On Dec. 17, Nikola (NKLA 3.85%) delivered its first Tre battery-electric pilot trucks to Total Transportation Services, a port trucking company in Southern California. That was probably the first major positive development since the company was accused of false claims relating to its technology, leading to the departure of its founder Trevor Milton in September 2020.
So, more than a year after the disturbing developments, has Nikola finally moved on for the better with its new management? Does the stock's fall present a buying opportunity? Let's discuss that next.
Nikola's plans for 2022
First, let's take a closer look at the recent trucks' delivery. The trucks that Nikola delivered to Total Transportation Services are pilot trucks. Total Transportation Services will test these trucks, and if they're found satisfactory, the company will order 30 battery electric trucks in 2022. An order of 70 fuel cell trucks may follow in 2023. In addition to successful trials, an order from Total Transportation Services will depend on it getting some government funding for the purchase of trucks.
Nikola will be able to start producing trucks for sale only after completing modification of its manufacturing facilities and achieving certain validation and testing milestones. Supply shortages, including of batteries and chips, could delay the commercial production of its trucks.
Nikola got another order in December from freight transport company Heniff Transportation, which agreed to buy 10 Tre BEV trucks from Nikola. If these meet expectations, the company may buy 90 additional trucks. The deliveries are expected to begin in the first half of 2022. Nikola's Tre BEV trucks offer a range of up to 350 miles.
Overall, if things go as per plan, Nikola will have a busy 2022. It could start generating revenue from the sale of its trucks during the year.
What may not work for Nikola
Governments and companies have been looking at the heavy-duty truck segment as a key avenue to reduce emissions for a while. Despite significant efforts, not much progress has been made so far in this segment. There are a couple of key factors behind this slow progress. First, in the wake of global chip and battery shortage, the electrification of light vehicles is getting prioritized over the heavy-duty segment.
Second, the costs of battery electric trucks are high and aren't very attractive for fleet owners right now. Government incentives are needed for electric trucks to make economic sense. Lack of charging infrastructure is another concern, as electric trucks need more powerful chargers than typical chargers for light vehicles.
Automakers are still moving ahead with their electric truck plans, albeit slowly. So, Nikola faces intense competition in this segment. Volvo got its first order for the VNR Electric truck in October. Daimler's Freightliner electric trucks have already surpassed one million miles in real-world operation. The company expects to start volume production in 2022. Tesla delayed launch of its Semi truck to 2022, citing global supply chain challenges. The company is already getting robust orders for the Semi truck. Peterbilt and Navistar (NAV) are among other top truck makers that have launched an electric truck.
None of these companies are producing electric trucks at scale right now, partly due to reasons discussed above. However, as the demand for electric trucks heats up, chip and battery shortage issues get resolved, production costs fall, and incentives become attractive, all these players will pose stiff competition to Nikola.
Notably, Nikola faces competition in the fuel cell truck segment too. Hyundai's Xcient fuel cell trucks have exceeded 1 million kilometers of driving. The company plans to deploy these in fleets in California in 2023. Navistar has collaborated with General Motors to source fuel cells for its trucks. Toyota is planning to make fuel cells for trucks at its Kentucky plant.
Is the fuel cell truck maker a buy?
Nikola is still months away from producing salable electric trucks. Moreover, how its pilot trucks will perform remains to be seen.
Furthermore, with so many players entering the electric truck market, Nikola no longer enjoys a first-mover advantage. The company's trucks don't seem to offer any specific advantages over those offered by more established names in the segment. With the kind of track record that Nikola has, it could be extremely challenging for it to gain customers. All in all, the risks that Nikola stock faces might not be worth taking. Investors would be better off avoiding this stock for now.