Few stocks have been as speculative and volatile this year as Nikola Corp (NKLA 4.89%). Shares have cratered more than 75% from their high in the spring but are still up more than 60% since the March announcement that it was going public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger. And the reality is, the recent news hasn't been great. A few months ago, the company was on the cusp of partnering with General Motors on a breakthrough deal that would leverage GM's manufacturing capabilities and some of its technology to bring to market an all-electric pickup named Badger -- but then everything came crashing back to earth.
The company's founder, Trevor Milton, parted ways under a cloud of accusations of fraud and selling investors on a business that was little more than a big idea and empty promises. Nikola finally got a deal done with GM, but it was significantly smaller in scope and the Badger pickup has been shelved.
Can Nikola even make it without bringing a pickup to the market? One expert thinks so. On the Nov. 30 edition of "The Wrap" on Motley Fool Live, host Jason Hall, who's covered the alt-fuels for transportation space for years, made the case for Nikola's future, pointing out that the Badger wasn't on the company's radar before this year. With Milton now out of the picture, Nikola could find it easier to focus on the core products at the heart of its future prospects: electric and hydrogen-fueled heavy-duty class 8 trucks. Whether investors can make any money or not remains to be seen.
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Jason Hall: I have followed Nikola for close to five years -- really ever since it was first formed as a private business because I followed the alternative fuel space, specifically in trucking.
I think now Nikola is actually more of the company it was intended to be when it went through a spark and before that, then it was when the whole GM thing came up. This whole Badger pickup truck thing, this was never really part of the company's plans. It was this idea that just bubbled up -- the company, from its founding, was about building Class 8 heavy-duty trucks. The thesis is this and this is the thing that I still believe is likely to prove true the problem with EVs. And this is something that I disagree with Elon Musk on completely.
I will be honest, I don't think Elon Musk spent much time at all really thinking about this, I really don't. The bottom line is that, there are specific applications where a battery-powered class 8 truck will be fine. There's some line haul operations and types of applications where you're not going very far, you going less than 500 miles, round trip where you don't need the kind of range that you can get with diesel. The bottom line is that to be able to go 700-800 miles with an electric truck, you lose freight weight. There's a big weight penalty to add the additional batteries to do that, and the bottom line is that truck drivers can't take that weight penalty because that means revenue, because that means they can't haul as much goods.
The other problem is that there is still a massive issue with charge time. You're talking about 20 times the battery capacity, 50 times a battery capacity versus a car. You can't get 80 percent of charge in 20 minutes. You're talking hours and hours and hours -- that's how these trucks aren't driving. It's a major, major issue with electric trucks and hydrogen can solve it. It absolutely can solve it and it could work well because of the energy density, the ability to refill.
I think right now, honestly, I think Nikola -- Trevor Milton is out. But Milton was also the first person to say that he wasn't an engineer. He wasn't the design guy -- he had this big idea. The big idea is still there; maybe they can be a little more focused right now.
The company has $900 million in cash, they have essentially no debt. There is a good line of sight to be able to move forward, assuming that they can get enough cash through debt offerings or through share offerings to raise enough cash to build its manufacturing plant. It has thousands of orders for heavy-duty trucks and if they focus on that, they can make a good little business. They survive.
I just don't know if investors can make money here, and I own shares. I bought shares very early and then all of the madness has happened. I sold a lot when the stock shot way up on valuation. I know we were talking about earlier, about Shopify (and selling on valuation), but there's some context here. This [Nikola] wasn't a business that was doing super well and growing by leaps and bounds. This was still an idea, still a speculative play when the stock was worth more than Ford. A speculative automotive maker that's never made a vehicle shouldn't be worth more than any automotive maker that's profitable. Long story short, the company makes it. It's a lot less clear if anybody makes money as an investor.