“Heavy D” Dave Sparks Dishes on the 2022 Nikola Badger
The Diesel Legend Digs Into Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tech
If you were to tap people who might partner with an environmentally friendly technology company to help develop and introduce a new zero-emissions pickup truck, we doubt you'd put Heavy D on said list. Sparks' truck credibility starts with his diesel-specific truck dealership in Utah and ends with a long, long list of custom truck builds he and partner "Diesel Dave" Kiley produce for their TV show, and as the program's title suggests, those trucks are almost universally diesel-powered.
So how did Dave Sparks get involved with the 2022 Nikola Badger, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that produces no tailpipe emissions except pure water? Through one of America's largest reserves of water: Lake Powell. It was on a Powell trip 12 years ago where Sparks befriended Trevor Milton, who later founded the Nikola Motor Company.
In the intervening years, both men have become successful in seemingly diametrically opposed spaces in the automotive world. Nikola is known for its prototype zero-emissions semi trucks, such as the long-haul Nikola One and local Nikola Two hydrogen fuel cell semis, as well as the all-electric Nikola Tre—which will be built by co-developer Iveco.
Conversely, Sparks is (perhaps unfairly) best-known outside the diesel community for a private lawsuit brought by a group of doctors and fellow Utah residents that claimed the Diesel Brothers team was bypassing emissions controls on its vehicles. For his part, Sparks says that the TV program's displays of diesel smoke are "all show," and that the vehicles he sells are compliant with emissions regulations.
Contrary to what was widely reported in the media, "we were never sued by the EPA," Sparks says. "In fact, we're in pretty good standing by the EPA."
But while the worlds of fuel cell and diesel technology might seem as different as seabreezes and smoke, they actually feature a common goal: maximum torque, long range, and excellent efficiency. That's why Nikola's Trevor Milton turned directly to Dave Sparks when it came time for him to develop the recently revealed Badger pickup. The 2022 Nikola Badger, like its tractor-trailer siblings, is a fuel-cell vehicle that uses hydrogen to generate electricity that charges on-board batteries, which in turn power high-torque electric motors. The Badger's exceptional torque rating (a credible 980 lb-ft) means it should be capable of the sort of hard work one might expect of a diesel truck, so Sparks' expertise was invaluable.
And in this area, both Sparks and Milton have a lot in common. Both realize that one of the most significant limitations to modern electric vehicles is the time required to recharge them, as well as "duty cycle limitations." As Heavy D Sparks explained, electric vehicles offer plenty of stump-pulling torque, as well as usable range (at least on paper). But towing a heavy trailer up a hill significantly degrades that theoretical driving distance to the point of making an electric vehicle a poor choice for a tow pig.
Helping the 2022 Nikola Badger circumvent this pitfall while still keeping the instantaneous torque and zero emissions of an electric vehicle is an onboard hydrogen tank and fuel cell. Joining a 160-kWh battery (comparable to some models of the Rivian R1T and Tesla Cybertruck) is an 8kg on-board hydrogen tank, which can provide up to 300 additional miles of range. The fuel cell siphons hydrogen from the tank and splits its molecules into singular hydrogen atoms. This process creates static electricity that then charges the battery.
And if Nikola is successful at building a nationwide hydrogen refueling infrastructure, refilling the H2 tank could be as simple as refueling with gasoline—Dave Sparks says the 8kg tank can be replenished in just four minutes. Such a setup circumvents the recharging times that battery-electric vehicles endure, giving the truck a theoretical range of 300 miles per refuel once its battery runs out of juice.
Speaking of that battery, it can be recharged overnight just like a full electric vehicle, and Sparks says most truck owners will only need to refuel their hydrogen tanks once or twice a month. Used like a pure battery-electric vehicle, the 2022 Nikola Badger will have a range of about 300 miles, making a weeklong commute on a single charge possible for most Americans. Do the math and the Badger should be good for a combined fuel cell/electric range of about 600 miles.
With four-wheel drive courtesy of an individual electric motor per corner, the Badger promises to be a more than just a techno-centric plaything. Sparks is enthusiastic about the truck's potential as a work truck and a weekend toy. "The Badger is very, very purpose-built to live by those guidelines that somebody can take this truck hunting, a framer can take it and build a house, and a guy that works in downtown LA can drive it into the office," he says. "It has to do everything, and it has to do everything very well."
Sparks is also very supportive of his friend at Nikola. "Trevor came from nothing, he's lost it all, he's had nothing ever given to him, and he works really hard," Heavy D says. "Nikola makes so much sense and people should believe in it because Trevor has been very smart and strategic about not taking his product and saying, 'Alright, I'm gonna go build these,' because guess what? There's not a lot of money in manufacturing vehicles."
Instead, Milton has built relationships with industry heavyweights like Bosch and Case New Holland (CNH), entities that understand the complexities of vehicle manufacture. In fact, CNH was key to the development and manufacture of the Nikola Tre EV tractor thanks to its partnership with Iveco. In this way, Nikola is more like a technology company than an automobile manufacturer, developing new ideas and designs, then turning to its partners to bring those ideas into production.
Speaking of production, Dave Sparks is confident the 2022 Nikola Badger will be shown in running, driving prototype form this September, with first series-production deliveries of the truck sometime after the middle of next year. While the Nikola Tre will be built with Iveco, the Badger's manufacturing partner is still a bit of a mystery. For those details, we hope to catch up with Sparks (or Milton himself) soon.