GM No Longer Building Nikola Electric Pickup, Nixes Equity Stake

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

On Monday, General Motors and Nikola Corp announced a revamped agreement that eliminates an equity stake in the startup for the Detroit automaker and nixed any plan for manufacturing Nikola’s electric pickup truck. This makes the keystone of the revised contract their collaborative work on fuel-cell development, represents a major setback in their partnership, and makes GM management look like rubes for having announced a sizable commitment that had to be walked back after a short seller claimed Nikola was fraudulently representing itself.

Despite having much to gain by torpedoing the EV startup’s curiously high share price, the associated Hindenburg report raised serious questions about exactly how much progress Nikola had made. The short seller effectively accused the company of fraud, something Nikola denied. Though subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice still began arriving at its offices in late September. Founder and former executive chairman Trevor Milton stepped down around this period. At the time, the company said it was cooperating with the investigations “and will continue to cooperate, with these and any other regulatory or governmental requests.”

According to separate announcements, the duo currently has a non-binding memorandum of understanding that needs to be negotiated ahead of any definitive deal. But utilizing General Motors’ facilities to manufacture the planned Badger electric pickup in exchange for an 11-percent stake in Nikola and $700 million appears out of the question — for now, anyway.

Though, if they aren’t building it soon, there’s little point. The Badger was intentionally being plotted to intercept Tesla’s fast-approaching Cybertruck and to combat the all-electric offerings planned by the Ford Motor Company. The Blue Oval is currently in the midst of electrifying the F-Series and threw a sizable amount of money at Rivian so it could use its skateboard platform to manufacture EVs for the Ford and Lincoln brands. While that deal also seems to have soured during the early stages of the pandemic, the Detroit automaker has since clarified that it will use Rivian’s hardware to manufacture an EV for Ford but not Lincoln.

The news definitely took a sizable bite out of Nikola’s share price, but the company has seen worse and is already showing signs that it might rally as investors learned GM still intends to supply some of the necessary hardware for Nikola’s commercial rigs. However, it’s slightly curious to see the legacy automaker supplying the startup with fuel-cell systems and its Ultium battery tech when the whole point of spending money on Nikola was to gain access to its purportedly cutting-edge technologies for alternative forms of propulsion and energy storage. Nikola also has partnerships with Bosch and CNH Industrial to supply it find solutions to its upcoming hydrogen and battery-powered products.

Frankly, we still don’t see what the startup is bringing to the table beyond a lot of promises and some relatively slick designs. But Nikola has large aspirations encompassing more than just truck production. It still wants to find a company it can partner with to establish a national hydrogen-fueling network necessary for FCEVs. As things currently stand, hydrogen-powered vehicles cannot stray more than a few hundred miles from their coastal hub in the United States and a strip of stations situated in Central Europe.

[Image: Nikola]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.
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