Investigators have determined that an electric truck fire at Nikola headquarters June 23 once thought to be an act of foul play was due to a coolant leak inside a battery pack. The truck re-ignited exactly one month later.
The findings by third-party investigation firm Exponent were further corroborated, Nikola said, "by a minor thermal incident that impacted one pack on an engineering validation truck parked at the company’s Coolidge, Arizona, plant on Aug. 10." No one was injured in either incident.
Nikola said it is currently in the process of filing a voluntary recall with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for approximately 209 Class 8 Tre battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), and is placing a temporary hold on new BEV sales until a resolution is in place. Nikola in response to CCJ Monday couldn't estimate how long this could take or how long BEV sales might be suspended.
Internal investigations from Nikola’s safety and engineering teams indicate a single supplier component within the battery pack as the likely source of the coolant leak and efforts are underway to provide a field remedy in the coming weeks, the company said. These actions do not affect the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) currently in production as the truck’s battery pack has a different design.
“At Nikola we take safety very seriously,” said Nikola CEO Steve Girsky. “We stated from the beginning that as soon as our investigations were concluded we would provide an update, and we will continue our transparency as we learn more.”
The company noted that thus far, of the more than 3,100 packs on trucks produced to date, only two two battery packs have experienced a thermal event.
While awaiting a fix, Nikola BEV trucks can continue to be used in operation, but Nikola suggests placing the Main Battery Disconnect (MBD) switch into the “ON” position at all times to enable real-time vehicle monitoring and safety systems operation, and parking trucks outside to allow for over-the-air updates and better connectivity with Fleet Command, Nikola’s truck monitoring system. The company said its software systems are being used in real-time to monitor trucks in the field closely and continually assess risks.
The fire in late-June, which burned five battery-electric trucks, followed sweeping layoffs at the company. Nikola said foul play was suspected at the time because a vehicle was seen in the area prior to the incident. Nikola, about a week earlier, cut 120 employees based in Phoenix and Coolidge, Arizona, along with 150 team members in Europe.