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Electric Semi Start-Up Nikola Says It Has Moved On From Founder's Woes

Embattled electric semi-truck start-up Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA) reported a wider-than-expected loss for the second quarter today. But the company said that it has moved on from the scandals surrounding its recently indicted founder Trevor Milton -- and that it's on track to begin deliveries of its first trucks to actual paying customers by early next year, if not sooner.

Nikola said that it lost $143.2 million, or $0.36 per share, as it ramped up spending on testing of its upcoming trucks, and on factory tooling to manufacture them. That loss was wider than expected. Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a loss of $0.29 per share, on average, on revenue of about $20,000. Nikola had no revenue in the second quarter.

Nikola also provided investors with expanded guidance for the full year, and an extensive update on its efforts to deliver on its business plan.

Nikola has made significant progress since Milton's departure last year

Nikola plans to build its first truck, called the Tre, in both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell versions. That'll be followed by a heavier-duty version called the Duo. Meanwhile, the company has begun work toward building out a network of hydrogen refueling stations to support the fuel cell trucks.

Nikola's semis are built on chassis supplied by CNH Industrial (NYSE: CNHI), the maker of Iveco brand heavy trucks, and will use batteries and fuel cells supplied by General Motors (NYSE: GM). The trucks will be built at two factories: one in Coolidge, Arizona, belonging to Nikola, currently under construction; and the other owned by CNH in Ulm, Germany.

Nikola said that it completed its first "alpha" batch of five battery-electric Tres at the Ulm plant in the second quarter, and it has been conducting durability testing on them at several sites in the United States. A second "beta" batch of nine trucks, built in Ulm and incorporating lessons learned from the alpha tests, is now in Arizona and will be deployed for further testing over the next few weeks.

Separately, Nikola's plant in Coolidge is still under construction, but enough of the factory has been completed to begin prototype builds of seven Tre trucks. Those trucks (two with battery-electric drivetrains and five with fuel cells) will also be used for durability testing. Nikola expects that the Coolidge plant will have the capacity to build about 2,400 trucks per year by the end of 2021, and about 20,000 in 2023 after a series of planned expansions.

Nikola is aiming to complete at least 25 production Tre semis by the end of 2021. Image source: Nikola.

Nikola: Our trucks can now go up hills, too

Nikola began its earnings webcast with a short video illustrating its ongoing durability testing. The video began with a shot of a Tre prototype pulling a fully loaded trailer up a hill, a not-so-subtle message to investors mindful of the allegation that Nikola's first prototype was rolled down a hill to make it look like it could move under its own power.

Other key developments in the second quarter

  • Nikola and Iveco have completed an assembly line at the Ulm plant and began trial production on the line in June. (The early prototype trucks used in testing were built by hand in workshops.)
  • Nikola acquired 20% of Wabash Valley Resources, a clean-hydrogen production project in Indiana, for $54.1 million in June. As part of the deal, Nikola will have the right to purchase up to 20% of the project's hydrogen gas output for its planned refueling stations.
  • Nikola entered into a deal to sell up to $300 million in stock to Tumim Stone Capital over the next three years, at a slight discount to market price. The deal allows Nikola to sell the stock at times of its choosing. CEO Mark Russell said that the company will try to choose to sell at times when its stock price is relatively high, to minimize dilution. (This is a funding deal, not a long-term investment. Tumim Stone has the right to immediately sell any shares it buys.)

There was one more development of note, though it happened after the end of the second quarter: Nikola announced on July 15 that it will add 51 new sales and service locations in the U.S., bringing its total number of locations to 116.

Looking ahead: The plan and guidance for the rest of 2021

Nikola expects to deliver between 25 and 50 road-legal Tres by the end of 2021. Most of those will go to its sales locations for test drives by potential customers. The company hopes to deliver at least a few Tres to paying customers by the end of the year, but Russell said that those deliveries might not happen until early in 2022.

For the full year, Nikola said that auto investors should expect:

  • Revenue between zero and $7.5 million, depending on whether it can deliver trucks to customers before the end of December.
  • Total research and development spending between $318 million and $328 million.
  • Total capital expenditures between $210 million and $230 million, as it pays for tooling for its factories.
  • Between $500 million and $530 million in cash remaining as of Dec. 31.

The company also expects to announce additional dealers, hydrogen infrastructure partners, and fleet-testing customers by year-end, and to break ground on its first commercial hydrogen refueling station.

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John Rosevear owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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