Humble fighters

In Iveco, Incoming Cargo, February 20208 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 6, 2020

Gerrit Marx, CNH Industrial president of commercial and speciality vehicles, gives his perspective on what the tie-up with Nikola means for Europe‘s smallest truck manufacturer.

In 2025 European truck makers will have to slash new truck CO2 emissions by 15% or face hefty fines, but Marx isn‘t daunted. In fact, following the announcement of CNH Industrial‘s US$250m (NZ$380m) investment in Nikola Motor Company, he‘s embracing the challenge. “We are among the first to have realised that something is happening in 2025 that will completely turn around this industry,” he tells us. “There is no point lobbying Brussels to make legislation easier to achieve, as that won‘t work following ‘diesel-gate‘. These are tough targets, but they will be enforced and will need to be complied with.” According to Marx, truck makers have two options – electrification, or “the Iveco way”. Explaining option one, Marx says truck makers will need to electrify roughly 10% of the vehicles they sell. “We will start to see 800kWh or 1gWh batteries in trucks.

They will have to charge €250,000 (NZ$382,000) but how many would they sell? Not many! But they need to sell them or else they will be sued €200m (NZ$305m) a year by Brussels.” The Iveco way is hydrogen fuel cells, possible thanks to its tie-up with Nikola. Marx warns that we may well see some Iveco long-haul trucks with large 800kWh batteries in the near future, but stresses that these will purely be a way of testing electric powertrains ahead of range extending with fuel cells. “Batteries are chemical nightmares,” he declares, “and we are convinced that for long haul, batteries need to be as small as possible, maybe 125kWh, and fuel cells as large as possible.”

Photo: Marx says that truck makers have two options for the future – electrification, or ‘the Iveco way‘.

Industry sources suggest Nikola had the pick of all the major truck makers, so why did it choose Iveco? “Because we are the perfect partner,” answers Marx. “Firstly, we are the pioneers of LNG,” he declares proudly. “We have launched a new powertrain technology with a new refuelling network. Although hydrogen is very different from gas, we have proved that we can revolutionise a segment.” Reason number two is Iveco‘s absence from Nikola‘s home market. Marx explains: “Trevor [Milton, CEO and founder of Nikola] said, ‘You are not in the US, so I can fully trust you not to try to make me fail at home. You want me to be successful in the US because you will enter the US with me. If we partner with someone who already has a big US operation, they will never love us.‘ But we are a problem-free partner.” Marx‘s third reason is Iveco‘s size. “We are the smallest heavy-duty truck maker in Europe,” he says. “We are, and have proven to be, the most resourceful. We know how to fight in difficult positions, how to operate with small market shares, and how to work around the challenges that this brings. You could call us the humble fighters.”

Marx believes the time is right for hydrogen, not only due to European legislation, but also because of a change in attitude towards fossil fuels. “There is an entire new generation of young people who don‘t accept that we should be consuming natural resources,” he explains. “Iveco will still invest in diesel engines, don‘t get me wrong, but the generation connected via Facebook and multimedia are globally aligned in their feelings. This wasn‘t there five years ago.” In early December Iveco and Nikola held a joint press conference in Turin, in which they set out more details of their partnership and unveiled the Nikola Tre. The company‘s European offering, the Nikola Tre, will be based on the S-Way, and is likely to be built at one of Iveco‘s existing factories.

Marx confirms that the first examples will appear on our roads in 2023 and “look kick-ass!” The Nikola Tre will be available in 2- and 3-axle rigid versions, with GVW ranging from 18 to 26 tonnes for urban distribution. The vehicle will feature a modular battery system with a total capacity of up to 720kWh, which can be tailored to match different customers‘ operations. The electric driveline will deliver 480kW continuous power output with 1800Nm peak torque. The 4×2 version displayed will have a range of up to 400km and dynamic performance equal to or better than a diesel equivalent model, Iveco says.

At the press conference, Trevor Milton, Nikola Motors CEO, said: “We needed the right partner to help us enter the European market and CNH Industrial is the right commercial partner. While other OEMs are laying off tens of thousands of employees, Nikola is creating thousands of jobs and forcing the trucking industry to react and go zero emission. Look at what we have accomplished in three months; now imagine what we will accomplish in three years with CNH Industrial as our partner.” But, despite the enthusiasm, Marx is the first to acknowledge that there will be some challenges on the road to hydrogen fuel cells. “Will it be a huge breakthrough in 2023? Off course not! Will we have a few hundred trucks on the road? Of course. Will a few of them break down? Of course!” But he is convinced that Iveco is on the right road, one that gives his company a serious advantage over the competition. “Everyone can put together a truck with batteries that drives around emission-free like a Tesla,” he says. “Anybody with money can do that. Iveco can‘t outspend the competition, but we can outpace and outsmart them.”