Here’s Who’s Funding Hydrogen Truck Builder Nikola Motor

September 23, 2019 by John O'Dell

Nikola Motor Co. hasn’t been shy about announcing new funding rounds – it is now on its fourth in five years. But the identities of many of those investors haven’t been all that easy to come by.

That’s because some don’t want their names bandied, citing competitive reasons, Trevor Milton, Nikola’s founder and chief executive, told Trucks.com.

But some names have leaked out over the past few years – it’s hard to keep anything really secret when you are a company that generates the interest Nikola does.

One common thread is that almost all of the investors also have deals to supply Nikola with goods or services.

Unclear is whether the investments were a condition of the contract, or followed out of the companies’ belief in Nikola’s future. The supplier deals will save Nikola “hundreds of millions of dollars over developing the components ourselves,” Milton told Trucks.com

NOT ALL IS CASH

When Milton announced Nikola’s Series D funding round earlier this month, the values tossed about were noteworthy. He said the company’s “pre-money valuation” stood at $3 billion and that the new round would bring it to $4 billion.

But while the $1 billion to be added in a successful Series D would be mainly cash – $150 million was identified as an in-kind investment – most of the $3 billion pre-investment figure isn’t in greenbacks.

In accounting terms, “pre-money” valuation is the equity value that a business and its investors agree the company is worth. It can include cash in hand, convertible debt, the value of sales contracts, even real estate and equipment.

Prior to the Series D announcement, Nikola acknowledged raising close to $300 million in cash, or about a tenth of that $3 billion “pre-money” valuation.

FOUNDER’S POSITION

Milton has put up his own money as well. He will remain Nikola’s largest stakeholder after the Series D round, owning between 40 percent and 49 percent of the privately-held company’s stock.

He has never publicly disclosed the size of his investment. Milton has said he helped finance Nikola with proceeds from the sale of a previous business to Ohio-based Worthington Industries. Milton told Trucks.com that the company, dHybrid Systems, sold for “much more” than $20 million.  Worthington later became one of Nikola’s first outside investors.

Nikola has acknowledged raising $276 million before the Series D campaign began. Outside investors appear to account for at least $275 million. That means Milton either ponied up no more than $1 million or is only counting “outside” investment, not his own, in the total. 

EARLY MONEY 

Nikola doesn’t discuss individual investors, according to Kim Brady, the company’s chief financial officer.

But it does talk about the amounts it has raised. The company provided Trucks.com with this list of investments- totaling $276 million – from its first four funding rounds:

Seed money, $2 million; Series A, $16 million; Series B, $44 million, and Series C, $214 million. 

THE BIG NEW INVESTOR

Milton said that truck and bus giant CNH Industrial, parent of IVECO trucks, will put up a quarter of the $1 billion being sought in Series D.

That $250 million is the company’s largest single outside investment to date. It would give CNH a 6.25 percent stake if Nikola raises the entire $1 billion it is seeking.

But only $100 million of the CNH investment is cash. The remaining $150 million will be in-kind services and goods, mainly a fully engineered truck platform designed for the kind of electric propulsion system Nikola has developed.

IVECO and CNH’s powertrain unit, FPT Industrial, also will provide ongoing engineering and manufacturing assistance. It also will help with development of Nikola’s hydrogen fuel station network.

Here’s what Trucks.com has compiled about Nikola’s other investors, and a look at what they might be bringing to the table besides cold hard cash.

BOSCH AND HANWHA

Bosch Co. and Hanwha Group: $230 million combined. Milton disclosed the investments in conjunction with the Series D announcement. But they actually occurred in earlier funding rounds during 2018. The total represents the bulk of the cash Nikola has previously raised.

Nikola said that each has invested at least $100 million but won’t provide any clearer guidance.

Hanwha, a South Korean aerospace, chemicals, construction, financial services and video surveillance conglomerate, got its start in 1952 as Korea Explosives Co. Now it also is a major producer of solar cells and panels.

In addition to its cash investment, Hanwha will supply Nikola with material to build a network of solar-powered hydrogen fuel and electric charging stations. They will provide power for the fuel-cell and battery-powered electric trucks Nikola will be building.

Bosch: It is a top tier global automotive components and systems developer and a longtime Nikola partner.  Milton has called the German company “our innovation partner.” The company helped develop Nikola’s electric powertrain. It also provided the vehicle control computer and software that runs most everything. Nikola’s keyless entry system and a side-view camera system that replaces conventional mirrors also come from Bosch.

Moving forward, Bosch will continue working on the development of the hydrogen fuel cell system that Milton said will power most of Nikola’s trucks.

ValueAct Capital: At least $30 million. The Silicon Valley venture firm’s social investment arm, ValueAct Spring Fund, made the investment as part of its support of clean transportation technologies.

ValueAct’s chief executive, Jeff Ubben, joined Nikola’s board of directors as a result of the investment. Milton said Ubben would provide ongoing financial advice.

The actual investment amount isn’t clear. Ubben has only said that ValueAct invested between $30 million and $40 million. But more than $30 million would increase the total pre-Series D investments beyond Nikola’s own tally of $276 million.

WABCO

Wabco Holdings: $10 million. A global automotive industry supplier based in Belgium, Wabco will provide Nikola with a variety of safety systems including electronic braking and stability and traction controls.

Wabco agreed earlier this year to be acquired for more than $7 billion cash by German’s ZF Friedrichshafen, a global supplier of automotive drivetrain components and autonomous driving systems.

OTHER PLAYERS

NEL Hydrogen: $5 million. The Norwegian developer of hydrogen production plants, will provide hydrogen production equipment for Nikola’s fueling station network.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits: Undisclosed amount. Fitzgerald has signed on to build the first 5,000 Nikola trucks while Nikola is building its own manufacturing plant in Arizona. The Tennessee-based company specializes in installing remanufactured powertrains into new truck chassis – called gliders when they don’t have engines or transmissions – built by various major tuck makers.

Thompson Machinery: Unknown amount. Thompson, a major caterpillar distributor signed on early to be Nikola’s sales, service and marketing provider in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Worthington Industries: Unknown investment, but described by Milton as holding a “very large stake” in Nikola.

Worthington is believed to be Nikola’s first outside investor. It had provided pressurized steel tanks to a dHybrid Systems, which made natural gas fuel systems for commercial vehicles. Nikola needs pressurized steel tanks for is trucks’ hydrogen fuel systems. Mark Russell, who headed Worthington at the time, told Trucks.com he believes Milton is a visionary. Russell is now Nikola’s president.

Jerry Hirsch September 13, 2019
Volvo Trucks unveiled its VNR Electric heavy-duty truck at the New River Valley, Va., factory where it will produce the vehicle.

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