A peek at Tesla semi and Nikola Tre


Tesla made headlines when it first introduced the world to its all-electric heavy trucks in late 2017. It gave no updates on it after unveiling two prototypes.
Nikola motors burst into the scene in 2019 in an event called Nikola world 2019 and introduced its Nikola Tre hydrogen fuel cell trucks. Lets put them through a little comparison to see which one could shine in the market

 The Tesla Semi is powered by 4 independent electric motors. It was reported it uses the same motor that was used in the Tesla Model 3. The Model 3 had an electric motor that made 300 horsepower and 745 N-m Torque. Multiplying it with 4 and considering some losses, it can be considered to have at least 1000 horsepower and 2700 N-m torque.

As per Nikola Motors, The Nikola Tre has a 750kw or 1000 hp electric motor that makes 2700 N-m torque. The exact same figures as in Tesla Semi.


 According to Tesla’s announcement, The Semi can do 0-60 mph in 20 seconds with a full load of 80,000 pounds. The 4 independent motors add the benefit of Instant traction that boosts the performance. It has an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.36 which is lesser than the Bugatti Chiron which is 0.38. 

The Nikola Tre with the same torque figure as Semi should have the same acceleration. It has regenerative braking which restores the momentum lost during braking. Nikola claims that it weighs 5000 pounds lesser compared to the Tesla semi, 5000 pounds extra cargo can be transported in the Tre that adds to the profit.

Safety and features

The Tesla Semi is equipped with Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot technology that helps avoid collisions. The centered driver’s position provides maximum visibility and control. The low center of gravity offers good rollover protection.

The Nikola Tre comes with some driver assistance features. The combined regenerative braking and the air disk brakes make the brake response time 10 milliseconds. Similar to Tesla it has a low center of gravity due to battery and fuel cell and also panoramic visibility.

Fuel and range

 Tesla has not mentioned the battery pack capacity used in the Semi, But it has mentioned that it takes about 2kw per mile and the range was announced to be 500 miles. This means that it should have a battery back around 1000kwh to 1100kwh considering losses. Tesla said that it will be working with Semi customers to install “Mega charges” that can charge up to 80% of the battery that provides 400 miles range. 

The Nikola Tre is a hydrogen fuel cell-powered truck. According to Nikola motors, it can provide a range of 310 to 745 miles on a single refill. The tank capacity was not officially stated by Nikola, but it can be estimated to be between 40 kg to 100kg. Nikola is planning to set up its hydrogen production plant that makes hydrogen at $2.47 per kg which is far less compared to the current market price of $16 per kg.
The Nikola Tre comes with some driver assistance features. The combined regenerative braking and the air disk brakes make the brake response time 10 milliseconds. Similar to Tesla it has a low center of gravity due to battery and fuel cell and also panoramic visibility.


 The Nikola Motors offers the Nikola Tre in a lease model for 7 years or 700,000 miles whichever comes first, including fuel and maintenance. In an investor presentation Nikola motors presented, shows that the cost per mile is about $0.95. The cost for the vehicle is $268,782 followed by fuel and maintenance cost of $329,435 and $66,762 which adds up to a total cost of $665,980 for a lease. The diesel truck comparison data Presented by Nikola adds up to $182,000 for the truck price which is pretty high for a diesel truck with a similar torque figure. We considered the Freightliner Cascadia.

Tesla had presented the pricing information during the unveiling event. According to them, mega chargers are powered by Tesla’s solar energy network that will bring down the cost to 7 cents per kW. The Semi consumes 2kw per mile and hence costs 14 cents per mile. The vehicle cost is $180,000 and the fuel cost for 700,000 miles will be $98,000. The maintenance cost for both is assumed to be the same which is $66,762.

While Tesla has its production house and charging network, Nikola and General Motors announced its strategic partnership. Nikola will be utilizing GM’s Ultium battery system and Hydrotec fuel cell technology. GM will engineer, validate, and build the Nikola badger.
The above image shows the energy efficiency of battery Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from power production to utilization. We can easily make out that a 100kw grid power comes down to 34kw in HFCEV considering losses in each conversion. Whereas 85kw is retained in the BEV.  So Nikola truck will have to make up for lost efficiency in scale of hydrogen production and thereby reduce costs

Finally the main question: How does Nikola plan to solve the hydrogen fuel infrastructure problem? It’s the chicken and egg problem for any new fuel vehicle. Nikola has arrived at a business model of targeting fixed-route long haul truckers who take the same route repeatedly and setting up hydrogen electrolysis stations along these routes first. This targets 25% of the truck market and allows Nikola to slowly expand into other routes. As of this writing, the stock market has valued Nikola stock at $30 billion market cap. Time will tell if this is fair outlook for Nikola
Having said all this, there are some allegations that Nikola does not really have all the tech it claims to have. There are links in the references section below about these allegations and rebuttals.

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