Nikola postpones forum where electric pickup was to debut

Ed Ludlow

Nikola Corp. is rescheduling its in-person Nikola World conference, where it was planning to show its electric pickup truck, as the company regroups in the wake of a stock sell-off and the departure of its chairman.

The postponement follows the startup’s efforts to pivot from denying allegations of deception to talking up its technology and partnerships to calm investors who have seen the stock price plunge about 40% since the company went public in June.

Nikola's battery-powered Tre truck.

Nikola said Wednesday its expects its first prototypes of another battery-powered truck, a semi called Nikola Tre, to be “substantially completed” in the next few weeks at a factory in Germany and reaffirmed its plan to start sales in late 2021.

Nikola's battery-powered Tre truck.

The Phoenix-based company is negotiating a strategic partnership with General Motors Co. to manufacture its pickup, known as the Badger, and provide hydrogen fuel-cell technology in return for an 11% stake. It hoped to finalize that deal by Wednesday, but the two companies’ deadline extends to Dec. 3. The Badger wasn’t mentioned in a press release Wednesday outlining Nikola’s strategy and vision.

“It’s part of the talks with GM and we can’t comment further,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Russell said in a phone interview.

Nikola's Badger electric pickup truck will be manufactured in a strategic partnership with General Motors Co.

Nikola shares pared a gain of as much as 15% to trade up 13% to $20.20 as of 12:37 p.m. in New York. The surge followed a CNBC report that unnamed sources said GM might take a larger stake in Nikola than the 11% it has been offered. GM and Nikola declined to comment, citing their ongoing discussions.

The stock sank in recent weeks after claims the company and its founder, former Chairman Trevor Milton, misled investors about Nikola capabilities and technology. Nikola and Milton, who stepped down Sept. 21, have denied those allegations.

Cool Stuff

In Nikola’s debut earnings call on Aug. 4, CEO Russell tried to excite investors about Nikola World, promising the event would have a number of high-profile announcements. “There is going to be a lot of cool stuff that happens at Nikola World. It’s going to be a place to be,” he said.

Attendees can opt for a refund of their tickets for the December event or can have them held for an unspecified later date, Nikola said in an emailed statement, citing virus-related restrictions on in-person venues in its home state of Arizona. The company will continue to provide progress reports on its products in the meantime.

The company had previously said the three-day event, which included a kick-off party and live concert, would showcase the Badger, unspecified recreational vehicles and “a few planned surprises.”

The postponed conference was the latest in a series of public presentations the company has given in recent years to market itself and its vehicles, none of which it has yet to produce. At a 2016 event, Milton suggested Nikola’s first truck, a prototype called the Nikola One, was drivable, but people familiar with the matter said it was not fully functional.