That mission in itself is requiring Nikola founder and CEO Trevor Milton to raise more than $1 billion, $480 million of which was pledged in recent months by Bosch, Hanwha Group of South Korea and CNH Industrial. But that pales in comparison to the funds needed to create the charging stations to keep the big rigs rolling: That will cost an additional $15 billion, by Milton's estimates.
That cost might sound like a dream killer. But Milton says it's not keeping him awake at night. That's because Nikola is pursuing a unique business model in which the cost of the charging stations will be funded by customer contracts. Every time Nikola signs a deal with a new customer, that customer gets a dedicated charging network, with a station — or multiple stations — constructed where their established driving routes are.
The upfront investments in the stations are baked into the acquisition price of the trucks.
"People have asked, how can you afford to build them? But it won't require us to go out and raise $15 billion — we'll do it through our contracts," Milton told Automotive News. "We can pay for them with very little debt."
Nonetheless, the stations are enormously expensive. Each station will require heavy-duty 1,000-volt chargers that cost about $250,000 each. The sites will also store hydrogen for rapid refueling. Milton estimates that each location will cost between $20 million and $30 million. And there will be 700 of them around the country. Anheuser-Busch, an earlier customer, will get a network of 12 of them in the Southwest.
Even though stations will be opened where the customer specifically operates, they eventually will form a national charging grid that will allow Nikola customers to travel from coast to coast, the CEO said.
"We will build 100 stations a year for the next seven years," he said.
The company has opened its first station in Phoenix. A second is under construction in California.