A week ago, Nikola founder Trevor Milton was charged by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan with three counts of fraud in connection with the investigation into the electric vehicle startup. Milton says he is not guilty, but Nikola immediately distanced itself from the negative news.
We asked FreightWaves experts to provide their HFOs (Hot Freight Opinions) on the developments with Milton and the potential impact on Nikola.
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Alan Adler, Detroit bureau chief
Nikola Corp. is a story of two companies: one a cult of personality led by the now federally charged Trevor Milton, and the other a startup struggling to make it on the merits of zero-emission technologies. Milton got a lot of leeway as the chief cheerleader who aped Elon Musk, right down to the naming of the company after inventor Nikola Tesla.
Trevor once told me that he believed generating hype was part of his job — tell your own story before someone else tells it for you. But doing so carelessly and allegedly being caught in misrepresentations and lies is why Milton is in trouble.
In the press conference by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, it sounded like Milton was being made an example of bluster and bloviation to warn other startups brought to public trading via SPAC to cool it on making unverifiable claims — or else..
What of Nikola the company after Trevor Milton? A Securities and Exchange Commission fine for Milton’s shenanigans looks likely. If it planned to charge the company, the Justice Department probably would have done it last Thursday when it indicted Millton. Lawyers who know say that is how these investigations usually play out.
Maybe the cloud Nikola has been living under because of Milton will lift a little. Maybe the company will succeed in producing Class 8 battery-powered trucks in Q4 in Germany and in a new plant in the Arizona desert. Maybe it will keep finding partners for its planned network of hydrogen fueling stations. Whatever happens, it will be the post-Trevor Milton Nikola that does it.
Dooner, producer/host, WHAT THE TRUCK?!?
Ever since the Hindenburg dropped last September, last week’s news was, as Thanos would say: inevitable. I think the only question remaining was: Who would take the fall? Milton, Nikola or both. While Nikola appears safe for now, it’s all looking downhill from here for Milton.
Michael Baudendistel, market expert
Nikola delivered a presentation at an industry conference that I attended back in 2018, long before the company went public, and even then, I thought they made dubious claims to exaggerate the operating cost difference between diesel and its upcoming hydrogen-electric product. I thought the Hindenburg report was one of the more compelling short reports that I have seen and the part about Nikola using the hill to simulate propulsion was very memorable.
I believe this development will have major impacts going forward, such as: companies going public later in their life cycles, potentially fewer SPACs, and companies vetting executives’ social media usage or forgoing social media altogether.
I also believe it adds credibility to the short sellers that publish short reports in support of their positions and, for better or worse, it will encourage more short reports to be written.