Test Drive: Nikola Tre BEV Truck is Off to an Exciting Start - Equipment

Check Drive: Nikola Tre BEV Truck is Off to an Thrilling Begin – Gear

Nikola’s Tre BEV has curb attraction in spades. It stands tall and proud at simply over 13 ft excessive. Its nimble 186-inch wheelbase will get it out and in of the tightest spots. 

Picture: Jim Park

It’s an extended climb up into the cab of the Nikola Tre, however oh, so well worth the effort.

The cab flooring is almost 5 ft off the bottom, and the roof stands somewhat over 13 ft excessive. In between is an unlimited expanse of glass providing the very best view of the skin world of any truck on the highway at present, bar none.

In case you’ve heard tales from old-timers with critical miles on old-style American cab-over-engine vans, ignore them. The Tre, constructed on a European Iveco S-Means platform, rides like a luxurious motor coach. Any resemblance to our outdated COE vans ends on the entrance bumper.

Nikola was providing ride-n-drives on a battery-electric Tre on the American Trucking Associations Expertise & Upkeep Council annual assembly in Orlando in late February/early March. Slots to get a experience in a Tre had been booked strong inside hours of posting the invites. Media varieties had been supplied prolonged drives later within the afternoon, after all of the potential paying clients had a go at it.

Nikola was offering ride-n-drive opportunities at TMC in Orlando this year. Bookings were snapped up in a heartbeat, suggesting there’s pretty strong interest in the Tre BEV.  -  Photo: Jim Park

Nikola was providing ride-n-drive alternatives at TMC in Orlando this 12 months. Bookings had been snapped up in a heartbeat, suggesting there’s fairly robust curiosity within the Tre BEV.

Picture: Jim Park

I had about an hour behind the wheel, the place I took a lap across the conference middle after which headed out onto the freeway. I additionally received a demo of Plus’ next-generation superior driver-assistance system, PlusDrive. There’s extra on that beneath.

The trickiest a part of driving the Tre is understanding which leg to make use of to start climbing into the cab. I noticed quite a lot of first-time COE’ers with their legs all snarled as they swung into the seat. It’s the left leg, by the way in which. The identical on the way in which down, however that’s a bit extra intuitive.

When you’re within the seat, you’re struck by how excessive you sit. The driving place is de facto solely a foot or so larger than most typical vans, however the huge windshield and the sheer drop to the bottom proper out entrance gives the look of altitude. The view is superb, and whereas the mirrors are giant and do create some blind spots, the world round the suitable entrance wheel is nicely coated by the right-hand convex mirror and a look-down mirror constructed into the suitable aspect of the solar visor. Total, the visibility is terrific.

The Digital Cockpit within the Nikola Tre

The wrap-around sprint sits pretty tall, leaving no misunderstanding that you just’re in a truck. The sprint panels are very tidy, too. There are few mechanical controls, save for the parking brake launch switches. I say switches somewhat than valves, as a result of that’s what they’re. Nikola makes use of the Bendix Intellipark system. It’s an digital change wired over the precise brake valves, that are most likely tucked below the cab someplace. You’ll be able to’t hear the parking brakes launch or apply, which is a bit unusual.

All the knowledge the motive force actually wants, such because the speedometer, is on the sprint A-panel. There are numerous shows exhibiting battery state of cost and remaining vary, however little else. It’s very uncluttered and straightforward to learn, with white lettering on a black background. Conspicuously absent is a tachometer, which in fact is hardly vital with an electrical drivetrain.

A huge 17-inch digital display dominates the driver’s work area. The A panel displays need-to-know information, while the B-panel has all the settings and secondary functions. The white-on-black display is easy on the eyes and the mapping function is incredibly clear and easy to read.    -  Photo: Nikola

An enormous 17-inch digital show dominates the motive force’s work space. The A panel shows need-to-know info, whereas the B-panel has all of the settings and secondary capabilities. The white-on-black show is simple on the eyes and the mapping perform is extremely clear and straightforward to learn.  

Picture: Nikola

When the truck is in movement, the display shows lane place, following distance, and so forth., which is tied right into a inventory ADAS system. PlusDrive provides one other dimension to that.

Whereas different OEMs have just lately launched glass show sprint panels, none are as giant because the 17-inch B-panel touchscreen within the Tre. That is the place the motive force can select a mess of capabilities from the menus. The frequent stuff, like headlights, local weather management, radio, and so forth., are all the time displayed, with different objects laying not too deep within the varied menus. There’s even a touch-control for the diff locks on the display. No extra clunky air solenoid management with its protecting wire cage.

Nikola Tre Cab and Chassis

The Tre as pushed sits on a 186-inch wheelbase, which is a fairly normal configuration for a North American daycab tractor. It appears longer as a result of there a lot open house behind the cab. Sitting proper between the steer tires and the drive wheels are 9 battery packs with 733 kWh capability (three on both aspect outdoors the body rails and three extra between the body rails.)

The usual wheelbase for a Tre 4×2 diesel tractor in Europe is simply 149 inches (165 inches for a 6×4). Nikola added a number of inches to accommodate the modular battery packs. The cab, which is definitely a regular single sleeper cab in Europe, wouldn’t be tolerated by drivers right here, used to 60-plus inches of off-duty house. In Nikola’s demo vans, the house on the rear of the cab is a bench seat. It might be used as a sleeper in a pinch, I suppose.

Nonetheless, Nikola has mentioned a truck sleeper cab is forthcoming on the long-haul fuel-cell model of the Tre.

The front half of the Tre chassis in production, showing the modular battery packs, steer axle, and the electronics package that sit beneath the cab floor.  -  Photo: Jim Park

The entrance half of the Tre chassis in manufacturing, exhibiting the modular battery packs, steer axle, and the electronics package deal that sit beneath the cab flooring.

Picture: Jim Park

The cab sits on 4 dampened air springs, which had been rigorously tuned for stability, stiffness and experience consolation. The entrance axle is a three-leaf taper spring. The rear suspension is an revolutionary eight-bag air-ride affair. Disc brakes stay in any respect wheel positions.

Underneath the cab sit all of the electronics and electrical {hardware}, convertors, invertors, coolers, and so forth. It’s a extremely tight packaging job, however no less than engineers had a flat-floor cab to work with, somewhat than the engine-tunnel designs of yesteryear. (Drivers referred to as that tunnel the doghouse. It was a terrific place to put for a nap, but it surely made getting across the sleeper an actual ache.)

In case you did the maths from again within the first paragraph of this story, you’d conclude there’s nearly 7 ft of house between the ground and the ceiling within the Tre. You’ll be able to get up and stroll round within the factor.

The seats are big and terribly comfy, and usually the feel and appear of the inside is pure premium. There’s a header panel above the motive force with a number of storage spots and the ever-present espresso cup holders beneath the sprint with a bit extra storage there. It’s, in any case, a fairly lengthy attain over to the glove compartment.

The doorways open wider than most typical vans, and the aspect home windows are huge. And naturally, it’s terribly quiet inside, because of the absence of a diesel engine. Tire and geartrain noise was non-existent, however there was some wind noise, and the air con followers and even {the electrical} system cooling followers had been audible. I ought to say, the cooling followers had a low hum to them, not the howl we affiliate with cooling followers on diesel vans.  

The driving position in the Tre is very comfortable. Large windows and mirrors promote excellent visibility. The wrap-around e-dash is devoid of mechanical controls, except the parking brake buttons.  -  Photo: Jim Park

The driving place within the Tre could be very comfy. Giant home windows and mirrors promote wonderful visibility. The wrap-around e-dash is devoid of mechanical controls, besides the parking brake buttons.

Picture: Jim Park

Shut-Quarters Maneuvering

There’s not an entire lot to say about driving the Tre on a freeway, besides that it’s exceptionally {smooth} and actually quiet, as you’d count on. However there’s an entire different story to inform about its maneuvering capabilities, and the amazingly tuned steering and throttle pedal response. (Can we nonetheless name it a throttle pedal? Let’s name it the accelerator pedal.)

It will make some folks loopy, however I liken it to the texture of the outdated mechanical 3406 Caterpillar diesels for throttle response. There was nothing finer, for my part. On a earlier quick drive I had at Nikola’s Coolidge manufacturing plant final summer time, an engineer instructed me they spent a substantial amount of time on the pedal mapping for the Tre. The facility rolls on very easily and it’s very responsive. In case you’re {smooth} on the pedal, it can deal with you properly.

That engineer mentioned it was probably the greatest vans he’d pushed for backing below trailers and into loading docks. His phrases, not mine. I didn’t have the chance to do both on that drive or the Orlando drive. Judging by the way in which it accelerated, I’d be inclined to imagine him. Simply the slightest stress on the pedal received the truck transferring, but it surely solely went as a quick as I pushed the pedal down. Articulate could be a great phrase to explain the pedal really feel. Similar to these outdated Cats.

Because the seating place is simply forward of the steer axle hub, you’re truly out in entrance of the wheels, main the flip somewhat than following — a bit like a bus. And it’s received a fairly dramatic steering lower; it activates a dime. Drivers might be pleasantly stunned at how tight it turns and the way surefooted it feels in a nook, even at pace. 

Whereas I wouldn’t name myself an knowledgeable on steering really feel in electrical vans, I’ve pushed a pair I wasn’t actually pleased with. These vans didn’t appear to have the “really feel” of a hydraulic system. All autos rely to a sure extent on constructive caster to assist with the centering impact. Some electrical programs appear to rely extra on sensors and motors to return the wheels to middle after a flip. It simply doesn’t really feel the identical.

The Tre’s steering, whereas electrical and little doubt additionally counting on sensors and motors for centering, has a extra acquainted mechanical really feel to it. That’s a technique of claiming the engineers received that half proper. And that’s necessary since drivers spend loads of time steering their vans.          

Tre’s BEV Efficiency

I bobtailed round Orlando with the Tre, so truthfully, I can’t say something significant about its efficiency. It was extra like driving a automobile than a truck, however the temporary drive would have greater than whet the urge for food of any fleet supervisor who secured a experience on the truck at TMC.

Its car-like really feel truly worries me a bit. Again in my day as a driver, if you needed to coax and cajole a truck up by means of 10 or 13 gears to succeed in freeway pace, you had some sense of what it took to get 80,000 kilos as much as freeway pace. That sort of disappeared with automated guide transmissions, and it’s all however gone with electrical powertrains, because of the gobs of torque out there at even a number of dozen rpm.

The back end of the Tre chassis, showing the disc brakes on all axles and the eight-bag air suspension.  -  Photo: Jim Park

The again finish of the Tre chassis, exhibiting the disc brakes on all axles and the eight-bag air suspension.

Picture: Jim Park

Whereas on my Coolidge drive, one of many engineers instructed me a inventory Tre can do 0-60 mph in 35 seconds — absolutely loaded. Put one other manner, it might preserve 55 mph on a 5-6% grade. You’ve all most likely seen the Tre tire burn-out movies on YouTube. No fleet supervisor on the earth would purchase a truck as a result of it might do 0-60 in half a minute. That’s why Nikola’s engineers are engaged on methods to modulate torque so drivers can’t try this. It’s all within the pedal mapping.

The Tre’s two motors can ship as much as 645 hp to the wheels. The torque numbers aren’t printed, however they might be nicely north of two,000 lb-ft at any rpm. That’s greater than sufficient to burn by means of 26/32 of tire tread in just some weeks if not corralled correctly.

The opposite aspect to all that get-up-and-go is the Tre’s notable retarding energy. It has a six-position regen braking retarder management on the steering column, like most of at present’s AMT shifter stalks. With a little bit of follow, a diligent driver can motor round city hardly utilizing the service brakes besides to carry the truck stopped. I’d say that ability will change into the trendy equal of the smooth-shifting diesel jockey we as soon as revered.

Whereas on my Coolidge drive, discussing sides of the truck with my engineer/tour guides, one among them mentioned throughout testing on the 11-mile, 5% grade at Davis Dam close to Bullhead Metropolis, Arizona, the test-Tre managed your entire descent, absolutely loaded at 82,000 kilos, utilizing solely regen braking.

Nikola’s truck manufacturing facility in Coolidge, Arizona. Equipment Editor Jim Park visited the plant briefly last summer, including a quick plant tour and a short test drive with a fully loaded Tre.  -  Photo: Jim Park

Nikola’s truck manufacturing facility in Coolidge, Arizona. Gear Editor Jim Park visited the plant briefly final summer time, together with a fast plant tour and a brief take a look at drive with a totally loaded Tre.

Picture: Jim Park

I attempted a number of stops alone throughout that drive, pulling a loaded dry van trailer. Within the quantity 6 place, the retarding functionality was noteworthy. I attempted it, too, whereas bobtailing round Orlando. The driving force can modulate the pedal in order that even whereas in max retarding, it behaves prefer it’s at a decrease setting. Once more, drivers will determine this out, and the journey studies will present which drivers are doing it finest, thus extending the truck’s vary or minimizing power consumption.

Nikola Demos PlusDrive

Whereas the Tre is provided with its personal superior security programs, resembling lane-departure warning, computerized emergency braking, and entrance and rear cameras, Nikola additionally will supply the PlusDrive next-generation security system developed by Plus. The deliberate begin date is late in 2024.

PlusDrive is powered by Plus’ artificial-intelligence learnings, utilized in absolutely autonomous purposes. It’s predictive somewhat than reactive, counting on its capability to foretell what’s about to occur. In different phrases, somewhat than utilizing knowledge from a digital camera and radar (sensor fusion) to alert the system to a closing house cushion, PlusDrive makes data-driven selections on the chance of one other driver’s habits and takes steps earlier than the scenario truly happens.

“PlusDrive is extra subtle than the present state-of-the-art ADAS programs within the sense that we simply do not solely react to the lead car. We take into accounts the whole lot that is occurring round us,” mentioned Amit Kumar, basic supervisor at PlusDrive and VP of engineering at Plus. “We predict the motions of the opposite car after which provide you with essentially the most optimized accel/decel values.”

Kumar mentioned the AI behind PlusDrive is predicated on the info Plus collected and used to coach its absolutely autonomous fashions.

“In case you take one thing like lateral motion inside a lane, with a considerable amount of knowledge, you’ll be able to actually precisely predict if any individual is de facto coming into your lane, or if it’s only a regular motion inside the lane,” he instructed HDT in an interview. “That’s the place the AI algorithms are fairly good.”

Being a Stage-2 autonomous system, PlusDrive delivers lively lane centering in addition to predictive acceleration and deceleration all the way in which all the way down to zero mph. The driving force is required to maintain their palms on the wheel always and stay centered on the highway. A driver-facing digital camera can detect head and eye place and decide if, for instance, a driver is a cellular gadget or making routine mirror checks and searching on the sprint for system monitoring.

Nikola Tre Ultimate Ideas

That was a somewhat lengthy report primarily based on lower than two hours of precise driving. However there’s lots happening with the Tre. It’s a COE design, which is worthy of point out in fact. It appears at this early stage to be each bit pretty much as good as its legacy opponents (time will inform if it lives as much as the million-mile benchmark).

Evaluating electrical drivetrains is new territory for me. I perceive diesel torque curves and equipment ratios and the right way to predict efficiency and drivability. I’m nonetheless studying about electrical programs.

After all, the 800-lb gorilla is the burden of the truck. Nikola hasn’t printed a quantity but, and the opposite OEMs are reluctant to debate the burden of their battery-electric vans. I’ve seen the chassis weight stickers on a number of Class 8 BEVs, and the “typical” weight for a day cab with about 350-400 kWh batteries is about 22,000 lb.

The Tre, with nearly double the battery capability (733 kWh) is heavier, naturally. I used to be instructed by a potential Nikola Tre buyer the burden was near 29,000 lb. I later confirmed that with Nikola. The corporate says it might supply a smaller pack sooner or later, however for now, the whole lot ships with the total complement of batteries. 

The driving force surroundings is second to none, when it comes to visibility, usability and luxury. I just like the COE design, and I actually like Tre’s European heritage. They know the right way to construct a cabover. Drivers might be amazed by its maneuverability. And an enormous plus: Reversing a full-width COE means simply poking your head out the window. No extra craning your neck to see across the sleeper.

I’m anxious to get out on a full take a look at drive with a loaded trailer and do some real-world evaluations of the truck. I can say at this level, Tre appears actually promising.

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