Just days after a new partnership with General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) sent Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ:NKLA) shares soaring, Nikola short seller Hindenberg Research released a new report accusing the company of being “an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies.”
Hindenburg allegedly spoke to a former Nikola employee who said the company’s YouTube video entitled “Nikola One in Motion” was produced to appear to show a Nikola truck driving down a desert road, but the truck in the video was actually towed to the top of a hill and released. The video allegedly showed the truck cruising once it had accelerated from rolling down the hill.
“Although the company didn’t specifically say the truck was moving under its own power, it was the clear implication,” Hindenburg wrote in the report.
Nixed Battery Partnership: In October 2019, Nikola announced “game changing battery technology” after signing a letter of intent with ZapGo. In February, Nikola formally terminated its deal with ZapGo. Hindenburg said the ZapGo deal ultimately fell through when Nikola realized its battery technology was “vaporware” and the president of ZapGo had been indicted for tax fraud.
“The revolutionary battery technology never existed – now, Nikola plans to use GM’s battery technology instead,” Hindenburg said.
Hindenburg also cites a spokesperson for Powercell AB that alleges Nikola’s battery and hydrogen fuel cell claims are “hot air.”
GM’s True Motivation: In fact, Hindenburg said Nikola’s new partnership with GM means Nikola will be using both GM’s production and fuel cell capabilities.
“Nikola seems to be bringing nothing to the partnership but concept designs, their brand name and up to $700 million they will be paying GM for costs related to production,” Hindenburg said.
In fact, Hindenburg said one of the primary drivers behind GM’s partnership with Nikola wasn’t the company’s technology. Instead, GM has been under pressure all year from analysts and shareholders due to the Wall Street buying frenzy in EV story stocks like Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA).
“We believe the legacy automaker simply seeks to latch General Motors’ storied name onto Nikola’s charismatic Founder and Executive Chairman, Trevor Milton,” Hindenburg said. He said GM may see Milton as its answer to Elon Musk.
Nikola Another Theranos? Like Musk, Milton has been criticized for making claims that are optimistic at best. Hindenburg pointed out Milton has been forced to admit his claims that Nikola is already producing hydrogen at an 81% cost discount to peers were not true.
Hindenburg also criticized Milton for appointing his brother as Director of Hydrogen Production/Infrastructure at Nikola despite him having no managerial experience.
Hindenburg further claims Nikola has intentionally hidden the fact that it uses third-party components in its vehicles, even using masking tape to hide suppliers’ names. The short seller alleges a number of other claims made by Milton and demonstrations performed by the company have been deceptive in nature.
In conclusion, Hindenburg compares Nikola to blood testing technology fraud Theranos, which inked partnership deals with a number of high-profile companies.
“The remarkable thing about Nikola’s story is not that someone like Trevor Milton exists, but that he has managed to parlay his stories and lies into deals with some of the best manufacturers and partners in the world by claiming to own vast proprietary technology and having successfully built revolutionary products that simply didn’t exist,” Hindenburg said.
Milton Responds: Milton called out the report in a tweet Thursday morning.
"Tens of millions of shares shorted the last day or two to slam our stock and hit job by hindenburg," Milton said. "I guess everything is fair game in war, even a hit job. I know who funded it now. Give me a few hours to put together responses to their lies. This is all you got?"
Benzinga’s Take: Even if Hindenburg’s claims that Nikola is mostly smoke and mirrors are true, short sellers have made the same claims about Tesla for years. Hindenburg may be correct in that GM sees the true value in the EV space these days is tied to branding rather than actual technology, and Milton is simply GM’s answer to Musk.