‘Ambitious’ is perhaps the best way to describe Nikola’s initial plans. Yet up until recently, the EV startup seemed ready to take them on. It had already delivered several hydrogen-powered electric semi-trucks for deliveries. It was also gearing up to release the Nikola Badger, a pickup truck that offered both hydrogen fuel cells and conventional batteries. And it was set to enter into a $2 billion partnership with GM. But that deal has been rewritten—and as a result, the Badger won’t be built.
Recent events have scaled back GM’s and Nikola’s partnership
Back in September 2020, GM took an 11% stake in Nikola, equivalent at the time to $2 billion, Road & Track reports. However, a week later, the startup was accused of fraud by a short seller, Hindenburg Research, Car and Driver reports. This is all after an earlier report by Bloomberg that claimed Nikola’s hydrogen-powered semi-truck, the One, wasn’t really fully-drivable as then-CEO Trevor Milton claimed during its 2016 unveiling, Car and Driver reports.
All this furor meant that Nikola’s stock value was a bit volatile. And shortly after the DOJ and SEC began investigating the fraud claims, Milton voluntarily resigned, R&T reports. Despite the uncertainty, GM was prepared to take an even bigger stake in the startup, R&T reports. New reports, though, indicate the new deal is more in the opposite direction.
GM and Nikola are still in a partnership when it comes to electric trucks, The Drive reports. And per the recently-announced memorandum of understanding, GM will still supply the startup with its hydrogen fuel-cell technology, Roadshow reports. However, it won’t be buying any stake in Nikola.
The MOU doesn’t just put the pin in the investment, though. It also means the Nikola Badger won’t be happening.
The new deal means the Nikola Badger is dead
The Nikola Badger was supposed to be an electric pickup truck with both a lithium-ion battery pack and a hydrogen fuel cell. That way, if owners couldn’t get to a charger, they could use the on-board hydrogen to keep going. And Nikola’s partnership with GM wouldn’t just see the Badger receiving the latter’s hydrogen and battery tech, Motor Trend reports. GM was gearing up to build the Nikola Badger itself.
Unfortunately, the MOU kills that possibility, Roadshow reports. While Nikola’s getting GM’s hydrogen tech for its commercial semi-trucks, it’s uncertain if it’s getting the Ultium batteries GM co-developed with Honda. But if it did, they’d likely also be earmarked just for the commercial vehicles, InsideEVs reports.
In short, this new deal leaves Nikola without a powertrain, a chassis, or a factory for the Badger. And since the electric truck was “’ dependent on an OEM partnership,’” Car and Driver reports, it’s basically dead-before-arrival.
Could the dual hydrogen/battery-electric truck still happen?
For those who have already put deposits down on the Badger, Nikola is refunding them, R&T reports. And the startup isn’t walking away from hydrogen-electric trucks completely; it’s just sticking to commercial ones, Autoblog reports.
But could the Nikola Badger come back in the future? It’s not impossible, R&T muses. But it likely wouldn’t happen until after the startup solidified and released its commercial vehicles. Or if it sought out another manufacturing partner. Its ventures with Bosch and CNH Industrial NV are still in place, Automotive News reports. And Milton openly discussed potentially working with Hyundai, another automaker interested in hydrogen vehicles, Reuters reports.
Until then, though, the electric truck segment will be a little less crowded.
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