Europe‘s biggest blockbuster?

In Iveco, Incoming Cargo, February 202011 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 17, 2020

Nikola Motors‘ self-made billionaire founder and CEO, Trevor Milton, doesn‘t mince his words, as we discovered at the launch of the zero-emission Tre.

Photo: Based on the Iveco S-Way, the Nikola Tre will be the company‘s first offering in the European market.

Last December Nikola Motor and Iveco unveiled the zeroemission Tre tractor unit, the product of a joint venture between the two companies. Manufactured by Iveco, the truck is based on the S-Way, and uses a choice of two Nikola zero-emission drivelines. First deliveries of the battery-electric Tre will commence in Europe in 2021, with a hydrogen fuel cell version following two years later. In our opinion this partnership is a lifeline for Iveco, which is Europe‘s smallest OEM. In return for an investment of US$250m (NZ$380m), Iveco‘s parent company CNH Industrial gets between seven and eight percent of Nikola Motor stock. But, more importantly, it gives Iveco access to Nikola‘s zero-emission drivelines.

This is vital if the truck maker is to hit the EU targets of 15% less CO2 by 2025 and 30% less by 2030 – and avoid hefty fines. The benefits to Nikola of partnering with an established European truck maker are also blindingly obvious – and according to Milton have accelerated its truck-building programme by up to five years and saved it US$500m (NZ$760m). But with all the major players apparently keen to get into bed with Nikola, why did Milton choose Iveco? “As we met with the other OEMs their arrogance really made me mad,” explained Milton, when we caught up with him in Turin, Italy, at the Tre launch. “I‘m an anti-arrogant kind of guy. I truly believe that in this world a rising tide raises all ships, and all they wanted to do was tear us down. All they did was talk about how good they are, how big they are, how they are number one or number two or whatever. It made me cringe. I hated everything about it.”

He goes on to compare their attitude with that of Blockbuster, which was apparently once offered the chance to buy Netflix for US$50m (NZ$76m). “But instead they laughed them out of the room,” says Milton. “And you know what Blockbuster‘s words were – ‘we‘re the biggest, we‘re the best, we‘re number one. Why do we need you?‘ They lost a couple of hundred billion dollars over that mistake. And that is the same treatment I got with these OEMs. I couldn‘t believe it. I hated everything about it.” Milton reckons Iveco came to the table with a totally different attitude and, most importantly, lacked arrogance. “Iveco said, ‘we‘re struggling, we need help. We are really good at building trucks, but we are not any good at anything you guys are doing‘,” recalls Milton. “They looked at our whole portfolio and they said, ‘we want to do all this and we need your help‘. They said, ‘what do you guys struggle with?‘ and I said, ‘here‘s all the things that we suck at‘.” According to Milton, one of the key areas where Nikola “sucks” is with manufacturing. He admits to me that windscreens crack, and bits of trim drop off its prototype vehicles.

Photo: Founder and CEO of Nikola Motors, Trevor Milton, is bullish about the brand‘s prospects against Europe‘s leading OEMs.

“It takes decades to learn this stuff,” he says. “And I didn‘t want to learn it. I didn‘t want to take the path of our competitors, like Tesla. Some of their biggest problems stem from them trying to do it all themselves and not working with anybody. I didn‘t want to repeat those mistakes. He [Elon Musk from Tesla] has done incredible things for the world over there, but I didn‘t want to repeat his mistakes. So, for us I said I want to work with an OEM that knows truck manufacturing, has a parts supply, a supplier base and purchasing power – but I wanted someone humble enough for us to work with and make a difference with. And Iveco won hands down. It wasn‘t even close.”

With the first zero-emission Nikola Tres coming to European Iveco dealers next year, we ask Milton how many years ahead of the established competition he believes his company is. We‘re expecting him to say several years, and are a bit taken aback when he answers, “they‘re right behind us”. He then goes on to state that the established truck makers lied to European legislators when they said it was impossible to meet the next round of emissions standards. “That is total bullshit,” he claims. “They just wanted to sit there and reap billions of dollars of rewards off their diesel programmes, and I‘m tired of it. It‘s over. Screw them all. I‘ll show those guys what‘s up. And now that we have done it, they now actually have to change. They have the tech, they always have had, and they are going to be putting it into the vehicles. They won‘t let us sit here and kick them I promise you. They are not going to be like Blockbuster. They aren‘t going to let us take them down completely. They will react, they‘ll move fast, but the best news is that Nikola will always be known as the company that changed the world of trucking. Nobody else will ever get that title.”

Photo: Futuristic, high-tech working quarters…

Milton is looking for market leadership in Europe, with anticipated sales of 35,000 trucks per annum. In fact, he expects demand to outstrip supply for at least the next 20 years. But, with the likes of Daimler, Volvo Group and TRATON hot on its heels, this begs the question of how Nikola will be able to become market leader and, more importantly, maintain that position. We ask the outspoken CEO what his company will be able to offer that the competition won‘t. “They‘ll never be Trevor. They‘ll never be me. That‘s the difference!” he says. “What you need to realise is my entire life I have been able to see things five to seven years ahead of anyone I have ever met. Let‘s put it this way.

When I sat down with them [established OEMs], one of the questions they asked was, ‘we‘re the biggest, we‘re the best, why can‘t we just squash you, why do we even need you?‘ That is offensive, and in my head I was like, ‘what a bunch of crap!‘ Everything about it is just despicable. So, it really made me mad when they said it. But I looked them in the eye, and I said, ‘you know what, I‘m five to seven years ahead of what you‘re doing right now. I‘ve already got it figured out, and every move you make is normally a move I want you to make. So, for the next five to seven years, every move you make, you‘re going to wonder whether it was a move Trevor wanted you to make, or it was a move you made on your own. You will never know.‘”

Milton added that his company‘s ability to act quickly will also help in its quest for market dominance, claiming that he can make decisions in one day that other truck makers will take a year over. He also cited a far smaller product line-up as a major string to Nikola‘s bow. “I don‘t have 80 divisions and 400 vehicle platforms that I have to deal with,” he says. “You‘re dealing with 400 fires right now, laying off tens of thousands of people, and I‘m only focused on one thing: that truck. “So, why are we going to stay ahead of them? Because we are not them. We are Nikola! “We just kicked their asses up and down, and I love it because of the arrogance they have. I promise you that because of last night [the Tre launch] they‘re all in their boardrooms talking about what to do now. This is the Netflix moment and we‘re kicking their asses.” Nikola‘s arrival in Europe is definitely going to shake things up.

Photo: The tie-up between CNH Industrial and Nikola will result in Iveco focusing on development of hydrogen fuel cells to power future models.