Nikola has delayed a long-awaited event to showcase its vehicles and battery technology, as the start-up battles a crisis that led to the departure of its founder Trevor Milton.
The Arizona-based company said on Wednesday that its “Nikola World” event in December, where it was set to demonstrate vehicles including the Badger pick-up truck, has been postponed, without giving a new date.
While Nikola pointed to Arizona’s restrictions on large gatherings in light of the pandemic, the delay comes as the group tries to win back investors’ confidence after a short-seller earlier levelled allegations of fraud against a company that was briefly one of the hottest stocks on Wall Street.
In a long statement on Wednesday, seemingly designed to reset expectations and clarify timelines for a company that only went public in June, Nikola detailed its projects and their progress. It reconfirmed key dates in its product development, including the launch of its first truck to be manufactured by Iveco in Germany late next year. The group said it is also on track to begin production at a facility in Arizona in 2022.
The market value of Nikola has collapsed since a report from short-seller Hindenburg Research on September 10 claimed the company was an “intricate fraud”. Mr Milton, the company’s public face, has vowed to defend himself against “false allegations” after quitting the group last week. Nikola has said the allegations are “false and misleading”.
Since his exit, the company has faced further scrutiny over how much of its technology originates in-house — the focus of much of the Hindenburg report. Over the weekend, the Financial Times reported that Mr Milton had purchased designs for its debut truck, the Nikola One, from a designer in Croatia in 2015, despite Nikola saying in a more recent lawsuit against Tesla that Mr Milton began work on the project “in his basement”.
Alongside its statement, Nikola on Wednesday released a video showing its trucks driving on a variety of roads, a feat that would be unremarkable had the company not been forced to admit this month that an earlier product clip showed one of its vehicles rolling down a hill.
The crisis engulfing the group has raised concern that its flagship partnership with General Motors is under threat.
Just days before Hindenburg made its allegations, GM struck a deal with Nikola in which the US carmaker took an 11 per cent stake in the start-up, then worth $2bn. The deal had been due to close on Wednesday, but both companies said they remain in negotiations.
The plunge in shares in Nikola, which was briefly worth more than GM’s longstanding rival Ford, left the value of GM’s planned stake at just $750m.
The agreement, which will also commit GM to manufacture the Nikola Badger and supply its battery or hydrogen systems, has until early December to close, under the terms of the original deal.
In its lengthy statement on Wednesday, Nikola sought to pitch itself as “an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) whose expertise lies in design, innovation, software and engineering”.
“We assemble, integrate, and commission our vehicles in collaboration with support from business partners and suppliers,” it added.
Its Tre prototype trucks will be substantially completed in Ulm, Germany “in the next few weeks”, the company said, while its manufacturing plant in Coolidge, Arizona will be partly finished in 2021 and fully complete in mid-2023, with the capacity to build 35,000 trucks a year.
Testing of its fuel cell truck prototypes will begin in 2022, with production starting the following year, the company said. Beer company Anheuser-Busch previously said it has ordered 800 of the fuel cell trucks.
The company also said it “remains committed” to announcing a “major collaboration for hydrogen production and hydrogen fuelling stations by the end of the year”. It plans to break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station in the spring of 2021.