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Future Says S5E5 Recap: Hydrogen, Electric, and the Future of Heavy-Duty Vehicles

In theory, it’s a simple idea: Why not use the universe’s most abundant element, hydrogen, to power our vehicles? After all, engines within fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are more efficient than their internal combustion counterparts and produce no harmful tailpipe emissions – only water vapor and warm air. This is exactly what Nikola Corporation and Pedro Garcia, our latest guest on Future Says season five, are committed to doing. 

Garcia is Nikola’s global head of supply chain management, responsible for overseeing the delivery of Nikola’s two flagship products under the Tre line – the FCEV (hydrogen) and BEV (battery-electric) – to the market. As Garcia explains, the two vehicles are slightly different – both are built on the same platform but feature different powertrains – but both aim to provide the heavy-duty transportation industry with a glimpse of the future. “It’s a great pleasure for Nikola to be the first company in the marketplace delivering this cutting-edge technology to the commercial vehicles/heavy duty transportation [space],” Garcia says.


Battery and Hydrogen Heavy-Duty Vehicles: A Two-Pronged Approach

Nikola’s FCEV and BEV models, which began production in September 2023 and are currently available in the U.S. and Canada, are designed to transform the Class 8 automotive space. It’s well-known that transportation is a significant source of carbon emissions both in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, in the U.S., it’s the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector at 29%; heavy-duty trucking plays a significant role in those emissions. That’s why Garcia says Nikola saw such a great chance to make an impact with two alternative energy trucking solutions. “Driving commercial vehicles is a very dense, very energy-demanding application for long distances,” he says. “Transportation [constitutes] for a very high amount of carbon emissions. For every [zero-emissions] truck we can put out there, it’s a great win for the environment.”

When asked why Nikola offers both the hydrogen-powered Tre FCEV and the electric Tre BEV, Garcia points out a few key differences between the models designed to give customers as much flexibility as possible. For one, Garcia notes that while the FCEV offers less continuous horsepower than the BEV, it’s lighter, offers a greater max range (500 vs. 300 miles), and features a shorter charging period (as little as 20 minutes vs. 90 minutes) than the BEV. Garcia also points out that the shorter charging period is a common benefit of hydrogen-powered vehicles compared to their battery-powered counterparts in general.

In addition, Garcia notes that there are still electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure limitations around the U.S. that can bottleneck Class 8 trucking operations. “There are challenges on the infrastructure side, especially as fleets scale up in their amount of vehicles,” he says. “The utilities [electricity costs] become the bottleneck when a fleet runs 10, 20, 30 vehicles and tries to charge them.” Moreover, building new EV charging infrastructure – especially direct current fast charging (DCFC) stations – can be a cumbersome process that can take up to 18 months. That said, he’s quick to note that regulations and incentives in both the U.S. and Canada are driving down costs and expanding EV infrastructure at a record pace. And regardless, he emphasizes that FCEVs and BEVs are both better than having a heavy, diesel-burning truck on the road.


Setting Standards and Envisioning Heavy-Duty Vehicles’ Future

As the first player in the hydrogen space within heavy-duty transportation, Garcia highlights that Nikola is doing a lot of things first. This can be both anxiety-inducing and exhilarating. “At Nikola we say we’re ‘validating’ many things – we’re validating a business model, a hydrogen ecosystem, a vehicle technology. Customers, hydrogen, and trucks have to come together for the technology to mature and take off from the ‘ramping-up’ phase,” he says. This is exactly where he says we are now.

As with any new technology, hydrogen engine safety is paramount for Nikola, customers, and regulators alike. Garcia says that Nikola is pioneering many of the automotive hydrogen safety standards to be used around the world. “At Nikola, we developed, in many cases, the hydrogen standards for the world,” he says. “We have people in our engineering department that are sitting in the boards of these [organizations setting] hydrogen standards worldwide, so we’re really pushing the envelope.” 

And beyond the powertrain technology itself, Garcia says cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and high-performance computing (HPC) are making their mark at Nikola and in the automotive space in general. He says this is easily seen in the mass adoption of things like digital twin technology and over-the-air (OTA) updates. “Every time we ship a truck, we know that it will become better, smarter, and more efficient down the road,” he says. “We continue to provide OTA updates for our vehicles and we’re very much in sync with our hardware on the roads to make sure we’re optimizing everything from a software standpoint.” These technologies are enabling a future in which better, safer vehicles can get to the market faster – and get better throughout their life cycle.


A One-of-a-Kind Juncture in Automotive History

Beyond the talk of granular details and complicated technology, Garcia tries to keep everything in perspective – an especially poignant point from someone who’s been working in the automotive space for more than 15 years. In that time he’s seen a lot of change, but he thinks this our current juncture may be the biggest yet. “Being an engineer in this space right now is a blessing,” he says. “I think this kind of revolution happened 100 years ago when gasoline and diesel were established; [now] we’re seeing the establishment of the technologies that will probably power automobiles for the next 100 years to come. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead this transformation.”

And in our future, he believes that hydrogen will have a crucial role to play in heavy-duty transport. In some ways, he says, we’re already seeing that future emerge. “[Makers of] passenger cars are still in conversations asking what kind of role hydrogen will play, but within the commercial vehicle space there’s no question hydrogen will play a role for long distances. In the heavy-duty space, basically all OEMs have announced some sort of hydrogen truck program,” Garcia says.

It's an exciting time indeed, and it’s exhilarating to speak with people pushing to create a greener, more sustainable future. The vision from Nikola and Garcia, in his own words, is simple and powerful: “Our vision is decarbonization and a zero-emissions future for mobility.” A bold vision for a bold era.

Click here to listen to the full episode with Nikola Corporation’s Pedro Garcia. To check out the rest of Future Says season five, visit And be sure to subscribe to Future Says on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music/Audible, YouTube Music, and Podcast Addict.