My Car Quest

October 23, 2020

Editorial: Are America’s Big Three Car Makers In Too Much of a Hurry to Go Electric?

by Wallace Wyss –

There is a scene in the movie, The Wizard of Oz where the intrepid Dorothy works her way up to the stage where the Wizard is pontificating and peers behind it and sees a little man with a big microphone. I am wondering, as no doubt many investors are, if we are seeing another wizard in the form of the CEO of Nikola, a would be rival to Tesla.

What makes this a perilous situation is that General Motors recently invested two billion dollars, that’s with a “B”, in the upstart start-up, which has shown an autonomous semi-truck and an electric pickup truck.

General Motors, having ignored the rise of Tesla, is like a lot of automakers, desperate to find “the next Tesla” and buying into companies that look like they have the moxie to take on the proven electric car champion, Elon Musk (who, just to show he’s ambidextrous, is making millions with a rocket company side gig called Space X).

Reading a few stories in the financial press lately I found out–GM watched a video made in 2016 of Nicola tractor trailer unaware that, though the truck was represented to be fuel cell powered, it was merely rolling down a hill powered by gravity.

A company called Hindenberg Research is the one “outing” the mis-representation of the rig: “At the December 2016 event (a press preview), Nikola Chairman Trevor Milton repeatedly described the truck as fully functional. But that wasn’t quite true, as Milton admitted to Bloomberg earlier this year. The supposedly hydrogen-powered truck didn’t have a hydrogen fuel cell, nor did it have the motors and gears required to drive the wheels. Milton claimed the parts had been taken out of the truck for safety reasons.

Hindenburg Research also claims that where the firm claims that the prototype’s supposedly dashboard was functional, it was powered by an extension cord leading up to it while it was on the stage. What happened, as near as we can figure out is that Nikola dropped the semi-truck soon after showing it and devoted all energies toward a pickup truck called the Badger which is now set to be produced for them by GM powered by a battery pack made by GM.

Nikola Badger

Nikola Badger

Hindenberg is apparently in the business of detracting companies so its adherents can short sell and, true to form, once their allegations surfaced, Nikola’s net worth (based on stock) plummeted from its high of being worth more than Ford Motor Company. It dropped more than 10%.

The pickup apparently is for real. People have had rides in it. But as far as them promising an electric version soon and a fuel cell later, I am a little dubious on that. I don’t think the same chassis can be switched over to a secondary use so easily.

As far as concepts shown to the press, it turns out that quite often concept cars are shown by automakers with only vague references to future power plants. I seem to remember the Four Rotor Corvette prototype that was actually two GM two rotor engines lashed to work together. No reporter drove it but it was touted as The New New thing (after the Two Rotor Corvette) only to abruptly sink beneath the waves of GM’s scuttled rotary program.

And Chrysler got as far as building around 50 gas turbine powered cars in Italy. I drove one. It was a real car and splendidly built, but they had no real intention of mass producing them. It was all to instill faith in Chrysler’s advanced engineering capability.

So what am I saying? That we all, as investors, hope that the innovativeness of the United States is not resting on one man–Elon Musk. We live in hope that more Musks will be stepping forward with equally bold new products, but we shouldn’t blind ourselves because we want so much to believe. I am ashamed that the US government has bailed out GM here and there if they have management who are so dumb that when a guy says he has fuel cell powered semi they don’t send an engineering team to drive it. I want to hear they’ve taken that Badger apart and that it’s a producible pickup truck that will help them reach the market before Musk comes out with his more far out- styled Cybertruck.

But is Nikola GM’s salvation in electric cars? Ask Dorothy. I got more faith in her than I do in GM.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 
Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has published 18 car histories.

 
 
 
 

 

 

Nikola Badger

Nikola Badger

Summary
Editorial: Are America's Big Three Car Makers  In Too Much of a Hurry to Go Electric?
Article Name
Editorial: Are America's Big Three Car Makers In Too Much of a Hurry to Go Electric?
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General Motors, having ignored the rise of Tesla, is like a lot of automakers, desperate to find "the next Tesla" and buying into companies (Like Nikola) that look like they have the moxie to take on the proven electric car champion.
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Comments

  1. Glenn Krasner says

    Ford has also invested millions in Rivian. Jaguar and VW have major plans and investments in producing electrical vehicles. The joke is that there is currently no demand for them! In the US, only about 2.1% of the car market is represented by electric and hybrid car sales. In Europe, the so-called more environmentally concerned population spends a whopping 2.3% of the car market on electric and hybrid cars. So, my belief is that these cars are going to sit on dealers’ lots – nobody wants them!!! Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

  2. Wallace Wyss says

    Glenn you’re right, like making a Hollywood movie that nobody wants to see. But there’s a bigger game being played here. China has five companies making electrics and they might mandate people buy them and soon will be able to market them around the world so what will happen is Detroit may try to sell their electrics in Europe and they’ll say “No thank you–we already have the Chinese cars.” So if Detroit doesn’t hurry, they’ll be locked out of every market except the US –where the public doesn’t want them.

    • Glenn Krasner says

      Wallace, I know that the European Union might “mandate” electric cars, but based on what Europeans actually want it isn’t electrics. As I said above, hybrids and electrics currently make up only 2.7% of European car sales. The only way that is going to change is if regulators like the European Union shoves them down the consumers’ throats – just like Americans, Europeans don’t want those electrics and hybrids, at least not voluntarily. Glenn in the Bronx, NY

  3. Wallace Wyss says

    It’s too early to declare victory for Truth, Justice and the American Way but note , since this article went up on the net the head of Nikola, Trevor Milton, quit. Details here:

    Trevor Milton of Nikola Resigns Amid Fraud Claims
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/21/business/nikola-trevor-milton-resigns.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

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