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Nikola projects production of 300-500 battery-electric trucks in 2022

Controlling cash is a priority as 2nd phase of Arizona plant begins

Nikola expects to build 300 to 500 battery-electric trucks at its plant in Coolidge, Arizona this year. (Photo: Nikola)

Editor’s note: Updates with closing stock price

Nikola Corp. plans to build 300 to 500 battery-electric Class 8 trucks this year and record up to $150 million in revenue. It expects to be profitable on a gross margin basis in 2023.

After months of negative stories centering on the alleged misdeeds of Trevor Milton, the company’s founder and former executive chairman, the Phoenix-based company is finally able to focus on producing advanced technology trucks. 

Nikola has contracts, letters of intent and memorandums of understanding for 1,385 trucks — 375 battery-electric and 1,010 fuel cell electric. It built 30 pre-series Tre BEVs in Q4 and delivered five to customers for testing. It plans to build just eight to 10 pre-series trucks this quarter while waiting for supply shortages to improve. 

Watch now: Nikola builds backlog for electric trucks

“Now we’ve got the real trucks hauling real customer loads on public roads,” CEO Mark Russell told analysts on a Q4 earnings conference call Thursday. Production of salable trucks begins March 21 with deliveries expected in Q2.

The Tre battery-electric truck will cost around $300,000 based on revenue projections and planned production. In California, where electric trucks are critical because of tougher emissions standards coming in 2024, up to half of the up-front cost can be covered by grants from the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project.

Two pre-series trucks delivered to Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI) in December are averaging 98% uptime and have traveled farther on a single charge than any electric truck TTSI has tested, according to Russell.

“The more proven these trucks are, the more momentum we have and the more weight we have in negotiation in the marketplace,” he said.

Nikola shares closed Thursday at 8.04, up $1.21, or 17.72%.. 

The Nikola Tre battery-electric vehicle had the longest range before recharging of any electric truck tested by Total Transportation Services Inc, according to Nikola CEO Mark Russell. (Photo: Nikola)

Delivery delays

The supply chain crisis crimped production and delayed deliveries Nikola expected to make in 2021.

“Supply chains limit what we can produce and deliver,” Kim Brady, Nikola CFO, said on the call. “Based on our current visibility, the availability of critical components is skewed toward the second half of the year.”

But Nikola has “line of sight” on enough battery cells, battery packs, electronic control module microchips, electronic axles and power inverters to hit its production goal at its greenfield plant in Coolidge, Arizona. The second phase of the $600 million plant is underway.

“In today’s environment, there is no guarantee when it comes to the ETA for critical components,” Brady said. “It remains very fluid, and we are vigilant and paranoid, meaning confirming, double-checking and verifying.”

Hydrogen hampered

The same holds true for moving to production-intent beta versions of the hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric version of the Tre. Two alpha builds are in testing with Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD), which ordered up to 800 of the trucks in 2018.  

A lack of infrastructure is the greatest barrier to adoption of fuel cell trucks. Nikola has several partnership agreements but has delayed spending on hydrogen production hubs and fueling stations. Groundbreaking and construction of its first hydrogen production and fueling station in Arizona is expected this year. 

A station that produces hydrogen can cost $16 million to $20 million. A distribution-only site is $8 million to $9 million, Brady said.

Nikola plans to add two distribution partners to an existing MOU with TravelCenters of America (NASDAQ: TA) to add hydrogen fueling to two stations in California.

By the numbers

Nikola lost $159.4 million, or 23 cents a share, in Q4. On an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization basis, the loss was $90.4 million. For the full year, the net loss was $690.4 million with an adjusted EBITDA of negative $302.7 million.

The Q4 EBITDA did not include $2.2 million in legal and related fees Nikola spent to defend itself in Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. 

Nikola agreed to pay the SEC a $125 million fine in five installments over allegations that Milton misled investors through false statements about the company’s technology and progress. Milton is scheduled for trial in April in New York on federal fraud charges. 

Nikola is seeking reimbursement from Milton, who remains the company’s largest shareholder despite selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of company stock over the last year.

Tight reins on spending

Cash and lines of credit it can tap by selling equity left Nikola with $958 million in total liquidity at the end of December.

“In light of the current market volatility and uncertainty, we will be highly disciplined in our spending, including careful consideration of the timing of capital expenditures,” Brady said. “We plan to finance manufacturing equipment rather than paying with cash whenever possible.”

Nikola’s goal is to have “adequate liquidity” to fund the next 12 months of operations through the end of the year. If no new capital is raised — and Nikola has said it will eventually need $1 billion — the company expects to have $225 million to $250 million in cash at year end, assuming it taps all $436 million available through its two equity credit lines with Tumin Stone Capital.

“We will monitor the equity capital markets closely and raise additional capital when appropriate in 2022,” Brady said.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.


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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.