Nikola on Tuesday confirmed a $125 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which resolves and concludes all government investigations into the company and misleading statements made by founder Trevor Milton.
The $125 million civil penalty will be paid out in five installments over two years, according to a Nikola press release. The first installment will be paid by the end of 2021, and the remaining installments will be paid semiannually through 2023, the company said. The proceeds will establish a "Fair Fund" to return penalty proceeds to investors who were victims of Milton's misleading statements.
Milton is still facing criminal and civil charges for his statements, the SEC and others contend which misled investors. The SEC says Milton misled investors about Nikola’s technological advancements, in-house production capabilities, hydrogen production, truck reservations and orders, financial outlook, and more. The SEC is continuing its investigation into Milton, and Nikola will still cooperate with that investigation.
Nikola's business model is based around hydrogen fuel-cell and battery-electric commercial trucks, as well as a network for hydrogen stations. The company also previously announced the Badger pickup truck, designed to use a combination of batteries and fuel cells.
Nikola Tre BEV
A September 2020 report from activist short seller Hindenburg Research alleged that statements made by Milton mislead investors. The SEC and Justice Department subsequently launched probes of Nikola. The report led to the resignation of Milton. The federal government later filed criminal charges against him, while the SEC filed a civil complaint.
In September 2020, General Motors announced a $2 billion deal for an 11% stake in the startup. Under the deal, GM would provide batteries and fuel cells for Nikola's vehicles, and also provide manufacturing capacity. GM backed out of the deal once Milton and Nikola came under scrutiny.
Under the terms of the SEC settlement, Nikola said it "neither admits nor denies the SEC's findings in this matter." The company is also seeking reimbursement from Milton for costs and damages in connection with the government investigations.
Nikola has undertaken a more cautious version of its business plan without Milton. The company announced last week that it had delivered the first Tre battery-electric trucks to logistics firm Total Transportation Services Inc. for use at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It previously announced a partnership with TravelCenters of America to build its first two hydrogen stations by early 2023.