The Impact
Is Nikola Motors a co. built around fraud?

To: The Impact Readers

Heyy 👋

So it’s a Tuesday – not a Monday. Aren’t you wondering why we didn’t ship this yesterday?

Well Nikola – The hydrogen truck company that was seemingly the only real “hydrogen” competitor to Tesla – has been in a fight with an investor who is claiming that Nikola is “Intricate Fraud”.

Nikola released their response yesterday, so we had to include it in this week’s Impact Newsletter.

In Your Inbox: Is Nikola intricate fraud; Vodka from CO2; A wrap up of the alternative foods space

🚀 STARTUPS & TECH

Keep Your Cocktails Clean and Classy

If you're going to have Vodka...why not consume one that helps the planet. (Image: Air Company)

Born from the Carbon XPRIZE competition, Air Company emerged. Air Company uses proprietary technology to transform carbon dioxide from the air into vodka while helping solve some of our planet’s most forthcoming problems. With this classy cocktail in hand, there is no need to overthink your environmental impact.

Why does this matter?

 

  • US alcohol manufacturers produce the same amount of greenhouse gases 1.9 million households do in a year. Each bottle of Air Vodka is equivalent to the daily carbon intake of 8 trees.
  • Air Company’s vodka stands out competition because it is fighting climate change. For every bottle of Air Vodka produced, a pound of the greenhouse gas is removed, thus making it the world’s first carbon-negative spirit.
  • “We’ve tried to take all the pieces of traditional alcohol production that put CO2 into the atmosphere and replace it with renewable power,” said Stafford Sheehan, Air Company’s chief technology officer.
  • Air Company has a machine that takes the place of the fermentation and is faster, more efficient, has no negative impact to the environment, and runs on solar power. Electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide into alcohol has been around for decades, but Air Company is the first to produce and scale a drinkable beverage out of it.


What’s next?

 

  • Air Company is currently keeping distribution local and planning to set up outpost distilleries in markets throughout the US to keep carbon emissions from distribution as low as possible.
  • Other items we might see coming from Air Company, or companies similar, in the future are perfumes, alternative fuels, plastic-making chemicals, and other ethanol-based consumer products.
  • Greg Constantine, CEO of Air Company, predicts that environmentally-conscious products will continue growing in the market: “Consumers are drawn to goods that do good, and we hope to play a role in bringing people sustainable solutions of the highest quality which harness the power of science and technology to improve our planet.”


Thoughts

All the startups that are finalists for the Carbon XPRIZE competition have the same mission – they are all maximizing how much carbon dioxide they convert and are creating valuable products. For startups in this space to succeed, they all need great support and funding, especially as these are hardware/manufacturing intensive. Hopefully, access to capital will become easier for early stage startups as other startups de-risk the landscape.

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🚀 STARTUPS & TECH

Is Nikola A Fraud

Trevor Miltion's history makes investors uncomfortable about the validity of Nikola Motor's tech. (Image: Nikola)

If you follow the clean-tech space you’ve probably already heard of the report published by Hidenburg Research. The report was pretty damning to say the least. It shows in very deep detail how Trevor Milton has effectively scammed a number of investors, partners and the public about Nikola Motors and what they really have.

Tech valuations aside making Nikola an overpriced tech stock for what it is today – the evidence in the Hidenburg report show how the company has been faking videos of it’s trucks functioning, lying to people about the tech they have, and manipulating the “booked revenue” Nikola has closed on.

Nikola responded yesterday – the 15th – in a press release that refuted the claims made by Hidenburg. The net result being a likely legal battle where Nikola claims Hindenburg is attempting to manipulate the stock price and Hidenburg claiming Nikola is a fraudulent entity.

Since we aren’t financial advisors these opinions and our analysis of this situation will be mostly surrounding the validity of the reports and what we believe is the reality behind all of the various claims being sought on both sides.

Hidenburg Claims Nikola Has No Tech

This is the biggest claim against Nikola Motors and Trevor Milton.

The challenge here is more on the side of seeing what Nikola has delivered to date to determine if or if not the company truly has any tech. To note Hidenburg was and likely still is short on Tesla as well, but that serves no purpose other than understanding where more of the – in my opinion – frivolous claims come from in their report.

Nikola to date has signed contracts but no deployed trucks or “public” pilot projects where third parties have validated the tech. This is overlooking the “extensive due diligence” Nikola claims investors like Bosch, GM, and others have done.

Nikola has pivoted multiple times even when they had “revolutionary tech”

Pivoting isn’t the problem, but as the Hidenburg report shares – Nikola has made claims multiple times, even when it was known as dHybrid that they have a breakthrough technology that is years ahead of everyone else.

Switching from natural gas, to hydrogen and then battery technologies. Not to mention you can find multiple times Trevor Miltion has shared that things like inverters are made in house.

Nikola’s “tech” claims don’t seem to hold weight

The things that make an investor nervous are when years down the road you still have nothing to show for in terms of progress on the tech you raise capital for.

Look, tech ventures and early stage investing are risky and many times the “theoretical” don’t work out – but continuing to claim something as your own or “breakthrough” without delivering even half of what was claimed is what makes people lose faith in a company.

Hidenburg shows through videos and independent testing how Nikola has faked videos of operating trucks and shown how Nikola actually doesn’t have a hydrogen fuel cell in any of their trucks as well.

Nikola partially refutes this, but, gives more of a flat response that implies that Nikola actually did fake videos and marketing content to drive up hype.

Using Other People’s Tech To Build Their Trucks

Nikola is valued the way it is because people look at it as a tech stock – not a vehicle manufacturer.

This is really important to note because IF the claims that Nikola is lying about the tech they have a strong case for fraud can be had – resulting in Nikola collapsing and becoming the clean tech version of Theranos.

In multiple cases, demos and videos Hidenburg reports and shares photos and videos – including internal communications that show Nikola has been utilizing other manufacturers inverters, fuel cells and batteries.

There is no issue being an integrator – building a hydrogen electric vehicle is a challenge in it of itself, but, lying to the public that the components are Nikola’s own is a potential act of fraud.

Why Is GM Going To Use Their Battery Tech & Manufacture Badger HEVs?

This was a surprising report since it seemed that Nikola was going to self manufacture and use Nikola’s own Breakthrough battery technology that is being co-developed with an unnamed university.

GM’s investment is smart from their side of the rainbow.

Nikola has a visible brand – which if all falls apart – GM could potentially acquire the Nikola brand and make it part of their eventual EV/HEV lineup. This is all part of trying to push back on pressure they are facing because of Tesla’s rapid rise.

The Product Is The Stock, Not The Car.

The best companies do both. If you have a great product, the stock will rise. If you happen to be a tech company – the stock will be inflated by 5Mx (this is humor).

Tesla and Elon Musk have made bold claims and claimed they develop all their components internally.

Tesla delivered!

Elon Musk remains a great showman and many times the claims he makes aren’t fully accurate to what comes off the factory line, but he has built trust.

We all have a marketing buffer and understand things can be over-promised at times – when they are early stage or theoretical.

In Nikola’s case it seems the claims they made and continue to make are to drive stock prices up.  

Now in Nikola’s defense they claim they have video evidence of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle operating, but for anyone in the tech industry – things can be faked for the purposes of demos. Delivering real production vehicles are a challenge.

Nikola Is A System Integrator Not A Tech Stock – Today

Valued like a tech stock due to the claims of Trevor Miltion – Nikola is likely going to deal with significant push back on the valuation of the company until it can deliver a real hydrogen electric vehicle.

If it is found out all the components are made by other companies, that will further ding Nikola down.

Developing vs. Having breakthrough technology is a big difference.

Cost of Hydrogen

Nikola has recently changed the narrative to their “breakthrough” being the cost of hydrogen. Reaching sub $4 price targets – which would make it viable as a replacement to fossil fuels.

It would hyper accelerate the industry in the transition to clean energy. Seemingly Nikola has twisted the truth here as well – banking on sheer volume of hydrogen refueling stations to drive the cost down as opposed to a technical innovation.

Don’t get me wrong, this is likely how the industry will get the cost down – including subsidies – which is how the giants are approaching it.

However, if Nikola isn’t delivering anything new here other than being strategic in deploying hydrogen refueling stations – they are well behind players like Plug.

What we think of Nikola

Naturally, the hydrogen space and HEV space is something we are hyper bullish on. When we started covering Nikola we were hopeful they would be the first to popularize HEV’s and bring a few HEV options into the consumer space to compete with Toyota’s single offering.

Unfortunately, the evidence seems pretty damning that Nikola has been manipulating it’s stock price by claiming it should be valued as a tech company and not a system integrator.

Nikola can still recover and bring HEV’s to market if they focus on partnering with companies that actually have tech…

Hydrogen Is Coming And It Will Be Here Soon – Nikola Or Not.

🚀 STARTUPS & TECH

A Summary Of All The Company's We Interviewed

Decarbonization in the agricultural industry has seen a rise in funding and progress! (Image: Brooke Lark)

For the last 6 weeks, we featured a piece on the topic of organic waste each week. Each week looked at a different segment or solution.

Producer Harvesting

From talking with SolarX Works, one the problems here is the lack of cold chain infrastructure to maximize the quantity of produce that makes it to the market. If more produce can make it to the market without going bad, farmers and supermarkets stand to make more profit, and there are more solutions to address excess waste along the supply chain.

Producer Upcycling

Upcycling has been growing as a trend over the last two years. Companies like Renewal Mill are fighting climate change and global food loss by upcycling the byproducts of manufacturing into premium ingredients and finished products.

Others in this space of enhancing the circular economy via upcycling food have come together to form the Upscaled Food Association. This association is working on a product certification program so that you can have your product certified the way that it would be certified organic or certified non-GMO.

Consumer Facing

When it comes to selling to consumers, one of the biggest problems is demand forecasting. When supermarkets underestimate their forecast, they leave money on the table, especially when supermarkets already operate on thin margins.

However, when there is excess supply, there is waste generated. The key here is to convert potential food waste into limited financial losses via dynamic pricing, like what Wasteless has created. Wasteless is an AI-based tracking solution for grocery stores to offer customers dynamic pricing based on product expiration date, helping retailers optimize markdowns, increasing their profitability.

Waste Management

No matter the innovations and process improvements, there will still be organic waste generated throughout the entire food supply chain – there will always be leftover banana peels and eggshells.

This is where companies like Compost Crew come in, to take care of organic waste composting and recycling. Managing organic waste will require a variety of solutions: composting, anaerobic digestion, incineration, and more. Innovations, like Gate 5, will help further this space to turn waste into value.

Future Outlook

Food waste is a big problem world-wide – 1.3 billion tons of food per year are wasted globally (roughly a third of all food produced). Food waste is a $1.2 trillion problem. Minimizing food waste can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste bans are a good start to address organic waste, but we ultimately need national organic waste policies need to focus on four key areas: financial incentives, infrastructure, education, and enforcement.

With the right policies (with economic benefits), there will be incentives for a more circular economy. Policies can decrease the cost of recycling food waste and de-incentivize people from producing waste. New policies should address zoning for new waste management facilities, as well as by restructuring local taxpayer money.

New policies should establish financial incentives for consumers to produce less waste. The full cost of throwing away trash is not passed on to people and businesses that generate waste.

Some waste management companies look at total waste and the percentage breakdown of recyclables and compost (how they make money). In this case, the more you produce, the cheaper your bill is. These incentives are not aligned.

In regions and cities where it is more expensive to compost, there is an opportunity for upcycling companies. However, if companies that upcycle waste enter the market, it is also possible that waste producers will have to pay more money – if their total waste decreases, their waste management company may charge more, as upcycling will divert organic waste.

Communities, local governments, and businesses will also need to collaborate on education and outreach to increase demand for composting services. We are only capturing a fraction of available food waste because most people are not aware of the benefits or are not ready to change habits. People need to realize the importance of diverting organic waste from landfills and recycling it. This will increase demand of these services and drive down costs.

We can look to where Europe is today to see where the US will be in a couple years with regards to food waste. There will be a big evolution in consumer sentiment toward sustainability and food waste.

📻 PODCAST UPDATES

Recyclable Coffee Cups ARE NOT Recyclable?? With Victoria Beall

Victoria Beall (@environmentoria) comes on the show and to talk about how I can start living a more sustainable life now. Check out her list of low and zero waste alternatives to the single use products in our lives everyday. It doesn’t cover everything, but we found it’s a great way to take stock of how much plastic is really in your life.

Check out and subscribe to our Youtube Channel for future episodes!

Writers: Swarnav S Pujari, Ian Sumner, Daniel Kriozere

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