Bill Hall left his job as a senior marine engineer at age 59, earned his CDL and started Coyote Container with two trucks and one trailer in Northern California. 

Now he is among the first retail purchasers of a zero-emissions Nikola fuel cell electric truck.

Pragmatist or pioneer?

Hall sees himself as more of a pragmatist than a pioneer. He paid cash for a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Class 8 Tre after a $360,000 spiff from the California Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). Hall did not disclose how much he paid for his truck.

“It [cost] me less than buying a [new] diesel drayage truck,” Hall told me in an interview this week. “It depends what you’re looking at. But different brands that would work for my use were in the $225,000 to $250,000 [range].”

Hall expects to put 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year on the Nikola Tre, driving it with loads anywhere in California that he would be able to refuel with hydrogen. So far, there are just a few stations capable of transferring 50 kilograms of super-chilled hydrogen gas into his truck.

Bill Hall of Coyote Container is among the first retail customers for the Nikola Tre hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric truck. (Photo: Nikola) 

Hunting for hydrogen

Once a week — sometimes more often — Hall travels from the Port of Oakland to Southern California, about 400 miles. A fuel cell Tre can make the trip on a single fill, which takes as little as 22 minutes. Hall is required to take a 30-minute break as part of a maximum 11-hour day under federal hours-of-service regulations.

 “Wherever I know there’s [hydrogen] supply and range, I’m going to use it,” Hall said.

According to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership, California has 55 hydrogen fueling stations. Most target fuel cell passenger vehicles.

“Those stations are designed to deliver to a small car that’s taking 3 to 5 kilograms,” Hall said. “Our needs are much greater. It’s a growing pain.”

But he is optimistic for a build-out of hydrogen infrastructure by established businesses like FirstElement Fuel and stations planned under Nikola’s Hyla brand with partners Voltera and BP-owned TravelCenters of America.

“There is a Hyla station down in Southern California, so that’s the one I plan to use for now,” Hall said. “They’re working on a second mobile fueler that’s actually closer to the port. So it’ll be great when that comes online.

“The hydrogen supply industry is an interesting study. The prices are projected to come to parity [with diesel] in the near term and less than half in the longer term. I have pricing that I think will work in my use model.”

Bill Hall changed careers at 59 to become a truck driver. His is among the first to purchase a zero-emissions fuel cell electric vehicle. (Photo: Nikola)

Nikola built 42 FCEVs in Q4 and sold 35 at wholesale

Nikola built 42 fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in the last three months of 2023 and wholesaled 35 of them to Tom’s Truck Center in Santa Ana, California, Ethero in Mechanicsville, Virginia, and ITD Industries in Toronto. The company did not say how many were in customer hands, only that it was “in the process of deliveries.”

Hall received his Tre FCEV on Dec. 13, his 61st birthday.

“I went to the [Advanced Clean Transportation Expo] in 2019. That’s where I became aware of Nikola,” Hall said. “I began calling Nikola because I knew they were developing this hydrogen truck, and I never stopped bugging them. I had to get their corporate phone number to call them because there really wasn’t any sales [team].”

Fast forward five years. Nikola is building a sales team in Southern California to press its first-mover advantage and capitalize on HVIP incentives like Hall’s that can dramatically cut the $450,000 base price of the Tre FCEV.

“I see this whole evolution in a broader sense,” Hall said. This technology is going to blossom and spread to other industries. The trucking industry’s way, way, way ahead, and Nikola is the only one that has a truck you can use.”

Aurora freezes designs for autonomous hardware scaling

Aurora Innovations’ announcement Friday that it has frozen the design for autonomous hardware that Continental will build isn’t sexy. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

As Aurora prepares for commercial launch of a few driverless trucks on a Houston-to-Dallas route later this year, plans continue for hardware scaling covering thousands of future trucks.

Bringing new automotive-grade hardware to market can take years from initial design to end user. Aurora established a long-term partnership with Tier 1 supplier Continental in April 2023. The German supplier is building, validating and taking costs out of Aurora Driver hardware for Volvo and Paccar trucks.

Finalizing the hardware architecture, specs and requirements is a big deal because it is foundational for eventually making Aurora profitable.

“From day one, we knew we’d need to build a strong ecosystem of partners to bring this technology to market safely and at a commercial scale,” said Chris Urmson, Aurora co-founder and CEO. “Finalizing the design of our future hardware is a meaningful step toward making the unit economics of the Aurora Driver compelling and building a business for the long term.”

German auto supplier Continental will build automotive-grade autonomous hardware for Aurora Innovation. (Photo: Aurora Innovation)

Emergency fallback upgrade also in the works

Aurora is also working with Continental’s engineers on an updated industrialized fallback system — a specialized secondary computer that can take over operation if a failure occurs in the primary system. It is expected to go into production in 2027.

Continental is investing more than $300 million and will directly ship the Aurora Driver hardware to Volvo Truck and Paccar Inc. plants for integration on assembly lines. Continental will build initial versions of the hardware for testing at its new facility in New Braunfels, Texas, and at other global manufacturing sites.

“Being the industry’s only Tier 1 supplier with a commitment to industrialize autonomous hardware at scale allows us to be at the forefront of and capitalize on this groundbreaking technology,” said Philipp von Hirschheydt, Continental executive board member for the Automotive Group sector.

Trevor Milton bets the ranch

Convicted Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton may be going to prison for four years. But he is still fighting.

Milton’s attorneys wrote to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos on Dec. 28 opposing the government’s plan requiring Milton to forfeit a Utah ranch that he purchased with cash and Nikola stock options in 2020. The stock options and land sale formed one of three wire and securities fraud convictions in October 2022.

Ramos said during Milton’s Dec. 18 sentencing that he generally agreed with prosecutors seeking forfeiture.

The letter said Milton paid $8.5 million in cash plus the stock options to purchase the Wasatch Creeks Ranch, $1.6 million more than seller Peter Hicks paid for the property in March 2020. The letter also said Hicks could have sold the options for $1 million but declined to do so. Milton later exchanged the options for $1.6 million in discounted Nikola stock.

The defense’s bottom line is that making Milton give up the ranch is too severe a penalty for the conviction in part because no criminal proceeds resulted.

Trevor Milton outside court following his Dec. 18 sentencing. (Photo: Matthew Lee/Inner City Press)

Briefly noted …

Kodiak Robotics has selected Ambarella Inc.’s AI domain control system-on-chip as a complete embedded compute solution for its next-generation autonomous vehicles.

The city of Tucson, Arizona, wants to claw back about $110,000 from autonomous truck developer TuSimple Holdings after the startup shut down operations.

Volvo Trucks North America will reveal its next-generation VNL sleeper truck on Jan. 23.

That’s it for this week. Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays. And catch the latest in major events and hear from the top players on Truck Tech at 3 p.m. Wednesdays on the FreightWaves YouTube channel.

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