Nikola
Nikola Tre BEV

Nikola recalls 209 Tre BEVs over battery coolant leak

Aug. 15, 2023
The voluntary recall, which allows the trucks to remain in operation, was enacted after one of the Class 8 electric truck’s battery pack caught fire. The suspected cause is a coolant leak traced to one component.

A week after Nikola announced its fourth CEO in as many years, the zero-emission truck maker has issued a voluntary recall of 209 Tre battery-electric vehicles and placed a hold on new sales. Customers can still operate the BEVs while Nikola devises a remedy for the suspected issue: a battery pack coolant leak.

Nikola advises that if customers continue to drive the Tre BEV, they should keep the Main Battery Disconnect (MBD) switch in the "On" position at all times. The trucks should also be parked outside to better receive potential over-the-air updates from Fleet Command, Nikola's truck monitoring system.

The leak was allegedly found within only one vehicle’s battery pack, but that was enough to ignite a disastrous domino effect. On June 23, one of the vehicles caught fire at the company’s Phoenix headquarters. No one was injured, but the fire engulfed four other nearby Tre BEVs. The reason for the parking lot conflagration was due to the chemical composition of the lithium-ion battery cells. Once one cell ignites, it causes a chain reaction called thermal runaway within the battery pack, and the melting metal can reach temperatures exceeding 3,600 degrees F.

This makes extinguishing an EV battery fire incredibly difficult, though the Tempe and Phoenix fire departments were able to control the blaze.

An initial tweet suggested foul play—270 employees were laid off June 16—but a third-party investigation by Exponent found “a coolant leak inside a single battery pack was found to be the probable cause of the truck fire,” Nikola reported in a statement. On Aug. 10, an engineering validation truck experienced a “minor thermal incident” (or small fire), corroborating Exponent’s findings. Following an internal investigation, Nikola’s safety and engineering team believe a single supplier component is responsible.

According to Nikola, 3,100 packs have been produced, with only two (less than 0.07%) experiencing a thermal event. The company also stated: Battery system safety was tested and validated, including single cell passive propagation resistance (PPR), vibration and mechanical integrity, thermal shock and cycling, fire resistance, external short circuit, and battery management system overcharge, over-discharge, overcurrent, and extreme temperature testing.

Romeo Power had been Nikola’s battery supplier for the Tre BEV, which Nikola bought last August for $144 million. Less than a year later, Nikola began liquidating Romeo assets and announced its Coolidge, Arizona plant will establish a battery pack line.

The fuel-cell electric model of the Tre, which went into series production July 31, uses a different battery pack design (from Proterra, which just filed for bankruptcy) and therefore was not affected. Deliveries of the first U.S.-made hydrogen truck are expected around the end of Q3.

Production starting on the Tre FCEV suggested the upstart truck maker had turned the corner, though by the end of the week Nikola’s 3rd CEO since 2020, Michael Lohscheller, stepped down to attend to family health matters in Europe.

Now the latest problem is left at the feet of new CEO Steve Girsky, formerly Nikola’s chairman.

“At Nikola we take safety very seriously,” Girsky said. “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.”

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).

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