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Hyliion hunkers down as EV startup stocks get hammered

Hybrid electric driveline developer has money, if not time, on its side

Hyliion Holdings Corp. has a lot to prove as its stock price dwindles along with many in the electric vehicle space. CEO Thomas Healy is staying the course. (Photo: Hyliion)

Its stock is trading in the single digits after giddy investors bid it above $50. Production is still a year away. But Hyliion Holdings CEO Thomas Healy sees reasons for optimism around the company’s natural gas-electric hybrid system for Class 8 trucks.

Hyliion (NYSE: HYLN) went public just months after Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA), which became the first high-profile reverse merger of 2020. Retail investors bid up Nikola shares on potential over profits. Though it never reached Nikola’s $93.99 intraday price, Hyliion touched $58.66 a share.

Hyliion kept such a low-key profile that CEO Thomas Healy — briefly the country’s youngest billionaire at age 28 — lamented that he needed to tweet more often like Nikola’s charismatic founder Trevor Milton.  

Healy did step up Hyliion’s social media presence. But he avoided the braggadocious claims that brought Nikola the scrutiny of short seller Hindenburg Research. Allegations of misstatements, some of which Nikola has verified, led to Milton’s resignation. The electric truck and hydrogen fuel startup is still trying to escape the shadow of a reputational crisis.

With none of the drama that Nikola generated, Hyliion shares closed Tuesday at $8.27. Nikola closed at $9.65. Both prices are all-time lows. Almost all electric vehicle (EV) and infrastructure startups stocks are being battered even as President Joe Biden’s green agenda bodes well for zero-emission vehicles.

Vanishing billions

Milton and Healy each own about 20% of the stock in their companies. Both were billionaires on paper until the EV stock selloff began early this year after a scorching runup to close 2020.  

“We’re obviously in a position where [shares are] significantly less than the peak that we had achieved. But we are not significantly below where we came to market,” Healy told FreightWaves.

That initial price was at $10 a share, the universal ask for shares offered by special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). The so-called blank check companies raise money from investors to merge with a startup or young company typically in need of cash to grow. 

So far this year, 308 SPACs have raised more than $100 billion, according to SPAC Insider. That compares to 248 that raised $83.3 billion in all of 2020, the biggest year ever for SPACs.

Hyliion got the attention of Tortoise Acquisition Corp., which sought a company focused on decarbonizing transportation. Founded in 2015 by Healy, Hyliion had raised about $50 million when Tortoise entered the picture with its $560 million in cash and private investment in public equity (PIPE). 

Warning on warrants

The post-business combination cash, plus another $142 million in the sale of warrants to early investors, more than funds Hyliion’s business plans. Hyliion encouraged investors to sell their warrants priced at $11.50 each while the stock price was still trading in the high teens.

“I think we’re one of the very few EV SPACs that have actually been able to redeem our warrants,” Healy said. Most SPAC-backed EV stocks are trading below the typical $11.50 purchase price for warrants set in SPACs.

Healy advises patience to his growing roster of employees — 120 at the end of last year with more being hired weekly.

“To be worrying about the share price day in and day out is not the right focus,” he said. “It’s a longer-term play here. And ultimately staying head down and accomplishing things is what’s going to make the company successful.”

A lot to prove

Hyliion has a lot to prove. And Healy knows it. First is getting prototypes of its natural gas-electric hybrid driveline to the major players in trucking electrification like NFI Industries, Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD), Ryder System Inc. (NYSE: R), Penske Truck Leasing, Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN) and Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR).

Recruiting the “cool kids” in electrification to join the Hyliion Innovation Council is huge for Hyliion’s credibility.

“People want to see that there are fleets excited and interested in what we’re doing,” Healy said. “The other side that I think is maybe not as appreciated is this is a council to help educate and evolve Hyliion.”

Preorders for the Hypertruck ERX, with a host body of the Peterbilt Model 579, are intentionally vague, such as the June 2020 order of “up to 1,000” trucks by Agility Logistics. The Kuwait-based freight forwarder did not put deposits on the trucks. Instead, it invested in Hyliion.

“If we’re not delivering the product as we had laid out, then it’s not an order,” Healy said. “That’s kind of the definition of the whole preorder side of things.”

Hyliion avoided the kind of questionable practice that led Hindenburg to call out startup electric truck maker Lordstown Motors Corp. (NASDAQ: RIDE) for hiring outside consultants to inflate its order book to claim 100,000 preorders.

Because it is not a truck maker, Hyliioin is working with Peterbilt to decontent the trucks Hyliion buys to upfit with its hybrid system.

“What we don’t want to do is take delivery of a truck and then have to pull a bunch of stuff off it and throw it away,” Healy said. “We’ve got to get the vehicle delivered to us in a fashion where we’re truly just adding onto it.”

Threat on the horizon?

Hyliion’s hybrid solution anticipates using renewable natural gas (RNG) made from methane captured from landfills, farm waste and other biogas. Because the methane is used for fuel instead of being released into the atmosphere, it mathematically creates negative net-zero emissions when paired with a natural gas fuel system and engine.

Hyliion’s Hypertruck ERG would use RNG to make electricity on board the truck. That would allow 100% electric driving in pollution-sensitive urban areas. RNG as fuel for the truck would power highway motoring. 

But the ERX might face a challenge from engine maker Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI), which debuted a 14.9-liter natural gas engine in China last year to meet the country’s strict emissions standards. It is capable of up to 530 horsepower and 1,850 pound feet of torque. 

A Class 8-capable natural gas engine running full time on RNG could match the power and torque of the ERX hybrid — and its negative net-zero carbon emissions. Cummins is gauging the market before deciding whether to manufacture the engine in the United States. 

Healy is not particularly concerned.

“We believe being able to drive on pure EV mode with zero tailpipe emissions offers a significant advantage for city and port driving,” he said. “The addition of a 15-liter engine to the North American NG product landscape will not clearly alter the market for hybrid/NG solutions.”  

Healy takes a big-tent approach — including adding more powerful natural gas engine — to accelerate decarbonization.

“All of us have the same goal,” he said. “Our take on it is that hopefully everyone is successful because a rising tide floats all boats.”

Hyliion gathers fleets to test natural-gas-electric hybrid trucks

Hyliion picks Peterbilt as test chassis for Hypertruck ERX

Hyliion hauls in $142 million from sale of stock warrants

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.