Nikola founder Trevor Milton has left the embattled electric-vehicle startup’s board after a short-seller accused him of lying about the company’s technology.
Phoenix-based Nikola announced the shakeup early Monday morning as it grappled with investment firm Hindenburg Research’s allegations that Milton made bogus claims to secure important corporate partnerships.
“The focus should be on the company and its world-changing mission, not me,” Milton said in a statement. “I intend to defend myself against false allegations leveled against me by outside detractors.”
News of the sudden leadership change sent Nikola’s stock price plunging 26.7 percent to $25.05 as of 8:19 a.m.
Nikola said it had tapped board member Stephen Girsky, a former General Motors vice chairman, to become its new chairman. Milton called Girsky the “right leader to guide our vision” and expressed confidence in Nikola CEO Mark Russell.
The move came less than two weeks after GM announced it would take an 11 percent stake in Nikola and produce its all-electric pickup truck, the Badger, under a multibillion-dollar deal the companies cast as mutually beneficial.
But Hindenburg released a report just two days later calling Nikola “an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies” over the course of Milton’s career. Among the allegations was that the company had staged a January 2018 video of its Nikola One semi truck by filming it rolling down a hill in neutral, not powered by its own engine.
Nikola called the report “a hit job for short sale profit driven by greed” and said it never claimed the truck was driving “under its own propulsion.” But Hindenburg said the company’s response had “holes big enough to roll a truck through.”
Asked about the controversy last week, GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker had “done the appropriate diligence” on Nikola as a part of the deal between the two companies.
Nikola has touted several designs for electric trucks powered by batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. The startup — which like rival automaker Tesla is named for the 19th-century inventor — went public in June with a handful of vehicle concepts and essentially no revenue.
With Post wires