JPMorgan ‘skeptical’ about GM producing Nikola badger pickup


Nikola Motor Company

Source: Nikola Motor Company

JPMorgan is “skeptical” about Nikola finalizing a deal with General Motors to produce an electric pickup truck called the Badger for the embattled vehicle start-up.

Instead, JPM analyst Paul Coster expects the two companies to renegotiate a previously announced $2 billion deal without the Badger, focusing on GM supplying Nikola with battery and fuel cell technologies for its large commercial trucks – the cornerstone of its operations.

“(Nikola’s) CEO has been consistently non-committal regarding the Badger initiative, in our view, and we are skeptical that it will proceed given that it is not a strategic initiative for Nikola and it could drain the company of cash needed for the Class 8 truck initiatives,” Coster said in an investor note Wednesday.

During an interview Tuesday on CNBC’s “Mad Money with Jim Cramer,” Nikola CEO Mark Russell said negotiations with GM were ongoing. He said the company remains “interested” in the automaker’s technologies, but reiterated that Nikola will not sell the Badger – a consumer vehicle compared with semitrucks – without a partner to produce it.

“It has to have a business case,” Russell said. “It’s got to be able to be something that makes sense for our shareholders. And we’ve got to have a partner. It isn’t in our core plan. If you look at our core plan, that’s about heavy truck and hydrogen … which is why we said from the beginning it takes a partner. So, we have a partner, it’s in play. If we don’t have a partner, it’s not.”

A GM spokesman declined to comment on the negotiations Wednesday other than the “transaction has not closed, and there is no new information” to report.

Coster said JPM has a “sense that both GM and Nikola have reason to renegotiate the deal; Nikola may want to drop the Badger partnership, GM may want more stock to compensate for the diminished scope.” If not finalized by Dec. 3, either side can walkway form the pact.

Shares of Nikola were down as much as 17.4% during trading Wednesday morning. As of about noon, they had slightly rebounded to $30.65 per share, down 11.2%.

The Sept. 3 deal was initially viewed as a no-lose situation for GM. The partnership would give the Detroit automaker an 11% stake in the company for supplying Nikola with battery and fuel cell technologies as well as producing the Badger pickup.

Two days after the announcement, short seller Hindenburg Research released a damning report accusing founder and ex-Chairman Trevor Milton of making false statements about the company’s technology to attract investors and partnerships with other automakers. It characterized Nikola as an “intricate fraud built on dozens of lies” by Milton, who dismissed many of the claims before resigning in September.

The allegations in the report have led to inquiries by the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.

— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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