Nikola shares fall 16% as investors worry about General Motors deal

Nikola’s share price fell 16 per cent on Friday as investors worried that General Motors might decide against taking a stake in the truck start-up.

Mark Russell, chief executive, exacerbated the concerns on Thursday, telling Bloomberg that the embattled company had a “base plan” for moving forward if GM walked away from a deal announced last month.

“The [markets are] reading into that as a hedge,” said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “Rightly or wrongly, now I think all eyes are focused on, will Nikola ink that deal?”

Nikola, along with founder Trevor Milton, has been dogged for weeks by fraud allegations in a short seller’s report, published two days after GM said it would take an 11 per cent stake in Nikola in exchange for building the start-up’s Badger pick-up truck.

While Nikola and GM have until December 3 to complete the deal, talks between the two companies were expected to close at the end of September. Mr Russell told the Financial Times that negotiations were “continuing” but declined to comment further on them. 

After the short seller’s allegations came to light, the partnership between GM and Nikola has been subject to speculation that the Detroit-based carmaker may seek to renegotiate the terms of the deal or pull out entirely.

Mr Milton has denied any deception, and the company offered a rebuttal that conceded some points in the report. Mr Milton left the company last month.

Since then, company executives have tried to shift the focus to Nikola’s business model: developing hydrogen fuel-cell semi-trucks along with a system of stations for fuelling the vehicles.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Russell called the Badger “an interesting and exciting project to some shareholders, but our institutional shareholders are mostly focused on the business plan”.

Mr Russell’s comments about the Badger contrasted with his remarks to businessman John Shegerian for his Impact! podcast. The interview, released on September 15, appears to have been recorded on September 9 — a day after the GM announcement and a day before short-seller Hindenburg Research released its report. 

“We now believe we’ve got a legitimate shot to be a significant producer of battery electric vehicles in the heavy truck space for commercial transportation and now in the passenger vehicle space with our pick-up truck, the Badger,” he said.

People “went crazy” over the Badger after Mr Milton tweeted about it, Mr Russell added, and approximately 90,000 enthusiasts signed up to receive updates on the truck’s progress. Reservations to purchase the vehicle started at $100 and rose to $5,000 for VIP treatment.

“We think we can get you a Badger in 2022,” he told the show’s host. “For $100, we’ll put you on the list.” 

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