Today, a story about Nikola, a startup that is valued in the billions despite having no revenue, appeared on Bloomberg, headlined “Nikola Founder Exaggerated the Capability of His Debut Truck.” Within about an hour, Nikola’s founder was rage-tweeting, calling for the author of the story to be fired and promising a lawsuit.
You can read the Bloomberg story here. It leads with a description of a 2016 event in which Nikola’s founder, Trevor Milton, unveiled the Nikola One, a prototype hydrogen electric truck. At that event, Bloomberg reports, Milton said that the truck on stage with him “fully functions and works,” though that doesn’t appear to have been the case at the time.
Here’s the pertinent section of the Bloomberg story:
Milton then made several comments to the crowd at the December 2016 event suggesting the Nikola One was driveable. The statements alarmed people familiar with the truck’s capability, who told Bloomberg News recently that it was inoperable and missing key components to power itself. On Wednesday, Milton said key parts were taken out of the vehicle for safety reasons and that it never drove under its own power.
At the event 3 1/2 years ago, Milton said the company had put up a chain to keep people from bumping into any of the vehicle controls. “We’re going to try to keep people from driving off,” he said. “This thing fully functions and works.”
Later, he said the truck was not a “pusher,” referring to an inoperable prototype that needed to be nudged onto the stage.
The people familiar with the truck, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, said they were concerned about the statements. Gears and motors were missing, and while the words “H2 Zero Emission Hydrogen Electric” were emblazoned on the vehicle, there was no fuel cell on board.
“There wasn’t a fuel cell in the truck. We never claimed there was,” Milton said. He confirmed the motors and gears weren’t in the vehicle for safety reasons.
All of which is fine! The founders of car startups say all sorts of things, and Nikola will ultimately be judged by the market, for better or worse. This was also three and a half years ago!
Still, Milton unleashed on Twitter. He called for the reporter of the Bloomberg story, Ed Ludlow, to be fired, and called him a “deceiver,” and said it will be fun “suing the shit out of them now.” Milton’s account is not verified but Bloomberg has previously reported that it is his and Milton has previously tweeted about trying to get verified and shared selfies on it.
Reached for comment, a Nikola spokeswoman said only, “Trevor stands by his quotes in the Bloomberg article.” Ludlow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update, 8:14 a.m., Thursday, June 18: Last night Milton tweeted a letter to Ludlow sent from Nikola’s lawyer: