Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) is showing its battery-electric Class 8 Tre prototype to fleets, seeking launch customers who want more than one or two trucks to test.

The Phoenix-based startup is sticking with its estimate of delivering 50 to 100 Class 8 battery-electric trucks in the fourth quarter. But CEO Mark Russell, speaking on a Q1 earnings call Friday, said supply constraints for a variety of parts could reduce that number. Microchips  and touchscreens are particular concerns.

“We’ve received confirmation from our supply chain that we’re going to receive enough [battery] cells to complete enough trucks to stick with our guidance,” Russell said. “There are potential shortages in a number of parts at this point. There is a possibility that shortages will affect us.”

Nikola originally projected 500 to 600 trucks would be built from kits of parts shipped from its joint venture manufacturing plant in Ulm, Germany, to a greenfield plant under construction in Coolidge, Arizona. It plans to build 15,000 trucks in Coolidge by the end of 2022 and 35,000 units a year on two shifts by the end of 2023.

Deep in validation testing

Nikola is deep into validation testing of the Tre. It conducted cold weather testing in Michigan and showed analysts a video Friday of a prototype Tre hauling a purported 80,000-pound load, going up a 20-degree grade and touching 76 mph on flat ground.

The company hosted representatives from 25 fleets at its headquarters and test track in Arizona this week. Feedback to riding in the trucks was positive, Russell said.

One of those fleets, port logistics firm Total Transportation Systems Inc., signed a letter of intent with Nikola to purchase 100 trucks — 30 battery electric and 70 hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks. It is Nikola’s first customer for battery-powered trucks. 

Nikola has interest from companies wanting to buy and try out one or two battery-powered Tre. The company wants bigger deals, like it got with Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD), which ordered up to 800 fuel cell trucks in 2018. Nikola is beginning work on an alpha version of two fuel cell trucks with the beverage company’s input.

“The model for our launch customer has been Anheuser-Busch,” Russell said. “It has been our launch customer for the fuel cell vehicles for a long time because they stepped up early. That’s the kind of relationship we’re looking for. I’ve yet to talk to any customer who doesn’t want a truck to test and wouldn’t be willing to buy one for test and evaluation.”

Established manufacturers are using the try-it-out mode for their electric trucks.

Daimler Trucks North America loans Class 8 eCascadias and Class 6 eM2s from its Customer Experience Fleet to carriers and logistics companies for six to nine months. The goal is  generating interest for when the trucks begin production next year. Volvo Trucks North America and PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) have similar programs.

Hydrogen updates

In late April, Nikola and TravelCenters of America (NASDAQ: TA) said Nikola would provide hydrogen fuel to two TA public travel plazas in California that would serve the Anheuser-Busch fuel cell trucks. 

Nikola will truck hydrogen made in Arizona under an agreement for cheap electricity from the Arizona Power Authority. Electricity is 90% of the cost of making hydrogen through electrolysis. Nikola will sell the hydrogen to TA and split sale profits and station construction costs 50-50.

A nationwide network of 700 hydrogen fueling stations remains Nikola’s plan. Russell said hubs for producing hydrogen where costs allow the fuel to be on par with diesel will be used to feed station pairs. The first of those is Los Angeles to Phoenix, followed by Los Angeles to the California Central Valley and San Francisco.

The Tre’s 750-kilowatt motor is capable of greater range between chargings than any known Class 8 electric competitor, Russell said, declining to discuss miles per gallon equivalency.

Federal probes

Nikola said in its 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it received another subpoena from the SEC’s Staff of the Division of Enforcement asking how it plans to spend proceeds from an anticipated capital raise this year. Chief Financial Officer Kim Brady said Nikola is preparing to move ahead. He did not disclose how much Nikola will seek.

Also, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District (SDNY) is probing claims made by founder and former Executive Chairman Trevor Miltion. Nikola said it has provided “voluminous productions of information” and made witnesses available to testify. 

“The documents and information requested in the subpoenas include materials concerning Mr. Milton’s and the company’s statements regarding the company’s business operations and the future of the company,” Nikola said in its SEC filing.

The company continues to rack up legal bills defending itself from the allegations published last September by short seller Hindenburg Research. That amounted to $14 million in the first quarter on top of $27 million in the fourth quarter.

Nikola is still losing money as a pre-revenue startup. The Q1 net loss was $122.2 million compared to a net loss of $33.1 million a year ago. The company ended Q1 with 530 employees and expects to reach 1,000 by the end of the year with 180 involved in manufacturing and the rest in design, engineering and administrative functions at headquarters.

Nikola shares closed Friday at $11.50, up $13.36%.

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Nikola finds hydrogen distributor for future European fuel cell trucks

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