Nikola Corp. agreed to pay $125 million to settle civil charges levied against the company by the Securities and Exchange Commission claiming it defrauded investors by making false claims about its vehicles.
The deal is separate from the civil and criminal charges against Trevor Milton, the company’s founder and now-former Chairman. In fact, the company’s agreed to cooperate with any current investigation and litigation, however, it didn’t admit or deny the SEC’s findings in the settlement.
The agency contends the company misled investors about the capabilities of its hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles, suggesting they were further along in development than they were. The focal point being a video of its Nikola One appearing to be driving under its own power, when it was actually rolling down a slight decline.
The video became the centerpiece of a report by short-selling research firm Hindenburg Research claiming Nikola was based on “intricate fraud built on dozen of lies” perpetrated by Milton. That quickly triggered an SEC probe and led to the decision by Milton to resign on Sept. 21.
Nikola agreed to pay the $125 million in five installments over two years. The first payment comes by the end of this year, with the remainder being paid in semi-annual installments in 2022 and 2023. The company previously disclosed Nov. 4, 2021 it took a $125 million reserve in its third quarter earnings to account for the expected settlement.
Milton not off the hook
Nikola “is responsible both for Milton’s allegedly misleading statements and for other alleged deceptions, all of which falsely portrayed the true state of the company’s business and technology,” said Gurbir Grewal, the SEC’s enforcement director, in a statement.
Milton saw civil and criminal charges filed against in July, claiming he used social media to repeatedly mislead investors about the company’s technology, netting “tens of millions of dollars” in the process. Milton’s repeatedly denied wrongdoing and is in the midst of a court battle.
Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said during a press conference in late July, Milton deliberately set out to deceive what she described as “retail investors” by making claims he knew were false about Nikola products.
While Nikola’s settled up with the SEC, it’s now focused on its former leader.
“The company has taken action to seek reimbursement from its founder, Trevor Milton, for costs and damages in connection with the government and regulatory investigations,” the company said in a release.
“We are pleased to bring this chapter to a close as the company has now resolved all government investigations,” the company said in a statement.
“We will continue to execute on our strategy and vision to deliver on our business plan, including delivering trucks to customers, expanding our manufacturing facilities and our sales and service network, and building out our hydrogen infrastructure ecosystem including hydrogen production, distribution and dispensing stations.”
This is already happening as it delivered the first Nikola Tre battery-electric pilot trucks to Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI), a Southern California’s port trucking company, to expedite zero-emission transportation solutions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The company is engaged in a four-truck pilot program with the trucking company, involving two battery electric trucks with a range of 350 miles and two fuel cell-electric trucks with a range of 500 miles. If the vehicle trials go well and TTSI obtains government funding, the company will provide 30 BEVs in 2022, and 70 FCEVs are anticipated to start in 2023.