Nikola Corporation
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Nikola plans to integrate PlusDrive's advanced safety system into ZE trucks

Feb. 23, 2023
The Level 4 autonomous system, designed to assist commercial drivers on- and off-highway, would be factory-installed in Nikola’s EV and FCEV Class 8 trucks, which the OEM plans for 2024. Two major fleets begin tests this year.

Nikola plans to factory-install PlusDrive, the nearly self-driving system from Plus, in its battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, the zero-emissions OEM announced on Feb. 22. Two major fleets will be among the first to test the Nikola PlusDrive trucks later this year.

PlusDrive is an advanced driver assistance system that handles most highway traffic conditions with minimal input from the driver behind the wheel. For example, the Level 4 automation can control lane centering, driver-initiated lane changes, stop-and-go traffic, and lane merging. Plus also says its AI optimizes fleet fuel usage. Nikola said it would be the first U.S. manufacturer to add the PlusDrive system to Class 8 trucks.

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Nikola said the system would be available by the end of 2024. But PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation, both FleetOwner 500: For-Hire fleets, will test the first Nikola PlusDrive-enabled trucks later this year.

“PGT Trucking is committed to advancing the transportation industry through the Future of Flatbed, strategically partnering with like-minded companies, like Nikola, to implement innovative technology and equipment into our fleet,” said Gregg Troian, president at PGT Trucking (No. 118 on FleetOwner 500). “We will actively participate in the ongoing development of the Nikola PlusDrive-enabled units, using these trucks in real-world applications, improving safety standards, and enhancing the lifestyle for our drivers.” 

According to Plus, the PlusDrive system turns commercial drivers into pilots who supervise the system to drive on the highway. Its capabilities surpass standard ADAS offerings such as lane-keeping and automatic emergency brakes. The AI company said it continues adding new driving features through over-the-air updates without truck downtime.

“Christenson Transportation has and continues to invest in the safest technology available on the market to lower our carbon emissions to meet the goals of our customers and the communities we serve,” said Don Christenson, president at Christenson Transportation (No. 433 on FleetOwner 500). “The Nikola PlusDrive-enabled trucks, along with the current Nikola Tre BEV and hydrogen electric vehicle, will play a significant role in helping us achieve this vision and improve work-life balance for our drivers. We are proud to be one of the first customers to pilot these trucks this year and play an active role in the launch of this innovative technology."

How Nikola will integrate PlusDrive

PlusDrive is the trucking industry’s first commercially available autonomous trucking solution. Until this deal with Nikola, Plus had focused on offering upfits of its technology to existing Class 8 tractors. The Plus Build program takes less than a day to turn equipment into semi-autonomous trucks by adding Plus' lidar, radar, camera sensors, and Plus’s proprietary autonomous driving software. PlusDrive improves safety, enhances driver comfort, and saves at least 10% in fuel costs, according to Plus.

“The enhanced driver assistance features are yet another differentiator of Nikola’s premium driver experience for our customers,” said Michael Lohscheller, president and CEO of Nikola Corporation. “We are one of the first OEMs to offer 100% electric steering paired with the ZF EBS braking system. This base technology in all our vehicles, combined with Nikola’s own internally developed vehicle controls, over-the-air updates, and vehicle security, can enable the integration of these advanced sensors and the realization of the PlusDrive safety system from Plus.”

Together with Nikola’s base technology, PlusDrive would moderate and predict the optimal and safest speed while taking full advantage of regenerative braking in traffic and slowing conditions, according to Nikola. 

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The vehicle keeps the best position within the lane and accounts for other large and emergency vehicles. With PlusDrive, the Nikola Tre BEVs and hydrogen-electric vehicles would come with incident detection capabilities via the multiple cameras used with short-range radar and lidar. According to Nikola, the advanced sensor suite assists the driver in safely interacting with other drivers and provides additional liability mitigation protection.

“We are proud to support a zero-emission future and provide the underlying safety system behind Nikola’s enhanced driver assistance features,” said David Liu, CEO and co-founder of Plus. “The proven commercial readiness of our highly automated solution PlusDrive accelerates the deployment for our partners and sets a new bar for safety and sustainability for the trucking industry.”

While operating on surface roads, the PlusDrive-equipped Nikola trucks would be able to detect obstacles and traffic in blind spots. The system will also monitor other traffic, including motorcycles and pedestrians, so drivers know their proximity information. 

Nikola said the system works in all traffic conditions, including loading docks. The OEM noted that pedestrian safety around the zero-emissions trucks is essential as they are much quieter than traditional equipment. The system monitors pedestrians around the vehicle to help ensure the safety of typical operations, including loading and unloading, inspections, and charging and fueling. Safe operation during high-power charging and hydrogen fueling will also be supplemented with detection and recording features.

Nikola also said it is establishing an Enhanced Driver Assistance Customer Council to collaborate with fleets and Plus on refining the system.

Nikola plans to demonstrate the PlusDrive-powered Nikola Tre BEV during ride-alongs at the Technology and Maintenance Council annual meeting and exhibition in Orlando from Feb. 27 through March 1.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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