Nikola Corporation, an Arizona-based startup that’s working on zero-emission big rigs, just announced that it’s following Tesla, Rivian, Ford, and General Motors into the electric pickup market with a truck called the Badger.
The Badger is a fuel cell vehicle first and foremost, meaning it takes hydrogen from a refillable tank and converts it into electricity to power the motors. But the Badger will also come with an onboard auxiliary battery pack Nikola says will be big enough to power the pickup on its own.
That’s similar to the approach Nikola is taking with its big rigs; with those, the company is prioritizing hydrogen-powered trucks but will also sell battery-only versions with less overall range for shorter-haul trucking. In fact, the pickup truck is apparently powered by a scaled-down version of the tech that Nikola developed for its big commercial trucks.
“Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semi-truck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck?” Trevor Milton, Nikola’s CEO and founder, said in a statement. “I have been working on this pickup program for years and believe the market is now ready for something that can handle a full day’s worth of work without running out of energy.”
This isn’t the first time Nikola has teased expanding beyond commercial trucks. Just last year, the company announced an electric personal watercraft and an off-road utility vehicle. Milton is promising some eye-popping specs for the Badger, including up to 600 miles of range with a full tank of hydrogen and up to 300 miles of range on battery power alone. The Badger is supposed to be able to generate over 900 horsepower and go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.9 seconds.
A hydrogen-powered truck with a battery that big would help hedge against the most pressing problem facing fuel cell vehicles: there’s currently almost no supporting infrastructure whatsoever. Hydrogen filling stations are extremely rare; in the US, they’re almost exclusively located in California. Having a battery pack that can last for 300 miles would help an owner get by if they’re not located near a hydrogen fueling station or, at worst, until there are more filling stations.
Unsurprisingly, Nikola is planning to build out hundreds of hydrogen stations of its own to help support its big rig business. By the time the Badger hits the road, then, it’s possible that the infrastructure piece of the equation might not look so bleak.
But there are a lot of “ifs” here. For one thing, Nikola didn’t actually say when it plans to put the Badger on sale. And while the startup has locked down a deal with a European trucking company to build zero-emission trucks for the continent, the company has a long way to go before it becomes a self-sustaining business. Even then, it will likely need a lot more money to put a consumer-facing vehicle like the Badger out into the market.
Nikola said in its announcement that the Badger “will be built in conjunction with another OEM utilizing their certified parts and manufacturing facilities,” but it would not say who that manufacturer is. It also didn’t mention cost, which could be a concern. Battery-powered vehicles still cost thousands of dollars more than their gas-powered counterparts, and adding hydrogen fuel cell technology into the mix will only widen that gap.
While there are no mass-produced electric pickup trucks on sale right now, that won’t be the case for long. Michigan startup Rivian is supposed to deliver its first electric pickups and SUVs by the end of this year. Ford has an all-electric F-150 on the way, and General Motors is working on an electric Hummer pickup truck due out by the end of 2021. Tesla’s outrageous Cybertruck is supposed to hit the road by then, too, and a few other dark horse startups are targeting the space as well.
If and when we ever see the Badger come to market, it will likely face a lot of serious competition. That hasn’t stopped Nikola from making big claims about the truck’s potential.
“The [Badger] is designed to handle what a construction company could throw at it and is engineered to outperform all electric pickup trucks on the market in both continuous towing, HP and range,” the company wrote in its announcement.