Just weeks after auto startup Nikola became one of the world's highest-valued companies, its ceiling came crashing down when short-seller Hindenburg Research accused the company of "intricate fraud." Hindenburg alleged Nikola had passed off bought-in technologies as self-developed, triggering an investigation by the United States government and the resignation of Nikola founder Trevor Milton. And Nikola's sub-contracture allegedly doesn't end with technology, as a Financial Times report alleges even Nikola's design for the hydrogen-powered One semi-truck was outsourced from Croatia.
Citing "two people with knowledge of the matter," FT reports Nikola founder Trevor Milton paid a visit to Croatia's electric supercar startup Rimac in 2015, where he failed to secure collaboration on unspecified projects. Milton then allegedly paid several thousand dollars to Rimac designer Adriano Mudri for the drawings and 3D models of a semi-truck concept named "Road Runner," which had been one of Mudri's diploma projects. FT claims "Road Runner" then became the truck's working name at Nikola, citing internal communique using the designation.
Nikola acknowledged a connection with Mudri but denied leaning on his design for the end-product Nikola One.
"The Nikola One truck was designed and patented by Nikola," the company reportedly told FT. "It is commonplace to license third-party designs during vehicle development, and although early in the process Nikola purchased a license to Adriano Mudri's designs, he was not part of the design team and his designs are materially different from the design invented by Nikola for the Nikola One."
Nikola has been on the defensive since Hindenburg's report surfaced, invoking its numerous commercial partners to deflect criticisms from its detractors. Milton himself wrote off Hindenburg's accusations as "lies" just days before both the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission deemed Hindenburg's claims credible enough to warrant investigations.
Less than a week thereafter, Milton bailed on the company he founded, taking his Twitter account private amidst accusations of sexual misconduct, per The Salt Lake Tribune. Whatever the truth about Milton and Nikola, the pair's divorce bodes poorly of both parties' futures. After all, nothing breaks ranks like a rout.
Got a tip? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org