How the Nikola Badger went from hotly anticipated Tesla Cybertruck competitor to bust in a matter of months

NikolaThe Nikola Badger pickup truck, which is now dead.
  • Nikola Motor Company’s Badger all-electric pickup truck was one of the most highly anticipated products from the startup, and on the EV market as a whole.
  • The company also got the attention of General Motors, which partnered with it in a $US2 billion deal to build the Badger.
  • But 2020 saw fraud allegations and a high-profile resignation, which led GM to rethink its willingness to partner with Nikola.
  • The Badger will no longer be produced. A Nikola company statement said all reservation deposits will be refunded.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The hotly anticipated Nikola Badger is no more.

General Motors and zero-emissions startup Nikola Motor, whose $US2 billion partnership announcement in September predated a series of public relations nightmares for the latter, shared an update on their highly publicized deal this week. Under it, GM will still provide fuel cells for Nikola trucks but won’t take a $US2 billion stake in the company, while plans for the once-promising all-electric Badger pickup truck are cancelled.

The Badger’s story closely mirrors the trajectory of Nikola: a thunderous rise to the top and then a precipitous drop to the bottom, mostly over the course of nine months. Making cars is hard!

A thunderous rise

Back in the faraway land of 2016, a new startup that no one had heard of called Nikola Motor Company came out swinging with claims that it would build a hydrogen-powered, all-electric big rig capable of hauling 80,000 pounds with a range of 1,000 miles. It certainly got everyone’s attention.

Nikola TwoNikolaThe Nikola Two semitruck completed the first zero-emissions beer delivery for Anheuser-Busch in 2019.

Four years later, in February 2020, Nikola announced its plans for the Badger: a hydrogen fuel-cell and battery-electric hybrid pickup truck intended for the consumer market.

“Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semitruck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck?” the company’s founder and then-CEO, Trevor Milton, asked at the time.

Renderings showed a futuristic-looking pickup with sleek LED lights. It was promised to achieve a range of 600 miles, tow more than 8,000 pounds, and produce more than 900 horsepower.

On June 8, Nikola set the Badger’s reservation date for June 29, which caused the company’s stock to shoot up by as much as 104%. People were really excited for the thing, it seemed.

As promised, reservation books opened on June 29. There were three packages to choose from, with deposits ranging from $US250 to $US5,000. The company said all deposits were fully refundable before November 1, 2020, but the $US250 deposit would be nonrefundable after that date.

Milton claimed on his now-deleted Twitter account that Nikola Motor would not use the deposit money to fund the Badger’s development.

General Motors got in on things a few months later on September 8. The automaker announced that it would have a hand in developing and building Nikola’s new models, including providing fuel cells and batteries for the Badger. In return, GM would get an 11% stake in Nikola — a seat on the company’s board and $US2 billion in stock — thus seemingly securing itself an electric Ford-150 competitor.

Nikola Badger Electric Pickup Truck5NikolaThe Badger boasted a claimed 600 miles of range.

The next day, September 9, the Badger’s official output claims came out. Two versions of the trunk would be available — a regular battery-electric one and a joint battery and hydrogen fuel-cell electric one — and production was scheduled to start near the end of 2022.

It appeared to be the perfect Tesla Cybertruck rival, if either of them actually existed. But it was too good to last.

A precipitous drop

Then came the fateful day of September 10, right after the Badger specs came out. That day, short-seller Hindenburg Research published a huge report that accused Nikola of fraud, titled: “Nikola, How to Parlay an Ocean of Lies Into a Partnership With the Largest Auto OEM in America.”

Milton called the report a “hit job” on Twitter and added that more specific Nikola rebuttals were to follow.

In a statement published on the company’s website on September 14, Nikola called Hindenburg’s report “false and defamatory.” At the same time, GM CEO Mary Barra stood firm behind Nikola, saying her company had conducted “appropriate diligence” with regard to the $US2 billion deal.

It was all for naught, though. On September 21, Milton resigned from his position of executive chairman of Nikola. Later that month, Milton’s cousin accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1999, when she was 15 and he was 17.

“Mr. Milton strongly denies these false allegations. At no point in his life has Mr. Milton ever engaged in any inappropriate physical contact with anyone,” a representative for Milton told Business Insider.

Trevor MiltonMassimo Pinca/ReutersNikola founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton, who resigned after fraud allegations.

Despite Barra’s earlier stance, Bloomberg reported on October 1 that GM was thinking about revising its deal with Nikola. It “may seek a higher stake in the startup now that its valuation has fallen after allegations of deception,” the outlet wrote.

As for the Badger? Well, it still seemed like it was happening at the time, if this October 21 Bloomberg story was anything to go by. GM’s president, Mark Reuss, said that the company was “going forward” with its Nikola partnership.

“They are taking what I believe is the best fuel cell in the world — with our fuel cell that is made in our joint venture with Honda right here in Michigan — and taking that fuel cell and looking at deploying it in the heavy-duty transport market with the large trucks — the Class 7 and 8s — and also in the light-duty Badger truck,” Reuss said.

Alas, that quote aged like milk.

Nikola Badger Electric Pickup Truck8NikolaThe interior of the Badger.

On Monday, November 30, GM and Nikola announced updates to their deal, which included axing the Badger altogether. Since Badger production leaned significantly on OEM participation, it can’t really happen without it.

“Nikola will refund all previously submitted order deposits for the Nikola Badger,” the company said in its statement. Once the refunds go out, it will be like the Badger never happened.

The Badger never existed, as The Drive observed, and now it will never exist. But can we truly mourn something that never was?

This story has been updated to add that Trevor Milton denies the sexual assault allegations.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.