly semi?

A Utah-based startup named Nikola Motor Company ambitiously believes it can revolutionize the trucking industry by introducing the world’s first eco-friendly semi.

Nikola gets its name from engineer Nikola Tesla — sound familiar? Called One, its highly aerodynamic experimental truck is powered by an advanced hybrid drivetrain made up of electric motors that spin all six wheels, lithium-ion batteries, and an on-board turbine. The motors drive the truck by themselves until the batteries run low, and then the turbine automatically kicks in to generate electricity. In other words, drivers never need to stop and plug in.

The turbine is primarily designed to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) that’s stored in a 150-gallon tank. Nikola is planning on building a network of 50 CNG stations scattered across the nation, and hundreds more will follow if everything goes according to plan. Conveniently, the startup already owns several natural gas wells.

Alternatively, the turbine can run on diesel or gasoline because it’s fuel-agnostic. If provides the truck with a range of anywhere between 800 and 1,200 miles in its most efficient configuration.

Nikola One

Performance statistics are equally impressive, at least on paper. The One’s drivetrain generates 2,000 horsepower and no less than 3,700 pound-feet of torque. It’s capable of hitting 60 mph from a stop in just 30 seconds when it’s fully loaded, an outstanding statistic considering a standard diesel-burning truck performs the same task in about a minute, as we’ve all experienced when driving behind them. It’s safer than existing trucks thanks to a torque vectoring system, and it promises to stop faster because it’s fitted with a brake energy recuperation system.

Read more: A trio of autonomous Mercedes big rigs hits the road in Europe

There is a catch: the Nikola One is merely a concept illustrated by computer-generated images, and as of this writing a fully functional prototype hasn’t been unveiled. That’s not stopping the company from accepting refundable $1,500 deposits from fleet buyers and owner-operators alike. The first 5,000 orders will come with free fuel for the first million miles, but only time will tell if that’s enough of an incentive to convince America’s truckers to ditch their Peterbilts and Freightliners.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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