This week, we’re looking at the salaries of some CEOs at de-SPACed electric vehicle startups whose share values are plummeting, and the 15-year anniversary of a technology that literally drives the industry.

The de-SPACed pay picture

Proxy materials typically don’t make scintillating reading. But a company’s top earners can be interesting, especially when the CEOs hold the majority interest in their companies — and draw a salary and other dollar-denominated perks.

We’ve seen a couple of paper billionaires — Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton and Hyliion Holdings founder Thomas Healy — crash to Earth, albeit with mere hundreds of millions in stock based on their roughly 20% ownership stakes.

Shed no tears for either. Milton has cashed out tens of millions of dollars in stock since his lockup lifted in December. Healy cannot do anything with his shares until October.  

Without trying to be complete, conclusive — or judgmental — here are the cash compensation figures for some of the once high-flying special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) executives that have de-SPACed and are subject to the fickle markets. Stock grants, options and conversions from their pre-SPAC private stock are too squishy to report here.

Romeo Power Inc. (NYSE: RMO)

CEO Lionel Selwood, who took over the top job in September, was paid $421,929, including $36,276 as a stipend for rent in the Los Angeles area where Romeo is based. Shares closed Thursday at $6.61, 6 cents above the 52-week low and far below the high of $38.90. The commercial vehicle battery maker concluded its business combination with RMG Acquisition Corp. on Dec. 29. 

Canoo Inc. (NASDAQ: GOEV

Executive Chairman and CEO Tony Aquila was paid a seemingly modest $145,380 in salary last year. Add in $473,171 in housing reimbursements and the total was $618,551. Former CEO Ulrich Kranz — best known for developing the i3 and i8 models during a 30-year career at BMW — received $708,045 in cash. 

Canoo went public with the backing of Hennessy Capital, a serial SPAC starter that raised $600 million in its fourth SPAC to fund Canoo’s advanced skateboard design for multiple products. Canoo shares closed Thursday at $7.13, well off their 52-week high of $24.90.

Hyliion Holdings (NYSE:HYLN

Healy received $320,192 in salary and $31,000 to cover security services, private air travel for him and a guest to attend the bell-ringing ceremony recognizing Hyliion’s public debut and for gifts received when the business combination with Tortoise Acquisition Corp. closed last October. Hyliion shares closed Thursday at a 52-week low of $7.69. They traded as high as $58.66 last September, just before the reverse merger closed.

Hyliion hybrid (Photo: Hyliion)


Milton is out of the picture as an executive, but he might show up in the proxy for the nearly 10 months he spent as executive chairman before resigning. Nikola is still paying his legal bills as federal investigations by the Securties and Exchange Commission and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York continue. 

Nikola delayed its first annual meeting from June 8 to June 30, so we don’t know how much CEO Mark Russell was paid for his first year running the company. Ditto for others like ChargePoint Holdings (NASDAQ: CHPT) CEO Pasquale Romano and Lordtown Motors Corp. (NASDAQ: RIDE) founder and CEO Steve Burns. 

It’s automatic

Automated manual transmissions have all but ended manual shifting in heavy-duty trucks. There are a few holdouts — off-highway and severe service — but more than 90% of truck transmissions are either AMTs or fully automatic.

Volvo Trucks reminded everybody this week that its I-Shift AMT started in Europe in 2001 and has been on the North American market since 2007. Back then, truckers expected to shift gears — a lot. Beginning around 2012, AMT popularity grew despite costing more than a manual. 

The main tradeoff was better fuel economy, meaning a fleet could recover its up-front cost in fuel savings. And it dramatically reduced driver fatigue. Today’s AMTs are helping push fuel economy for Class 8 on-highway trucks into once unheard of double digits.

Volvo Trucks said the I-Shift was standard across its model range by 2013. Today, AMTs make up 94% of Volvo transmission orders. Johan Agebrand, director of product marketing at Volvo Trucks North America, said 217,000 I-Shift transmissions have been sold in the region in the last 15 years.

Using intelligent electronics to continuously monitor grade, speed, weight and engine load, I-Shift either shifts or holds a gear as needed to conserve fuel. The transmission system is  synchronized and integrated with the rest of the truck, using engine and vehicle information to make the most of operations for different applications and tractor-trailer combinations.

There’s another reason why I-Shift and its competitors are so popular. Most younger drivers can’t drive a manual. They never learned. Now it’s unlikely they ever will need to.

The Volvo Trucks I-Shift (Photo: Volvo Trucks)

California (incentive) dreamin’

California’s contribution to getting cleaner trucks on roads is about to begin doling out money to help fleets buy electric trucks and buses. Half of the $165 million that will eventually be available is to be released on June 8. The program goes by the name HVIP, which stands for the unwieldy Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project.

HVIP offers an average 20% price break on the price of electric vehicles, which cost significantly more up front than conventional diesel-powered trucks. For example, a Class 8 Freightliner eCascadia and other Class 8 battery-powered trucks qualify for a $120,000 incentive.  

Depending how the applications come in — 1,400 fleets have participated to date — the money won’t last long. For example, New Legend ordered 50 eCascadias last week. The company probably won’t get an incentive for each one. That would add up $6 million of the $82.5 million available in the first tranche.

Medium-duty trucks typically qualify for $85,000 rebates, and the math around parity with diesel trucks works better because they run repeatable last-mile and regional routes allowing return-to-base nighttime recharging, which is cheaper than charging during peak daytime hours.

Since 2009, HVIP has helped pay for 7,000 commercial vehicles, 58% of them operating in the state’s most-polluted communities.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. Want to get Truck Talk in your email every Friday? Subscribe here.