Nikola loses key executive heading fuel-cell development

Nikola Corp., the troubled hydrogen-powered and battery-electric truck startup, lost a key member of its executive team with the departure of the former head of its fuel-cell development program.

Nikola said it has no plans to name a replacement executive vice president to fill Schneider’s role.
Nikola said it has no plans to name a replacement executive vice president to fill Schneider’s role.

The company said Jesse Schneider, executive vice president of technology, hydrogen and fuel cells, left the company April 1. He had led its engineering teams working on fuel-cell systems, a planned hydrogen-fueling station network and storage technology.

“Jesse Schneider recently departed Nikola on good terms, we understand to pursue a business opportunity in the hydrogen industry," Mark Russell, Nikola’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “Jesse’s contribution over the last three years included helping Nikola build world-class fuel cell and hydrogen teams."

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Shares of Nikola fell 7% to close at $12.29 in New York trading -- the lowest since it went public in a reverse merger last year with a blank-check company. The stock is down more than 80% from its June high. It was hit hard by a short seller’s allegations in September that the startup had mislead investors. Nikola later acknowledged that some of its claims were inaccurate.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles and the fueling network to support them is at the core of the Phoenix, Arizona-based company’s business model, after it abandoned a planned pickup project with General Motors Co. and development of power-sports vehicles.

Nikola said it has no plans to name a replacement executive vice president to fill Schneider’s role. A spokesperson said the position is being terminated as the company moves from development to deployment.

Fueling Network Plans

Nikola’s first hydrogen-powered truck is due to go into production starting in 2023 at a factory under construction in Arizona. The company is also working on a network of hydrogen-fueling stations with the aim of building several hundred locations over the next decade. Installation of the first of those is expected to start this quarter.

Nikola is one of several companies looking at fuel-cell technology to power commercial vehicles, alongside Toyota Motor Corp and Hyundai Motor Co. It is also working on a battery-electric semi truck with CNH Industrial NV.’s Iveco unit, which is due to be built in Ulm, Germany, at the end of this year. Nikola also has agreements with GM and Robert Bosch GmbH to use their fuel-cell technology in its trucks.

At the time of his hiring in April 2018, Nikola described Schneider as an “automotive industry veteran" with 20 years of experience working on fuel cells and electrification in multiple regions. He previously worked at BMW AG and the former DaimlerChrysler, the U.S. unit of which is now part of Stellantis NV, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“It was my honor to lead the hydrogen and fuel-cell development teams of the Nikola Two and soon-to-be-released Tre Fuel Cell prototypes with Iveco and Bosch," Schneider said in an emailed statement. “I left Nikola with the purpose of starting a new company in California."

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as chief executive officer at ZEV Station, a startup that is working on renewable-energy powered electric charging and hydrogen fueling stations.

First Published Date: 08 Apr 2021, 09:03 AM IST
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