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Category: Transportation and Logistics

Tesla and Nikola Battling it Out in Truck and Stock Market


Both Stocks are Soaring, Interest High, though Different Appoaches to Powering Semis

June 16, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

It is a battle royal between electric truck makers Tesla and Nikola on multiple fronts.

Tesla finished trading Monday at $990 per share, up from about $440 in late March. That puts the market cap for Tesla at $183 billion, not far from being worth as much as Toyota Motors, which sports a value of $207 billion.

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Nikola says it will start production of the big trucks with the fuel cell technology starting in 2023.

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Of course, Tesla has been a public company for several years, with wild swings in its value over that time.

Nikola, on the other hand, completed a merger in early June with an already public shell company named VectoIQ, changing the name of the new public company to its own, trading under the symbol NKLA.

A few days later, the share price it soared 104% to about $80 per share from an IPO price of about $33 per share. That sent its market value to more than $28 billion for a while - not bad for a company with only about 250 employees.

But the stock fallen back a bit to $68 per share, putting its market cap at a still healthy $24 billion.

Both Tesla and Nikola are planning to bring to market both freight trucks as well as consumer pick-up models, in addition to the ecars Tesla already sells.

But the two rivals are taking different technology approaches to the big rig market.

Tesla will use a battery-only system based on its own technology, which will be used across its current fleet of cars and eventually truck models.

Nikola originally intended to make all-electric trucks, but later came to believe battery-only trucks would not be able to meet commercial demands for range and power on heavy duty trucks. It switched to a different approach in which a hydrogen fuel cell would charge a battery that actually powers the truck. The technology is increasingly popular for use in fork trucks used in manufacturing and distribution centers.

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According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Nikola has set up partnerships with equipment-maker CNH Industrial and automotive supplier Robert Bosch, which also have invested in the company. Nikola plans to build a US factory in Coolidge, AZ but initial production of its first semis will be at a plant in Ulm, Germany, operated by a unit of CNH called INVECO.

INVECO also will help Nikola establish a fueling network in Europe for its hydrogen-electric tractors.

Nikola says it will start production of the big trucks with the fuel cell technology starting in 2023. A smaller, battery only model is expected to be available next year.

When Tesla announced it plans for semi trucks in 2017, it initially said it would start production in late 2019. Now, that time frame has moved to some time in 2021.

While there is clearly strong interest in these alternative fuel trucks, there are limitations. Diesel-powered trucks can go twice as far on a single tank of fuel as the Tesla Semi's claimed 500-mile range.

It's hardly that Tesla and Nikola are the only truck makers developing electric models, but they have certainly caught the market's attention at a different level than traditional OEMs.

Companies including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Ryder, and J.B. Hunt, among others, have pre-ordered the Tesla's Semi. Carrier U.S. Xpress and Anheuser-Busch have reserved hundreds of Nikola's hydrogen-electric trucks.

The Journal article says these pre-orders and reservations can still be cancelled.

Because of the range limitations, many expected the electric truck market to start with models used in shorter haul delivery applications.

Transportation research company Rhein Associates predicts that by 2030, electric and hybrid models will account for just 6.8% of the North American market for heavy-duty trucks.

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