Short circuit – Can Nikola become the next Tesla? | Business

ONE WAY to try to emulate Tesla’s success is to name your firm after the same person. Nikola, founded in 2014 to make electric and hydrogen-powered lorries, is, like Elon Musk’s carmaker, named after Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American pioneer of electricity. Nikola’s market value nudged $30bn after it went public in June. Some investors were puzzled that a firm not yet selling vehicles could be worth more than Ford, which sold 5.4m last year. Nikola’s share price fell back over the next two months. It jumped again on September 8th, after General Motors said it would take an 11% stake in the firm.

This time the euphoria was even more short-lived. On September 10th Hindenburg Research, an investment firm (named after the airship disaster from 1937) released a report calling Nikola an “intricate fraud” that had told an “ocean of lies”. Nikola’s shares shed 36% of their value over the next couple of days.

Among other things, Hindenburg alleges that Trevor Milton, Nikola’s boss, made misleading statements when he unveiled the Nikola One, a hydrogen-electric lorry. Mr Milton, Hindenburg said, suggested a demo vehicle was driveable when it was not. A Nikola One shown travelling along a road in a separate video, Hindenburg claimed, was in fact rolling down a hill unpowered. The investment firm also gave short shrift to Nikola’s claims of revolutionary hydrogen and battery technologies, and cast doubt on the expertise of Nikola’s staff.

Nikola described Hindenburg’s report as “a hit job…driven by greed”. It pointed out that Hindenburg had a short position in Nikola’s stock, so it stood to profit if the price of Nikola’s shares fell (as Hindenburg acknowledged in its report). On September 14th Nikola published a statement accusing Hindenburg of “false and defamatory” claims designed to “manipulate the market”. It also appeared to concede that the Nikola One unveiled by Mr Milton had not been driveable and confirmed that the vehicle in the video had indeed been unpowered. But the firm notes that a later model, the Nikola Two, has driven under its own power several times. It characterised itself as an “early-stage” company trying to “prove its concepts”.

On September 11th Mr Milton tweeted a statement that Nikola “intends to bring the actions of the activist short-seller, together with evidence and documentation, to the attention of the US Securities and Exchange Commission”. On September 15th the Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice had taken an interest in the case. General Motors says it is “fully confident in the value we will create by working together” with Nikola. Nikola itself says that all its other partners are sticking with it. Investors appear more jittery. Nikola’s share price is down 27% from the day before Hindenburg’s report.

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Short circuit”

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Sacramento Kings ‘Absolute chaos’, overtime, Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons

The Sacramento Kings have just pulled off a piece of daylight robbery to deny the Denver Nuggets on the road as the teams played their first games of the season.

The Kings are traditionally in the also-rans at the end of the season but pulled off a massive scalp on opening night against the 2019-20 conference finalists.

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But not only the victory but the way it was won that caught the attention of the NBA.

The 124-122 overtime came with six seconds left when the throw in to Nikola Jokic was knocked free by Harrison Barnes.

He was passed the ball and appeared headed for a game-winning dunk, but the ball bounced off the rim as Will Barton wasn’t about to give up on the game and came up huge in defence.

The ball bounced back — straight towards Buddy Heild, who tipped it in just as the bell rang out.

The Kings went wild, with players running onto the floor and straight off the court.

The chance for the Kings came after a block from De’Aaron Fox that set up the grandstand finish.

“When guys can see it and feel it, to me it carries a lot more weight than us just constantly preaching and showing film on it,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “To get a block and a steal to come down and beat one of the best teams in the league on their home court, I sure hope reinforces that idea that we have to be able to get stops down the stretch to win games.”

It was a tough finish for the Nuggets and especially Jokic who recorded a triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists in a monster game but it wasn’t enough.

It was the Kings’ first win in Denver since January 2017, ending a six-game losing streak.


Russell Westbrook’s debut for the Washington Wizards has left Ben Simmons looking foolish but the Aussie superstar has had the last laugh as his Philadelphia 76ers opened the season with a 113-107 win.

Although the likes of Seth Curry and Danny Green who were brought in to take the shooting pressure off Simmons and Joel Embiid, the pair were only able to muster one-from-nine from beyond the arc.

But it didn’t matter with Simmons and Embiid leading the way as the Doc Rivers era in Philadelphia got off to a good start.

Embiid had 29 points and 14 rebounds, while Simmons had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as well as two steals and three blocks as the season started with a W.

But midway through the third quarter, Simmons went to ground looking for an offensive foul with Westbrook hitting a step back jumper while he was on the ground.

Westbrook claimed a triple-double, becoming the first player to reach the feat in the first three quarters of a season opener in the past 25 years.

Westbrook notched the 147th triple-double of his career as he chases Oscar Robertson’s NBA record of 181.

He finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists, but Simmons also got his own back when he was left unguarded in the paint late in the final quarter.

Bradley Beal added 31 points for the Wizards, but Embiid scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter.

with AFP

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Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic upset Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee swept the season series against Orlando, winning four games by an average of 17 points, but struggled with the Magic’s stingy defence, which repeatedly clogged the lane and forced Antetokounmpo to settle for jump shots.

The Bucks’ frustration was evident when centre Brook Lopez stomped on a chair — and then kicked it — in the bench area during a timeout.

Bucks centre Brook Lopez grew frustrated throughout the play-off opener.Credit:Getty

The Magic led most of the game.

Orlando used an early 15-2 run to build a 51-33 lead midway through the second quarter behind 16 points from Vucevic.

The Bucks bounced back to close the gap to 10 at half-time as Antetokounmpo began to assert himself offensively, finishing the first half 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Milwaukee made several runs in the second half, but the Magic had an answer every time.


Vucevic had 14 points in the third quarter, scoring down low against smaller defenders and stepping out to knock down threes against bigger men as the Magic carried a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.

The Bucks trimmed the lead to six in the fourth, but Ross had a dunk and a lay-up off hard cuts to the basket and Augustin and Vucevic added threes to push the lead back to 14. Evan Fournier, who went scoreless for three quarters, then buried the Bucks with three three-pointers in the final five minutes.

Later, Tyler Herro’s jumper with 8:52 remaining broke a tie and the Miami Heat ran away for a 113-101 win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday to open their series.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be held Thursday.

Jimmy Butler went for a game-high 28 points and Goran Dragic 24 – including four key hoops down the stretch – for Miami, who beat the Pacers for the second time in three meetings since the NBA restart.


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Tesla, Nikola, Workhorse, and other EV stocks fall

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Can Nikola Motor’s big battery promises be true?

Electric-truck maker Nikola Motor has endured a rollicking stock market entry this month after listing through an unusual reverse merger. The frenzy has been fueled in part by the company’s claims that it will reveal a new kind of battery by the end of this year.

But despite the looming deadline, Nikola appears to still be in the early stages of developing its battery. And even if Nikola succeeds in creating a working version, it could be as much as a decade before manufacturing begins.

Because of the uncertainty, experts are cautious about the company’s claims. Many similar efforts to commercialize new battery technology over the years have yet to bear fruit.

Nikola founder and chairman Trevor Milton promises that his company will be able to produce batteries at a cost of around $70 per kilowatt-hour of storage capacity. That would be a massive improvement over more established vehicle makers such as Tesla and Volkswagen, which are still chasing the goal of producing batteries for $100 per kilowatt-hour.

Price per kilowatt-hour of energy storage is a key factor in the final cost of electric vehicles, and their competitiveness with internal combustion vehicles. Estimates of the battery cost that would make electric passenger cars cheaper to buy and operate than gas-burners range from $100 per kilowatt-hour down to $85 per kilowatt-hour.

Battery development represents a significant expansion of scope for Nikola. The company’s planned flagship product is the Nikola One, a long-haul semi that uses liquid hydrogen, a fuel that doesn’t create carbon emissions and can be produced using renewable energy. Nikola plans to lease the trucks and control much of the hydrogen supply chain, including building its own fueling stations.

The company has yet to sell a single vehicle of any type, but its plans have been enough to attract nearly $1.3 billion in venture funding from sources including European truckmaker CNH Industrial and German manufacturer Bosch.

The pitch has proved even more alluring to public investors. Nikola’s shares rose 136% between the June 4 reverse merger—a maneuver that avoids the lengthy initial public offering process— and June 9, when the company’s market value briefly rose to $30 billion, higher than Ford’s. By late on June 12, the stock was down 21.7% from its peak.

“It is some bold claims that they’ve made,” says Gene Munster of Loup Ventures, an investor focused on electric vehicles. “Now the clock starts ticking, because they have to deliver.”

Building a better battery isn’t easy

Nikola isn’t yet revealing much about how it plans to leapfrog competitors in battery technology. But Milton says the aim is to reveal the battery before the end of this year at an as-yet unscheduled event called Nikola World.

Milton did share a few hints with Fortune.

The technology wasn’t developed by Nikola. Instead, Milton says, “we found some professors who had been working on it for quite some time,” but declined to identify them. He did reveal that the planned battery “has lithium, but it is not a lithium-ion [battery],” and that the design’s aim is to “get rid of the cobalts, nickels, and magnesiums” — the metals that account for much of the cost of existing battery technology.

Based on those details, Matthew McDowell, a battery materials researcher at Georgia Tech, speculates that Nikola may be working on what’s known as a lithium-metal battery. Broadly, the idea is to replace the graphite mesh that stores lithium in today’s lithium-ion batteries with more lithium, increasing energy density by 30% to 40%. That idea is already being aggressively pursued by a large number of companies and researchers, McDowell says.

In contrast, James Frith, an analyst with the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance, believes Nikola may be developing lithium-sulfur battery technology. Chris Robinson, an analyst with Lux Research, and Mihri Ozkan, an engineering professor and battery researcher at the University of California at Riverside, also agree that lithium-sulfur is the likely goal, based on the company’s claims.

Lithium-sulfur batteries are lightweight but bulky—a possibly good fit for the large trucks that are the centerpiece of Nikola’s planned product line. The technology was patented in the early 1960s, and broad efforts to commercialize lithium-sulfur batteries have been underway for more than a decade, including by startups like Oxis Energy. Those commercialization efforts have yet to succeed, according to Ozkan, because of challenges including the safety and life span of lithium-sulfur batteries.

It’s unlikely that Nikola is keeping wraps on any radical, previously unknown innovation in battery technology, according to experts in the field.

“Progress in the battery industry doesn’t come from single large breakthroughs, but rather continuous improvements,” says Robinson. “The odds an entirely new chemistry—especially one as close to commercialization as Nikola suggests—would slip past a multibillion-dollar industry are slim to none.”

Whatever the approach, Nikola is likely years from producing a new kind of battery at scale. Despite its very specific cost projections and plans to debut the technology within six months, Nikola is still in the laboratory-testing phase of development.

“In the lab we get a few thousand [charging] cycles, which is much better than lithium-ion,” Milton says, referring to a key measure of a battery’s longevity. “But the real world is much different from the lab…Now you’ve got to make them a lot bigger, [and] you’ve got to abuse them” under varied temperatures, weather, and use conditions.

Experts agree that there is a big difference between the lab and the road. In fact, optimistic promises about battery innovation based on laboratory results are common—but many of those proposed technologies have yet to be commercialized.

“It’s a really complicated process,” says McDowell. “When you’re developing a battery technology, there’s 15 or 20 different metrics you need to hit to have a reliable product. And they’re all intertwined.”

Those metrics include not only performance under varied temperature and weather conditions, but also a battery’s life span, energy density, and the rate at which it loses its charge when not in use.

Frith, of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, estimates that transitioning a new kind of battery from the lab to commercial use takes 10 years, or as little as five once working prototypes are complete. Investors won’t have to wait quite that long to know whether Nikola can eventually fulfill its battery promises, though.

“We’ll know in 6 to 12 months whether [Nikola’s claims] are true or not,” says Munster. In that time frame, he says, the company will need to show it can build a working vehicle using its battery, even if it hasn’t yet reached commercial-scale production.

“It’s not going from the lab to 1% market share. It’s going from the lab to the road where people can literally kick the tires,” says Munster. “And they have to have some evidence that they built it at the right price. That’s the hurdle they need to hit.”

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