EV and hydrogen truck start-up Nikola’s deal with General Motors has fizzled, the EV startup revealed, after several weeks of speculation about a deal that would have seen the Michigan auto giant produce the Nikola Badger truck. Nikola indicated that it had reached a non-binding memorandum of understanding with GM regarding collaboration on GM’s hydrogen technology for large trucks, but that the pickup aimed at private consumers was not currently contemplated with GM backing. In fact, the Badger now appears entirely dead, with Nikola indicating that it will refund deposits for the EV truck.
“The MOU does not include the previously contemplated GM equity stake in Nikola or development of the Nikola Badger,” Nikola said in a statement. “As previously announced, the Nikola Badger program was dependent on an OEM partnership. Nikola will refund all previously submitted order deposits for the Nikola Badger.”
Nikola stock took a major dive on the news, just a few months after its market cap had somehow passed Ford’s, even though the company still plans to work with GM to integrate its Hydrotec fuel-cell tech, as well as its Ultium electric drivetrains, into its Class 7 and Class 8 trucks, the testing of which Nikola plans to start in late 2021.
“Heavy trucks remain our core business and we are 100% focused on hitting our development milestones to bring clean hydrogen and battery-electric commercial trucks to market,” said Mark Russell, chief executive officer of Nikola, upon announcement of a new non-binding memo. “We believe fuel-cells will become increasingly important to the semi-truck market, as they are more efficient than gas or diesel and are lightweight compared to batteries for long hauls. By working with GM, we are reinforcing our companies’ shared commitment to a zero-emission future.”
Nikola’s planned Badger pickup made a splash with plans of a battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell variants, featuring a 160-kWh battery and a range of at least 300 miles. The truck, which Nikola planned to sell itself while another manufacturer built it, also promised 906 hp and 980 lb-ft of torque, and would have been a mass-market offering not too dissimilar from the niche that Rivian, which has penned an agreement with Ford, also planned to target. One major difference was that Nikola only had computer renderings of its prototype to showcase back in March of this year, while Rivian already had a number of running prototypes.
EV pickup trucks by non-established automakers have always been a long shot, because EV tech has matured to a point where newcomers face the scale of major automakers in addition to younger but established EV makers, like Tesla. In effect, now that major automakers like Ford and GM are in the game, there are fewer bits of truly new tech that a start-up can offer the automakers or the car buying public, in a segment that has yet to prove itself in the marketplace. Likewise, investors don’t see as much potential with entirely new EV startups than they did even five years ago.
Even after the deal had been initially announced, it wasn’t immediately clear to some industry observers what GM would have gotten out of the deal, or what kind of business case Nikola had in mind for the truck if it was paying another company to effectively produce it for them and attach a Nikola badge to it. GM, for its part, has electric truck and SUV plans of its own, and would essentially be fielding its own vehicles while producing the truck of a competitor.
While such arrangements have worked in the past, such deals had usually involved different automakers playing in two different markets. However, such an arrangement has not yet materialized when it comes to the still-unproven market of electric pickup trucks.
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