In late 2016, Nikola Motor Company founder Trevor Milton unveiled a prototype of the Nikola One truck, claiming it “fully functions and works, which is really incredible.” A couple years later, in January 2018, the company showed the Nikola One truck moving rapidly along a two-lane desert highway. But last week, the short-selling investment firm Hindenburg Research published a bombshell report, accusing Nikola Motors of massive fraud, having no proprietary technology and vastly overstating the capabilities of their prototypes to investors.
Incredibly, “Hindenburg reported that the truck in the ‘Nikola One in motion’ video wasn’t moving under its own power,” reports Ars Technica. “Rather, Nikola had towed the truck to the top of a shallow hill and let it roll down. The company allegedly tilted the camera to make it look like the truck was traveling under its own power on a level roadway.” From the report: On Monday morning, Nikola sent out a lengthy press release titled “Nikola Sets the Record Straight on False and Misleading Short Seller Report.” While the statement nitpicks a number of claims in the Hindenburg report, it tacitly concedes Hindenburg’s main claim about the Nikola One. Nikola now admits that the Nikola One prototype wasn’t functional in December 2016 and still wasn’t functional when the company released the “in motion” video 13 months later. Nikola claims that the gearbox, batteries, inverters, power steering, and some other components of the truck were functional at the time of the December 2016 show. But Nikola doesn’t claim that the truck had a working hydrogen fuel cell or motors to drive the wheels — the two key components Hindenburg stated were missing from the truck in December 2016.
And Nikola now admits that it never got the truck to fully function. “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,” Nikola wrote in its Monday statement. Instead, Nikola pivoted to working on its next vehicle, the Nikola Two. So what about that video of the Nikola One driving across the desert? “Nikola never stated its truck was driving under its own propulsion in the video,” Nikola wrote. “Nikola described this third-party video on the Company’s social media as ‘In Motion.’ It was never described as ‘under its own propulsion’ or ‘powertrain driven.’ Nikola investors who invested during this period, in which the Company was privately held, knew the technical capability of the Nikola One at the time of their investment.”