If you’ve been around computers much, you know all about “vaporware”- Promised and much hyped software and computers that never make it to market, and are often late and disappointing if they do. Meanwhile, trucking, manufacturing, agriculture, etc. slowly evolve in a well deserved environment of well earned conservatism. But now were seeing a flurry of press releases for the latest trucking software, and now it’s come to this:

nikola_one_14

You can read Nicola’s wacky hype yourself at Nicola’s PR page. Or I’ll just sum up for you here… That’s a completely new cab and it just cost Scania two billion Euros to develop a new cab and put it into mass production. And unlike Scania’s new cab which is compact enough to be legal just about anywhere on the planet, this think is too long for anywhere much beyond the couple hundred thousand truck a year North American market. Nicola brags of 50,000 Units a year, but I don’t think Daimler, Navistar, Paccar, and Volvo are gonna let that happen, and they’ve got the technical and production capacity to build a competitor in place, and ready to rumble. That’s just the start of the “vapors” Nicola is suffering from, this vision is reputedly powered by a hydrogen powered engine assisted by a 300 kilowatt hour battery pack with hybrid regenerative braking and charging. That’s over $100,000 worth of batteries with at best a 10 year life… No wonder Nicola is pushing a 7 year lease on the thing. And don’t worry about the hydrogen fuel, it’s free… If you can find it! There’s zilch hydrogen fueling structure anywhere, and Nicola is promising over 300 hydrogen fueling stations coast to coast… Good luck getting that by the nation’s Fire Marshalls, never mind the NIMBYs. And that of course has to be “green” hydrogen fuel, made with electricity produced by multiple 100 megawatt solar farms… Couple weeks ago I was quoted $2 a watt installed costs of solar power. Amazingly, Ryder and U.S. Express trucking have lent their once good names to this multi billion dollar scam, er, “vaporware”. And we have yet to see this “vision” as much as turn a wheel, never mind move a pound of freight. Memo to Nicola, it ain’t easy gettin’ into big truck building…

Sorry, ain’t been able to find a public domain photo of the Paymaster truck, but you can view a bunch here on Google. Looks 21st century, but the first one was built by Oregon trucker Dean Hobbensieken and hit the road way back in 1971. It rode better, used less fuel, and hauled as much as anything on the road, and would still be competitive today. And unlike the Nicola, the Paymaster trucks actually ran- The 1971 original was sighted hauling around Portland in the late 90s before being retired to a musuem. Ryder, the same company now in lust if not love with Nicola, had 10 built, leased them out, and several if not all survive. A further 3 were built in the early 80s, one of those carried an owner operator couple for over a million miles, another hauls a trailer maker’s products to truck shows, and a third got a bigger motor and flirted with 200 MPH at the Salt Flats.And why not… Underneath the aerodynamic bodywork, the Paymasters were powered by off the shelf diesel drivetrains, moved to a mid engine location for better weight distribution and a lower center of gravity.

But despite favorable press and Ryder’s backing, only 14 Paymasters were ever built. That says just how hard the truck building biz is to break into even for a truck that actually runs on readily available fuel, and maybe explains why vehicle design and especially trucks change by evolution rather than revolution. Wonder how many billion will be blown on Nicola before it crashes?

 

 

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