The huge rebound in the stock market has opened the door for companies to go public, and investors are hungry to invest in businesses with the potential to disrupt their industries. Nikola (NKLA -4.66%) has set its sights on doing to the commercial and passenger truck market what Tesla (TSLA -4.59%) has done with cars, using electric and fuel-cell technology to provide an alternative to internal combustion.
Nikola's stock started trading through a reverse merger with special-purpose acquisition company VectoIQ Holdings in early June, and the share price nearly tripled between June 4 and June 9 before falling back somewhat. Nikola's gains show how optimistic investors are about the company, but shareholders will need to see some real progress from it in order to justify further gains. Here are the three things that need to happen soon in order to keep the company's investor fans confident about the electric-truck specialist's prospects.
1. Nikola must see huge success from the Badger launch
The company's initial focus has been on the commercial truck market, but founder and CEO Trevor Milton sees a huge opportunity with the Badger electric pickup truck. With one model using electric batteries solely and another offering a hybrid of electric battery and fuel cell technology, Nikola will start taking preorders for the Badger on June 29.
Nikola has already turned the preorder into the beginning of a massive promotional campaign. It will offer those who put down deposits an opportunity to get priority tickets for the Nikola World event that will feature the Badger's premiere.
Milton also promised that the event will feature the Badger in actual operation, poking at Tesla by saying that it won't be "a fake show truck" that attendees see. Milton said that his goal is for the Badger to outsell Ford Motor's leading F-150 pickup, so the stakes are high for a successful launch.
2. Nikola needs to stand up to the Semi
As much attention as the Badger will get, commercial trucks are what have most investors excited about Nikola's potential. Commercial trucking and other transportation companies are excited about the line of Class 8 tractor-trailer trucks, especially because the option to include hydrogen fuel cells will introduce added flexibility for many operators. Nikola has already taken 14,000 preorder reservations for the truck line, which it says works out to roughly $10 billion in future sales.
Nikola is looking to start building a factory for production, with trucks likely rolling off the line three or four years from now. The company's also planning a network of hydrogen refueling stations to accommodate the needs of trucking operators.
The problem is that Tesla's Semi is a prime potential competitor, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said it intends to get the Semi into "volume production" in the near future. That'll create a race between the Semi and Nikola's products, and Nikola needs to work quickly to cement its place in the commercial-truck market and prevent Tesla from getting an insurmountable first-mover advantage.
3. Nikola must pick the right production partner
Nikola is trying to be innovative, but it's not following the same route Tesla did by trying to build a fully vertically integrated business all at once. In particular, Nikola will work with an established auto manufacturer to offer production facilities and provide key parts for the Badger. The company hasn't yet said which automaker it will choose.
No matter which company Nikola goes with, critics will undoubtedly take the opportunity to point to whatever quality and production flaws that automaker has had with its own vehicle models. Nikola needs to get in front of those critics, but it also has to make sure the partner it chooses can defend its own track record. Ideally, the stronger the automaker that the company works with, the easier it'll be for Nikola fans to have confidence in what the final product will look like.
Hitting the gas
Nikola has gotten out to a good start as a publicly traded company, but it still has a long road ahead of it before its electric trucks enter full production and start showing up on highways across the nation. If it can get these three things right, though, the company will dramatically increase its chances of making good on its full potential.