Nikola Responds to Criticisms of Fraud

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
nikola responds to criticisms of fraud

Following a scathing report from Hindenburg Research that called Nikola a fraudulent company largely dependent upon the blind excitement surrounding electric vehicles, the accused has finally issued a response. On Monday, Nikola released a bulleted letter suggesting the report was the act of an opportunistic short seller that was attempting to take advantage of the period immediately proceeding the announced partnership with General Motors. While Hindenburg didn’t exactly hide that aspect of itself in its own report, it frames the business as only profiting off companies that weren’t above board to begin with. It also received support from Citron Research, which said it likewise thought Nikola needed to be scoped out by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and promised to help pay for half of any legal fees incurred as a result of Hindenburg’s reporting.

Meanwhile, Nikola was crafting its rebuttal after founder Trevor Milton explained he had to wait on a comprehensive response because he was already in contact with the SEC. As his constant Twitter updates started to become counterproductive, this was likely a wise decision. The response dropped on Monday, clearing a handful of items up while making a bunch of other aspects seem even more suspect.

For example, one of our biggest concerns was the rumors that the Nikola One semi that debuted in 2016 couldn’t actually drive under its own power. We weren’t alone in fretting over that either, Bloomberg reported on the issue in June and Mr. Milton became so outraged he suggested the reporter be fired and threatened a lawsuit.

But here’s the rub — the EV company literally admits it wasn’t functional in its rebuttal.

From Nikola:

As Nikola pivoted to the next generation of trucks, it ultimately decided not to invest additional resources into completing the process to make the Nikola One drive on its own propulsion. After pivoting, Nikola produced prototypes for the Nikola Two, which are self-propelled and have been frequently demonstrated, beginning with demonstration runs at Nikola World in April 2019.

The Nikola One was an incredibly successful proof of concept, and everything the Company learned from that experience has underpinned the successful development of its next generation of trucks that can be seen driven here.

The link takes you to a clip from April 2020 where a finished-looking product makes a lap of a parking lot. But that’s not the vehicle everyone is worked up about, it’s that proof of concept from 2016. Milton had previously said the prototype One semi was “fully functions and works,” however the latest from Nikola seems to suggest the contrary.

There were other items like that, too. At one point Nikola flat out admits the prototype wasn’t operational in a commercial from 2017 where it was filmed moving down the highway. Hindenburg Research framed it as intentionally misleading while the EV firm said it was Hindenburg engaging in trickery because the company never stated its truck was driving under its own propulsion in the video, although the truck was designed to do just that, and claimed investors knew that. A similar explanation was given regarding the third-party inverters it was using. Nikola said it never claimed to have installed its own inverters on prototype vehicles but claimed it was working on its own versions for “quite some time.”

While there were a few items Nikola defended more successfully, notably the value of its existing business contracts and some of the contentious employment decisions that have been made, the refutation didn’t make us feel much better overall. If anything, it seemed to support some of Hindenburg Research’s worst criticisms and really makes it look as though the company got a free ride now that GM is paying it to engineer and build the Badger pickup.

And now for the all-important question, did the short-sellers get their way?

You bet they did. Nikola saw around $5 billion vanish from its market value in the days after the Hindenburg report. It has since been trending back upwards, though has a ways to go before it rebounds from the 25 percent loss it endured since September 8th. We’d feel worse if we didn’t already think Nikola’s share price was wildly overvalued. Until the company starts showcasing more of that advanced technology it’s been yammering on about, don’t expect our opinion to change either. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest or divest to your heart’s content. The market seems totally exempt from any rational thinking and just barely connected to the real world. Nikola could be worthless or the most valuable company on the planet by the end of September.

[Images: Nikola]

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5 of 22 comments
  • 13kRPM 13kRPM on Sep 15, 2020

    Nikola is just doubling down on their lies. To date, they have not shown one piece of proprietary advanced technology and reports are they only have 7 patents total. Their stock value was not what it was because they were another johnny come lately EV company, but because they made claims of being vastly ahead of many peers in their unique technology. Founder Milton was quoted over the weekend as saying that he has never deceived anyone. I ask you is this deceiving: You display a hydrogen powered class 8 semi-tractor while making claims it is “fully functional”, has amazing range verified in your testing and that it was developed in secret over several years. The undisputed truth comes out that said truck was thrown together in a few months, was originally designed to be powered by natural gas and that at the time you made those statements it contained electrical sub-systems manufactured by sub-contractors but was completely missing any hydrogen powertrain systems. If that is not deceptive than Mr. Milton, I have a fusion powered truck design to sell you. It only lacks any systems that actually produce fusion. It is a heck of a deal, has a billion-mile range based on your testing standards and is designed to be fully functional. Milton is a bald face liar, end of story.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Sep 15, 2020

    "Nikola Responds to Criticisms of Fraud" Criticisms of fraud? The wording makes it sound like the fraud is a fact, and they're addressing criticism of the fraud. Instead, the headline should read: "Nikola Responds to Claims of Fraud"

    • See 2 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 15, 2020

      @Luke42 I think Rivian, Lordstown, Lucid (maybe) and a couple of the others stand a better chance than Nikola at this time. I think even taking the name Nikola was an intentional dig on Tesla, since the original Tesla of wireless fame is Nikola Tesla: Too many suspicious moves by the Nikola management which suggests a third-party effort to stop Tesla Motors more than develop a true competitor.

  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.
  • FreedMike They should throw in a Lordstown pickup with every purchase. Make it the “vapor twofer.”