Home > Auto > News > Nikola Corp: How a $26-billion truck company with zero revenue just surged 103%

Tesla shares are at an all-time high. Hertz Global Holdings’ are well above where they were before the company went bankrupt. But no stock in the automotive sector is a better indication of equity-market exuberance than Nikola Corp.

The aspiring battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell truck maker debuted on the Nasdaq last week following a reverse merger with a blank-check company headed by a former General Motors executive and board director. It’s forecasting zero revenue for 2020 and its first $1 billion year won’t be until 2023.

Ford Motor, by comparison, is expected to report about $115 billion of revenue for this year. And yet Nikola, whose stock more than doubled Monday, traded up another 30% to as high as $95 after the close, giving the company a richer market capitalisation than the almost 117-year-old maker of the F-150.

Skeptics have long questioned the market’s valuation of Tesla, which has yet to post an annual profit. But by pushing Nikola’s market cap to $26 billion at Monday’s close, investors have taken appraisals of zero-emission vehicle manufacturers named after a celebrated Serbian-American inventor to another stratosphere.

“Nikola’s No. 1 goal is stable growth over time," Trevor Milton, Nikola’s executive chairman, said in an emailed statement. The 38-year-old said several factors could be behind the stock’s gain and cited examples including his tweeted announcement that the company will start taking reservations for its Badger pickup.

(Also read: Nikola Motor's listing gives billionaire founder a chance to 'out-Elon' Musk)

Starting five years ago, when Milton founded Nikola, through the end of last year, the Phoenix-based company has lost about $188.5 million. It’s planning to start delivering the Tre battery-electric semi truck next year, followed by two fuel cell-electric models in 2023.

The Badger model that Milton said may have gotten the market excited on Monday might not actually make it into production. In Nikola’s public-offering filing, the company said it is focused on making Class 8 heavy-duty vehicles and doesn’t expect to build the Badger unless it finds an established manufacturer to partner with.

(Also read: No beef with Elon Musk, says multi-billionaire Nikola founder)

A spokesperson for the company said Nikola will announce a partner in the near future, without giving more specifics.

Last week, Milton ceded the chief executive officer job to Mark Russell, a former COO of metals manufacturer Worthington Industries who has been president of Nikola since February 2019. VectoIQ Acquisition, the company Nikola merged with, is led by Steve Girsky, a former GM vice chairman who helped lead the carmaker out of bankruptcy.

Nikola had about $86 million in cash at the end of last year. Prior to the stock listing, it had raised more than $500 million of private capital, though that includes a $150 million in-kind contribution from CNH Industrial NV, the truck maker linked to Italy’s billionaire Agnelli family. CNH also invested $100 million cash in Nikola last year.

The partnership with CNH includes a 50-50 venture in Europe that aims to start producing battery-electric trucks in Germany in the first half of next year and a North American alliance that Nikola will fully own.

Nikola is planning to build a 1-million-square-foot facility south of Phoenix and start making trucks in 2021. It’s expecting to reach full production of about 30,000 fuel cell-electric vehicles in 2027 and 15,000 battery-electric vehicles the following year.

Although Nikola touts reservations for 14,000 fuel cell-electric trucks that it says are worth about $10 billion of sales, those are far from done deals. The company told prospective investors in April that it was negotiating with strategic fleet partners to convert pre-orders into binding contracts with deposits.

While times are good for Milton -- his fortune now stands at $9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index -- he still covets something Tesla’s CEO Musk has: a blue check mark on Twitter.

Then again, Milton may want to be careful about seeking notoriety on Musk’s favorite social-media platform. The account @TESLACharts, which has accumulated roughly 26,400 followers by incessantly trolling Musk, has taken notice of Nikola’s rise.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.