Short seller rejects Nikola’s explanation as ‘tacit admission of securities fraud’

Short seller Hindenburg Research has doubled down on allegations made last week that Nikola Motor Company (NKLA) spun an “ocean of lies,” calling the electric-truck startup’s response to the allegations a “tacit admission of securities fraud.”

In a statement published Tuesday, Hindenburg rejected Nikola’s response to the claims, saying they failed to dispel doubts about a deceptive video that made it seem as if its Nikola One semi-truck were traveling under its own power at a high rate of speed. 

Hindenburg Research Twitter post September 15, 2020

The short seller further criticized the company for purportedly answering just 10 of 53 questions that it said the company should answer for the sake of shareholders.

“In Monday’s response, the company acknowledged that its vehicle was not functioning under its own power, and instead, was apparently simply showcasing the power of gravity,” Hindenburg wrote. 

‘Beyond common sense’

The company’s explanation that the truck in the video was merely as “in motion,” Hindenburg wrote, is “beyond common sense.” The short seller pointed to additional representations by Nikola in the description of the video that its Nikola One semi-truck had 1,000 horsepower, and zero-emissions.

“Obviously, the truck can’t have 1,000 horsepower or even 1 horsepower if it doesn’t power itself,” Hindenburg wrote. Hindenburg also quoted the company’s verified Facebook account responses to communications stating that the Nikola One had “over 1,000 HP” and “over 2,000 ft. lbs. of torque” and can handle a “7% grade, no problem”. 

CEO and founder of U.S. Nikola, Trevor Milton speaks during presentation of its new full-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell battery trucks in partnership with CNH Industrial, at an event in Turin, Italy December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

“Nikola never stated its truck was driving under its own propulsion in the video, although the truck was designed to do just that,” the Phoenix-based company admitted in a statement following Hindenburg’s initial report that the truck featured in the video titled “Nikola One Electric Semi Truck in Motion” was not driving on its own power, and instead rolling down a hill.

In its response, Nikola referenced a more recent 2019 video that it says shows its next generation model “Two” semi truck driving on its own power.

In its statement published Monday, Nikola also said investors who invested during the period of the Nikola One video, released in 2017 before the company went public, knew the technical capability of the Nikola One at the time of their investment. 

However, the spokesperson left unclear whether all investors were made aware by Nikola of the technical capabilities of the Nikola One at the time of the Nikola One In Motion video.

Asked whether all of Nikola’s investors were made aware of the technical capability at that time, a Nikola spokesperson focused on its early partner, Bosch, stating in an email to Yahoo Finance that Bosch was Nikola’s main partner at the time, and that the company was a board member, investor and partner in Nikola’s technology.

“All of our investors were aware of the development and progress with the Nikola Two and how the lessons from [Nikola] One made it happen,” the spokesperson said.

“At that point, technical capability was an incredibly successful proof of concept with the Nikola One,” the spokesperson said. “We pivoted from it to the Nikola Two but everything we learned from the Nikola One has underpinned the successful development of the next Gen trucks. Bosch knows every detail of our trucks and continues today as our partner in our truck development.”

Yahoo Finance reached out to Nikola to request response to Hindenburg’s latest accusations and was assured that the company would issue a response.

Based on the initial Hindenburg claims Nikola said the company’s legal counsel contacted and briefed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and intends to fully cooperate with the SEC regarding its inquiry into the matters.

“Nikola welcomes the SEC’s involvement in this matter,” the company said.

According to Bloomberg, the SEC has opened an official investigation into the matter.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.

Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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