Nikola Corp.
Nikola Badger9c 5f68c6445bddb

Nikola's Milton Gets Out of Company's Way

Sept. 21, 2020
Following damaging accusations, Nikola founder elects to step down from his leadership role at the EV startup.

There has been a lot of movement within the rapidly growing EV space in recent months, especially for the start-up players. Plant groundbreakings. Meaningful production progress. Substantial investments. Even announcements from traditional automakers. 

However, there have been casualties as well.

Specifically, Trevor Milton, who founded Nikola in 2014 and had been serving as executive chairman, has voluntarily stepped down just days after a damaging report from a short seller accused him of intricate fraud and unprecedented “level of deception” for a public company of Nikola’s size. Milton approached the board of directors and proposed to voluntarily step aside as executive chairman and from the board. The board accepted his proposal, and Stephen Girsky, former vice vhairman of General Motors Co. and a member of Nikola’s board, has been appointed chairman of the board, effective immediately. Girsky facilitated Nikola’s merging with VectoIQ to go public earlier this year.

After going public in June, and breaking ground on its facility in July,  Nikola’s next big moment was on Sep. 8, with the announcement that GM would produce its Badger pickup truck. The Badger is expected in 2024. Nikola’s first commercial vehicle product, the battery-electric Tre, is slated to begin production through partner CNH Industrial in 2021 in Ulm, Germany at an Iveco plant.

On the engineering side, Bosch was one of Nikola's first partners, investing at least $100 million in Nikola and providing a large share of engineering support on the Nikola Two. Anheuser-Busch used this truck for a zero-emissions beer delivery and placed an order for 800 trucks. The company also has a partnership with Nel Hydrogen to create a national hydrogen fueling station network.

Unfortunately for Nikola, two days after the GM news, Hindenburg Research published a lengthy and meticulously sourced screed levying dozens of charges against Nikola and Milton, personally. Many of the accusations refer to the development and marketing of the Nikola One prototype. The company rebuked some charges and the matter is now in the hands of the Security Exchange Commission, which is investigating both sides, as Hindenburg benefited from the stock slide following its report. The U.S. Department of Justice is believed to also have begun inquiries into the accusations.

“Nikola is truly in my blood and always will be, and the focus should be on the Company and its world-changing mission, not me,” said Milton. “So I made the difficult decision to approach the Board and volunteer to step aside as Executive Chairman. Founding Nikola and growing it into a company that will change transportation for the better and help protect our world’s climate has been an incredible honor.

“As we move forward, I am confident Steve is the right leader to guide our vision at the Board level,” Milton continued. “In addition to being an early believer and supporter of Nikola, Steve has more than 30 years of experience working with OEM leaders, suppliers, dealers, labor leaders and national policy makers, and has served as a director of numerous public companies.”

Nikola’s stock on the Nasdaq, NKLA, immediately plummeted 27% upon news of Milton’s departure, before slowly climbing north again.

Girsky said: “On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Trevor for his visionary leadership and significant contributions to Nikola since its founding. Trevor saw the possibility of creating an end-to-end zero-emission transportation system when the industry was still in its nascent stages and took action to build the Nikola of today, with world-class partnerships, groundbreaking R&D, and a revolutionary business model. I know I speak for everyone at Nikola in our gratitude and in wishing him all the best.”

Nikola CEO Mark Russell stated: “We remain committed to delivering on our objectives and creating value for our shareholders. Along with the rest of the management team, I will continue to work closely with Steve and the Board to advance Nikola’s vision for the future. Our priorities remain unchanged and, in collaboration with our partners, we are laser-focused on executing on our strategic initiatives and laying the groundwork to become a vertically integrated zero-emissions transportation solutions provider.”

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Technology Editor

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

About the Author

John Hitch | Senior Editor

John Hitch writes about the latest manufacturing trends and emerging technologies, including but not limited to: Robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things, 3D Printing, and Artificial Intelligence. He is a veteran of the United States Navy and former magazine freelancer based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Questions or comments may be directed to: [email protected]

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