Nikola Founder Already Channeling Elon Musk, Threatens Bloomberg With Lawsuit

A Bloomberg story says Nikola’s founder claimed a 2016 prototype was driveable. He made his feelings clear on Twitter.

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Nikola Founder Already Channeling Elon Musk, Threatens <em>Bloomberg</em> With Lawsuit © Nikola Founder Already Channeling Elon Musk, Threatens Bloomberg With Lawsuit

Good morning and welcome to Speed Lines, The Drive's roundup of what matters in the world of cars and transportation. Today we're talking about a war of words between Nikola's founder and Bloomberg, Europe's glut of unsold new cars, and whether safety measures at auto plants are proving to be effective or not. 

Also, a programming note: Speed Lines will not run tomorrow, as Juneteenth is now a company holiday at The Drive Media moving forward. We will have a supply of pre-written news stories, features, and reviews for you to read instead. 

Nikola Vs. Bloomberg

One of the stranger stories that's happened in our world in 2020—and given everything that has happened in 2020, that's saying a lot—has been that of nascent electric and hydrogen heavy trucking startup Nikola. Though it has yet to produce any products and expects no revenue at all this year, it already IPO'd with a valuation of $34 billion that made its CEO and founder, Trevor Milton, the 188th richest person in the world. Capitalism, everybody!

But to say Nikola has a lot to prove would be a grand understatement. The company was founded in 2014, initially tried to build trucks powered by natural gas-powered turbines and, as noted a moment ago, does not sell anything yet. Skepticism is warranted. And this Bloomberg piece has already sparked a war between that outlet and Milton himself, with the latter seemingly already drawing on the Late Stage Elon Musk Playbook in response. 

The story goes back to a December 2016 event where Nikola unveiled a prototype truck. It claims that at this event, Milton suggested the vehicle—called Nikola One—was actually driveable and not a "pusher," industry jargon for a non-operable concept car that needs to get pushed from place to place. This was concerning to several people at the time, as the truck was indeed not operable, and leads to the bombastic headline "Nikola Founder Exaggerated the Capability of His Debut Truck":

The parallels to Musk are obvious, and indeed drawn in the story itself. And in that spirit, Milton responded to the story... on Twitter, and with legal threats against Bloomberg. Here we go:

Am I going to start calling everyone I don't like a "jackjob"? Yes. Yes I am. (And of course, cue all the reply-tweets accusing Bloomberg of fake news, spreading FUD and being in the tank for Big Oil. I've seen this movie before.)

Obviously, I wasn't in the room when Bloomberg did its interviews with Milton, nor was I at Nikola's December 2016 event when this took place, as far as I can remember. A recording likely exists somewhere that would easily prove or disprove this. But this incident reveals several things: Nikola's claims and finances will be under a more powerful microscope than ever before, and Milton's going to go full-force against anyone he doesn't like. It's too soon to have a real take on Nikola—I'm excited to see what they do. But they have to do it first.

Europe's EV Incentives Don't Move The Market

EVs are a growing but still tiny slice of the market. So why are automakers going so heavily in that direction? Well, most companies are really only going to care about climate change if they're made to, and that is exactly what's happening with tightening emissions regulations—especially in Europe and China. Mandatory electrification is spurring much of the transformation we're seeing in the auto industry. 

Part of that is electric vehicle incentives for buyers. But as this Wall Street Journal story points out, in Germany at least, they are not helping move a huge oversupply of conventional cars as the economy slowly starts to recover from the coronavirus downturn:

Meanwhile, in America, we can't get enough pickup trucks. Our society's transition to electrification is an inevitable one, but it will not happen in a straight line. 

No Major Outbreaks Yet, Let's Hope It Stays That Way 

Speaking of the coronavirus, we are far from out of the woods there, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. However, the auto industry is working on slowly getting back to full speed, and so far, there have not been any major outbreaks in a U.S. auto plant since most of the, reopened on May 18, reports Reuters. Aggressive safety measures like temperature checks, partitions, personal protective equipment, and hand sanitizing seem to be working for now. 

But as we noted earlier this week, absences at plants are still a problem. As are workers potentially getting infected outside of work and then bringing the virus into the plants. From that story:

Also, virus rates are going way up in reopening states that happen to have auto plants, like Texas. This is all still very much a work in progress.

On Our Radar

Mitsubishi CEO defends pay cuts amid massive cost-reduction campaign (Automotive News)

The Car Industry’s $1.1 Trillion Debt Problem (WSJ)

Who's in charge at Nissan? COO's allies push to give him shared CEO role (Reuters)

Read These To Seem Smart And Interesting

The Defining Law of the Internet Age (WSJ)

What Are These Enormous Blobs 1,800 Miles Beneath Our Feet? (Popular Mechanics)

The Gentlemanly Hater’s Guide to Gone With the Wind (The New Republic)

Your Turn

Do you see Nikola as actually the next big thing, or is Milton already going Full Elon without delivering enough yet? 

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