Last fall EV and hydrogen truck start-up Nikola’s deal with General Motors fizzled.
Now it looks like other Nikola projects might be in jeopardy as well.
Nikola is dialing back projected output of its first commercial zero-emission vehicles and said its founder, Trevor Milton, made several inaccurate claims about its technology according to an internal probe. Nikola had denied making false claims, but the accusations last fall prompted both the Justice Department and the SEC to begin investigations.
Nikola said it now expects to deliver only 100 battery-electric Tre semis to customers this year, down from the original 600-truck target. Bloomberg reports that the company blamed COVID-19 as well as supply-chain issues for cutting planned production volumes.
Mark Russell, who became CEO in June, said the company sees pent-up demand hitting the supply chain, creating worldwide shortages for components such as batteries and display screens. “In light of all of these uncertainties, we believe it would be prudent to revise expectations for Nikola Tre BEV deliveries,” he said on a call with analysts.
Nikola is one of several automakers developing clean-energy commercial vehicles and says it is working on both hydrogen fuel-cell semis as well electric versions. Nikola has said it aims to deliver 1,200 electric trucks next year and 3,500 in 2023. The company says it is building a plant in Arizona to build fuel-cell vehicles and that this fall it plans to start Tre production in Ulm, Germany, with partner Iveco. Nicola hasn’t said what company it is partnering with for its fuel network but claims it will develop some 700 hydrogen stations in the US. It originally said it would have a development partner in 2020 but hasn’t set a new timeline.
The Arizona plant is expected to begin building short- and long-range fuel-cell trucks in the second half of 2023 and 2024, respectively, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile Milton’s inaccurate assertions include his claim that one of Nikola’s first prototypes, the Nikola One, could move under its own power when it couldn’t.
Does Nikola stand a chance?
“Remember, it took Tesla a decade to report its first profitable year, and the other EV companies aren’t booking revenue just yet, so haven’t made any profit yet,” Stephanie Brinley, IHS Markit’s principal automotive analyst, told Autoweek.
“Nikola has re-centered its efforts on the medium- and heavy-duty truck market,” she told us, adding that under the prior CEO the company forged ahead in more directions than it was capable of supporting quickly. “This plan forward might be more modest, but appears more realistic.”
CEO Russell told analysts the company’s less-aggressive agenda is a better fit. He said he believes Nikola “is in the best position the company has ever been to execute on our core business plan.”
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