ELOY — A world of zero emissions and autonomous vehicles is coming.
That was the proclamation by Britton Worthen, chief legal officer for Nikola Corporation, during a question-and-answer session with Jon Vlaming, community development director for the city of Eloy, at the Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth annual luncheon on Tuesday at Robson Ranch in Eloy.
“It’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when,” Worthen said.
Nikola has proposed to build a 1-million-square-foot facility in Coolidge that would manufacture hydrogen electric semi-trucks. That announcement came after Lucid Motors announced its plans to build a manufacturing facility in Casa Grande for electric vehicles.
Both announcements have the potential to make Pinal County a center of manufacturing in a world of zero emissions vehicles, attendees heard Tuesday.
“Traditionally Arizona is not an auto hub, but when you look at the property offered us along with the proximity to California and Mexico, it was the perfect fit for us,” said Peter Hasenkamp, vice president of global supply chain for Lucid Motors, during a session moderated by Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland.
Both Hasenkamp and Worthen credited the ability to find a skilled workforce in the area as one of the main factors for their companies’ decision to move to the county.
“This is a key element that is often overlooked by large car companies — even they have had challenges by underestimating their workforce requirements,” Hasenkamp said. “That was one of the keys we looked at with Casa Grande and Pinal County, is that it was the right size.”
Lucid Motors announced in November 2016 its plans to build a manufacturing plant to produce electric vehicles by 2018, but that date was later pushed back to December 2020.
Hasenkamp told those in attendance that when completed, the facility would hire 6,700 workers and is expected to produce 20,000 new vehicles per year.
Meanwhile, Nikola announced plans to build its manufacturing plant in August 2018 with it being fully operational by 2025. When completed, the plant is expected to generate a $1.2 billion economic impact to the county. It is expected to employ close to 2,000 workers with an average median salary of between $60,000 to $80,000 a year.
“So these are going to be very highly skilled jobs,” Worthen said. “Having a skilled workforce is critical for this to work. Finding a good, stable workforce for a very complicated product is going to be critical for us.”
Worthen added that the company’s current plan is to have 35,000 trucks rolling off the assembly line in Coolidge by 2026.
By then, both Nikola and Lucid would be in full production in a world of zero emissions and autonomous vehicles.
Worthen did address some concerns that have been raised about self-driving cars. He told the audience that there has always been a fear of replacing the driver, particularly in town and in neighborhoods. However, he said the idea now is having autonomous vehicles on the open road, but having the driver take control once the vehicle is closer to a city or an urban area.
“That seems to make a lot of sense at least on the front end. Having it autonomous until the last few miles before entering an urban area and then taking control of the vehicle again after passing it,” he said. “Autonomy is coming. That its going to come here in some form very soon.”