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Sept. 30, 2020, 1:38 p.m. EDT

Nikola postpones ‘Nikola World,’ capping roller-coaster September for the company

Electric-truck maker seeks to reassure investors

By Claudia Assis, MarketWatch


Nikola Corp.
A Nikola 2 hydrogen-powered truck.

Nikola Corp. postponed this year’s “Nikola World” showcase, saying Wednesday that pandemic-related gathering restrictions in its home state of Arizona forced its hand.

The news came at the end of a lengthy statement from the company, under investigation by the securities regulators and the Justice Department, that sought to assure investors it remained on track “to become a global leader in zero-emissions transportation.”

It also capped a roller-coaster September for the electric-truck maker, which included the announcement of a landmark partnership with General Motors Co. (NYS:GM)  and the departure of the company’s founder.

Nikola World was set for early December. “Due to COVID-19 audience size restrictions at Arizona’s major venues, we have made the decision to reschedule an in-person Nikola World until we can bring the Nikola community together safely,” the company said. “We will continue to provide progress updates across our entire product portfolio.”

Related: Here’s what Wall Street is saying about Nikola founder’s ‘shocking’ departure

Nikola (NAS:NKLA)  shares tracked the broader market higher Wednesday and were recently up 2%. The stock has gained 77% this year, compared with an advance around 4% for the S&P 500 index. (S&P:SPX)  

In Wednesday’s statement, Nikola reiterated some of its goals, saying it expects “the first batch” of five prototypes of its Nikola Tre, an electric truck, to be “substantially completed” at its plant in Germany in the next few weeks.

The prototypes will then be bench-tested and road-tested in Germany, the company said “We remain confident in our ability to begin production of the Tre and make it available to customers starting in the fourth quarter of 2021.”

Prototypes of its hydrogen fuel-cell medium- and long-haul trucks are expected by the end of 2021. The company is on track to complete the first phase of construction of its manufacturing plant in Coolidge, Ariz., by the end of next year, with the expectation it will be completed in mid-2023.

Don’t miss: Tesla’s so-called Battery Day was ‘long on vision and boldness,’ short on here-and-now

Nikola last week got its first “sell” rating from Wall Street, as Wedbush analyst Dan Ives turned bearish on the electric truck maker and cut his rating from neutral and slashed his price target on the shares to $15 from $45.

The announcement of the GM deal, which hasn’t closed yet, sent shares soaring earlier this month. The stock came crashing after a scathing report by short seller Hindenburg Research accused the company of being an “intricate fraud” built on lies told by founder Trevor Milton.

See also: Here are two stocks that stand to benefit from California’s electric-vehicle push

The electric-vehicle maker fired back by saying the report was “false and misleading.”

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are reportedly in looking into the allegations. Milton resigned roughly two weeks after the report, and the company named board member and former GM executive Stephen Girsky as board chairman.

Analysts at J.P. Morgan said in a note Wednesday that the GM partnership “is the most important near-term catalyst” for Nikola shares, and “failure to consummate the GM deal would be a fatal blow for the (electric pickup truck) Badger initiative, but a serious blow to the more important truck initiative too, in our view.”

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