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GM takes $2-billion stake in Nikola and partners on new electric pickup

General Motors' headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
General Motors’ headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
(Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)

General Motors Co. took a $2-billion equity stake in start-up Nikola Corp. and agreed to manufacture a new electric-pickup model in a deal that diversified the Detroit-based automaker’s alternate-fuel-vehicle strategy.

GM will contribute technology and manufacturing in exchange for an 11% stake in Nikola and the right to nominate one director to the company’s board, according to a statement. Shares of both companies jumped on the surprise announcement.

The two companies expect the truck to start production by the end of 2022.

The partnership gives Nikola — which has yet to generate any meaningful revenue — an immediate boost of legitimacy and the industrial might of an established player while also benefiting GM. The well-established automaker expects to receive more than $4 billion in perks from the deal. In addition to the equity value of the shares, it will be paid to manufacture the Badger pickup, supply batteries and begin commercializing fuel-cell technology for the semi-truck industry.

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GM is increasing its exposure to alternate-fuel vehicles, an area that increasingly has captured the attention of investors. The new pickup — could, however, compete against GM’s own electrification plans for future vehicles such as a promised Hummer pickup set to go on sale late next year. Yet, the carmaker also may see it as a way to test demand for battery-powered trucks.

GM gets to keep 80% of the electric-vehicle regulatory credits from sales of the Badger pickup and has right of first refusal on the other 20%. That will help the automaker meet emissions regulations as it focuses on profitable gas-powered sport-utility vehicles and trucks.

GM does risk fostering a new rival in the way that early investments in Tesla Inc. by Daimler and Toyota Motor Corp. helped that electric-car company grow into a fierce competitor. But GM Chief Executive Mary Barra sees lots of room for growth in the budding market for EVs. She noted that GM gained access through Nikola to the Class 7 and 8 freight truck business.

“We see huge growth opportunities for both of us,” Barra said on a call with reporters. “We view that there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for different customers and products. When you look at opportunity to partner with Nikola on Class 7 and 8, that’s a wide-open opportunity for us.”

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For Nikola, the partnership with GM is a vindication of its efforts to gain credibility as it moves toward production of its first vehicles. The Phoenix-based company engineered a reverse merger in June, gaining a public listing and more notice for its ambitious plans to enter the market for battery-powered and fuel-cell vehicles. It has garnered its share of fans and skeptics, whom founder Trevor Milton has been known to engage with on Twitter. That is where he has promoted the company and sought to quell critics.

“This news is a huge shot in the arm for Nikola,” Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who has a “neutral” rating on the company’s stock, said in a research note Tuesday. “There have been many skeptics around Nikola and its founder Trevor Milton’s ambitions over the coming years, which now get thrown out the window with stalwart GM making a major strategic bet on Nikola for the next decade on the EV and fuel-cell front.”

Shares of both companies jumped on the surprise announcement, with GM rising to the highest level since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. GM rose 8% to close at $32.38 — the highest close since February 24. Nikola surged 41%, while electric-car market leader Tesla Inc. fell 21% for its steepest one-day drop ever.

Milton, who also is Nikola’s chairman, has said the Badger will sell for $60,000 to $90,000, which analysts say could be a profitable niche in the larger U.S. pickup market. He also has said he hopes the Badger will one day rival Ford Motor Co.’s F-150, which for 43 years has been America’s bestselling pickup.

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Nikola will save an estimated $4 billion in development costs by partnering with GM, Milton said in a tweet Tuesday. “Who better than GM to help engineer, validate, test and manufacture,” he said.

As recently as a year ago, Nikola had no plans to build a pickup, just an idea that gelled in November after Tesla unveiled a prototype of its own futuristic electric truck. Nikola first unveiled the Badger in February and started to take preorders from buyers in June.

Nikola is not alone in targeting pickup buyers with a more-sustainable option. Rivian Automotive Inc., an EV start-up backed by Amazon.com Inc. and Ford, plans to start producing an electric pickup by June 2021. Ford promises an electric F-150 by 2022, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has said it is mulling over an electrified version of its Ram pickup.

The Badger will be capable of going zero to 60 mph in less than three seconds and, depending on the configuration, will have a maximum 600-mile range between charging sessions, according to the company’s website.


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