FLAT ROCK, MICH.—If I were to tell you about an electric vehicle with 125kWh of batteries, 590hp (440kW), and a 0-60mph time of 3.5 seconds, you’d probably think “Tesla.” But this EV is something a little more esoteric and one that can go places a Tesla would fear to tread.
You might be more familiar with Nikola for its heavy-duty fuel cell trucks; Anheuser-Busch recently placed an order for 800 of those, and the company is embroiled in a lawsuit with Tesla over the later’s electric Semi, which Nikola claims infringes its patents. Like Tesla, Nikola uses Bosch components in its vehicles, although in this case the relationship is quite a close one, with the tier 1 supplier being deeply involved in the development of both the long-haul truck as well as the NZT.
The NZT has a rather interesting design. Each wheel gets its own electric motor, which uses Bosch’s eAxle technology we’ve described previously. This design also means it’s capable of torque vectoring for better agility. Each corner also uses a Fox internal bypass damper with 20 inches (508mm) of travel. Since it’s a completely flat-bottom design with no differential or other mechanical gubbins poking down, that means great off-road ability, with 14.5 inches (368.3mm) of ground clearance.
As with just about every other electric vehicle in development, the battery pack lives below the passenger space. In this case, that passenger space is made up of a beefy steel roll cage that provides the NZT with plenty of structural rigidity. The battery pack is waterproofed to the same IP67 standard as an iPhone 8 (which means it can survive being submerged in 1 meter of static water for up to 30 minutes), which is important for a vehicle that’s meant to spend its time in the great outdoors.
And Nikola is planning to offer three different batteries: a 75kWh pack good for 90 miles (145km), 100kWh for 120 miles (193km), and finally a 125kWh version good for up to 150 miles (241km) of range. Charging should take three hours with Nikola’s 400V system, eight hours via a 240V supply, and 18 hours with plain-old 110V. If you don’t plan to head that far into the bush, you can also use the battery pack as a remote power supply.
There will also be a choice of four different power levels: 266hp/198kW for the cheapest version, with the most powerful being a 590hp/440kW option. It’s that last one that we got to sample—albeit from a passenger seat—at the proving grounds, and I don’t doubt Nikola’s claims that it’s capable of reaching 60mph in just 3.5 seconds, even on a rough surface. At low speeds it should be much quieter than any of its internal combustion engine-powered competition, although the cooling fans did make their presence known during our demo. At higher speeds, you’ll hear wind noise primarily.
Production is slated to begin next year, and the target prices are actually not as much as you might expect; the 198kW version with 75kWh of lithium-ion should set you back $28,900, according to the company, going up to $61,900 for the 440kw, 125kWh model.