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Nikola defends itself against critics' claims it is 'intricate fraud'

PHOENIX — Nikola Corporation is rebuking claims alleging that the company, and its founder, have made untrue statements about its products over the company’s life cycle.

The accusations made up the bulk of a report published by short-selling firm Hindenburg Research.

The firm, which describes itself as specializing in “forensic financial research,” published a report on Thursday entitled, “Nikola: How to parlay an ocean of lies into a partnership with the largest auto OEM in America.”

In it, Hindenburg described Nikola as an “intricate fraud” and lobbed a number of allegations at the hydrogen electric and electric vehicle manufacturer, including that the company’s prototype of the Nikola One semi-truck was a pusher, or not able to drive on its own.

The report was published just days after the announcement of a strategic partnership with General Motors to manufacture the Nikola Badger — Nikola’s fuel cell and electric pickup truck.

Nikola issued a press release on Monday calling the report “false and defamatory” and alleging that Hindenburg Research was “financially motivated” to manipulate the market and profit from a dramatic drop in Nikola’s stock price.

The fact is not one Hindbenburg denies. Included in the report is a disclosure identifying the firm as short share owners of Nikola’s stock and notifying readers that Hindenburg Research “stands to realize significant gains in the event that the price of any stock covered herein declines.”

Nikola is facing a probe from the US Securities and Exchange Commission over a Hindenburg’s claims, Reuters reported Monday.

“On September 11, Nikola’s legal counsel proactively contacted and briefed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding Nikola’s concerns pertaining to the Hindenburg report. Nikola welcomes the SEC’s involvement in this matter,” a spokesperson for the company told Business Insider.

Though Nikola zeroed in on a number of statements included within the report that the company described as “false and misleading,” the company did not deny that a 2017 video of the Nikola One prototype was staged.

The footage in question, a promotional video for the Nikola One, claims to show the prototype “in motion.”

According to Hindenburg’s report, the truck was not fully functional. Hindenburg alleges a Nikola employee’s text messages show that the truck was towed to the top of a low-grade hill on the Mormon Trail in Utah and allowed to roll downhill. The information was allegedly told to the employee by Nikola Chief Engineer Kevin Lynk.

In the company’s issued statement on the report, Nikola proclaims that the short seller attempts to portray the company as “misrepresenting the capabilities” of the prototype — stating that the company never said its truck was “driving under its own propulsion in the video.”

Nikola also indicated that at the time the company was still privately owned and that, during that period, investors were aware of the technical capabilities of the prototype.

Hindenburg, however, alleges that in a 2016 presentation — well over one year before the “in motion” video was released — Nikola’s founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton made several comments indicating that the truck was “fully functional” and was not a pusher.

This is not the first time Nikola has been called out for its claims regarding the capabilities of the Nikola One.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg News published a piece indicating the truck was not drivable at the time of the presentation and that key components were missing, despite Milton’s statements. The article quotes Milton as reportedly saying there wasn’t a fuel cell aboard the truck and that the company never said there was.

Following the article’s publication, Milton vowed on Twitter to file a defamation lawsuit against Bloomberg and refuted its claims that components of the vehicle were missing — stating that the missing parts in question were on a table available for the audience to see “in-person.”

In the press release, Nikola maintained that the Nikola One is a “real truck” that is currently housed in the company’s showroom and that it was designed to operate on its own propulsion, citing that the “gearbox, batteries, inverters, power steering, suspension, infotainment, air disc brakes, high voltage and air systems were all functional.”

Hindenburg’s report also suggested that during the December 2016 reveal of the Nikola One, a cable was snaked below the stage and into the floor of the truck’s cab to power the display screens inside the vehicle’s cabin.

The response Nikola issued on Monday did not include any comment regarding Hindenburg’s accusation regarding the completion of the Nikola One at the time of the reveal, but the company did say that it later changed its strategy and decided not to progress any further in “the process to make the Nikola One drive on its own propulsion.”

The company went on to create other prototypes for the Nikola Two — its second-generation semi-truck. Nikola claims the Nikola Two prototypes are self-propelled, which they said has been showcased frequently.

Other accusations lodged in Hindenburg’s report included that Milton continued to publicly tout a battery technology created by a company Nikola intended to acquire despite reportedly learning of the false claims made by the battery tech developer Zapgo Ltd.; that Nikola scrapped the design of its NZT off-road vehicle weeks after unveiling it at the 2019 Nikola World showcase; and that Nikola falsely claimed to make all its inverters in-house despite a video that suggests the company bought inverters from a third-party supplier — allegations which Nikola characterized as misrepresentations or inaccurate.

The vehicle manufacturer, however, did not respond to other allegations made by Hindenburg including that Nikola falsely claimed to have already lowered the cost of hydrogen production by over 81%.

According to MarketWatch, Nikola’s stock dropped 40.1% in the days after the report’s release. As of press time on Monday, however, the stock trended up 11.39%

Trump defies virus rules as 'peaceful protest' rallies grow

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is running as the “law and order” candidate. But that hasn’t stopped him and his campaign from openly defying state emergency orders and flouting his own administration’s coronavirus guidelines as he holds ever-growing rallies in battleground states.

Democratic governors and local leaders have urged the president to reconsider the events, warning that he’s putting lives at risk. But they have largely not tried to block the gatherings of thousands of people, which Trump and his team deem “peaceful protests” protected by the First Amendment.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement.

Trump’s refusal to abide by health guidelines — even those crafted by his own administration — underscores the extent to which he believes projecting an image of normalcy is vital to winning in November, even as the country approaches 200,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Trump has tried to use this summer’s mass protests over racial injustice and police misconduct as cover for his rallies, making the case that, if demonstrators can gather en masse, so can his supporters. So far, Democratic governors have declined to stand in his way, refusing to become a foil to Trump and feed into his narrative that liberals are trying to deny Republicans their First Amendment rights.

Trump’s campaign insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers.

But images of thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder remain jarring in a country where sports are still played in empty arenas and concerts have been largely banned. That’s especially true for those who have lost loved ones or spent months isolating at home and worry that rallies will further spread infection, undermining hard-fought progress. An indoor rally that Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June was blamed for a surge of virus infections there.

Trump on Monday again drew hundreds of supporters to an indoor event in Phoenix that his campaign advertised as a “Latinos for Trump roundtable,” limiting scrutiny, but that had the feel of something different.

“This is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,” he told the crowd.

Most in the audience did not wear masks, though tables filled with hundreds of unused masks were at the entrance to the event.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has consistently refused to criticize Trump for holding large gatherings in the state, including a packed campaign event at a Phoenix church in June, when Arizona was seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.

“The constitutional rights of Arizonans are going to be protected,” Ducey said. “They’ve been protected the entire time. They’re nonnegotiable.”

Trump held an indoor rally at the Xtreme Manufacturing facility in Henderson, Nevada, on Sunday night. The state restricts gatherings to 50 people — based on White House reopening guidelines —- but thousands of supporters packed into the warehouse space nonetheless. Relatively few people wore masks.

“This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices, and put their neighbors before themselves,” said Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat.

The city of Henderson on Monday announced that it was fining Xtreme Manufacturing $3,000. Sisolak slammed the rally as “shameful, dangerous and irresponsible.” But it does not appear the governor would try to prevent a replay. If Trump returns to the state for another rally, said COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage, state officials will continue to encourage his campaign to follow state law and directives.

In some other states, the rallies are legal. In North Carolina, an order signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper limits outdoor gatherings to 50 people and mandates masks in public, but “activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights” are exempt.

The state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, played down calls for stricter enforcement last week as she criticized Trump for holding a rally at the Winston-Salem airport, where thousands of supporters crammed together without masks.

“This isn’t really about mandates and enforcement. It’s about leadership,” Cohen told reporters.

“By using the First Amendment exemption for mass gatherings under the governor’s executive order in this way, they’re making it much harder for North Carolina to get our children back in school and people back to work safely,” said Dory MacMillan, a spokesperson for Cooper.

In Michigan, political speech is exempt from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order limiting the size of outdoor gatherings. And while Whitmer’s office issued a memo saying people engaging in First Amendment activities still must adhere to social distancing measures, the state hasn’t moved to enforce the rules at Trump’s rallies or during protests.

“We hope the president would care enough about his supporters and their friends and families that he would encourage social distancing and mask wearing,” said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson for Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nevada is one state where Trump has encountered resistance. His campaign had originally planned to hold a pair of rallies over the weekend in Las Vegas and Reno, but those plans were scuttled after the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority warned one of the hosts that the rally would violate the governor’s restrictions and the terms of the company’s lease. Trump’s campaign immediately moved to blame Sisolak for the pushback, but the governor’s office insisted it had no involvement.

Trump told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an interview Sunday that “he did not believe he was subject” to the order and blamed Sisolak for forcing him to abandon plans for the outdoors rallies.

“They canceled six different sites because the governor wouldn’t let it happen, all external sites,” the president said. The campaign did not respond to questions about what sites they had tried.

Upcoming rallies in Wisconsin on Thursday and Minnesota on Friday will be held in open-air airplane hangars, and neither state caps attendance on outdoor events, even though COVID-19 cases have been surging in Wisconsin.

Ashley Mukasa, a spokesperson for Winnebago County Health Department, said the county doesn’t have any local ordinances that would allow it to issue or enforce local health orders. However, the agency briefed Trump’s advance team about the statewide mask mandate, she said.

“They wanted to avoid breaking any laws,” Mukasa said.

In Minnesota, where Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has long been reluctant to spar publicly with Trump, the virus order exempts anything that would limit “the movement of federal officials in Minnesota while acting in their official capacity.” Beltrami County’s public health director, Cynthia Borgen, said the state’s health department had decided the president’s visit would fall under that exemption — even though he will be there to campaign.

For one activist from the state, Trump’s co-opting of the term peaceful protest represents “a new low.”

“His actions are a mockery of legitimate peaceful protests that have been happening in Minnesota and around the country regarding our stances against police violence and brutality,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP.


Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis., David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., Bryan Anderson, in Raleigh, N.C., Sam Metz in Carson City, Nev., Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., Aaron Morrison in New York, Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Poll: Most Arizonans won't get COVID-19 vaccination

PHOENIX — Two new reports suggest that Arizonans will be among the least likely to get immunized against COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes available.

A new poll being released Tuesday by OH Predictive Insights finds just 38% of Arizonans said they would get the shots if it were offered to them. An identical number said they would refuse, even if offered for free.

That compares with national surveys showing about half of Americans saying they would get the vaccine, with about 20% refusing.

Separately, the financial advice website WalletHub finds only nine states where the rate of people getting vaccinated for existing diseases already is lower than here. And among children and teens, the vaccination rate is even lower than that, with Arizona fifth from the bottom.

And with the record showing Arizonans tend to be more distrustful of inoculations in general, that suggests the refusal rate here for a COVID-19 vaccine would be higher than most of the rest of the country.

All this comes as new data shows that the coronavirus may once again be on the upswing in Arizona.

New numbers show the state’s R-naught figure at 1.05. That number represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus, meaning how many secondary infections are likely to occur from a single infection in a given area. Values over 1.0 means more cases are likely; numbers below 1.0 show a declining spread.

That 1.05 is the highest since June 18, right before Gov. Doug Ducey conceded he had made a mistake in allowing certain businesses to reopen and ordered many of them shut. Since then, however, the state now is allowing more businesses to operate, albeit under certain restrictions, even as that R-number slides back up.

On Monday, gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak sought to downplay the increase.

“The model is sensitive to days with high reports of cases or low lab numbers, which may not provide the full picture when comparing to all data,’’ he said.

But it was Ducey who touted the importance of the R-numbers in late July, bragging when they hit 0.81.

More to the point, the rate has been on an upswing ever since then. And there are now 32 states with low R-numbers.

Ptak pointed to other “encouraging signs’’ like a decreasing percentage of tests for the virus that come back positive and a low hospitalization rate of people with COVID-like symptoms. Still, he conceded that the data show the virus is still circulating.

All that then goes to the question of whether Arizonans facing the risk of infection will roll up their sleeves for a COVID vaccine.

The WalletHub findings in particular underline what has become a political issue in Arizona.

It looked at what is known as the “combined 7 vaccine series’’ which includes protection for a host of diseases including diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, pneumonia, chickenpox and a certain strain of flu. It found at 66.5% of those age 19 to 35 months were vaccinated, putting Arizona fifth from the bottom.

Part of that likely relates to state laws on what vaccines are required before a child can attend schools.

All states have medical exemptions. And most have religious exemptions.

But Arizona is among only 15 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, that allows parents to opt out strictly for personal, moral or other beliefs.

Some state legislators don’t think even that goes far enough.

Last year, Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, pushed several measures that public health advocates said could have resulted in fewer children being inoculated, including one that would have eliminated a requirement that parents sign a state-prepared exemption form that acknowledges the risk to their youngsters for refusing to inoculate, including serious injury and death. Barto called the form government coercion.

Another would have mandated that parents be given extensive information about the risks of vaccines. And a third would have required parents be told they have the option of having their children tested first, ahead of any vaccinations, to see if they already have immunity.

All the bills faltered after Ducey said he would veto them.

“The governor is pro-vaccination,’’ Ptak said Monday. “He encourages all parents to vaccinate their kids.’’

He had no comment about the current low vaccination rates.

As to a COVID vaccine, Ptak said the governor wants to be “ready and prepared’’ when one becomes available.

Ducey has said in the past he does not support mandated vaccines.

But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Monday concerns remain, especially now that Ducey has declared a public health emergency. And one provision of that law allows the governor to mandate vaccinations to those who “may reasonably be expected to be exposed’’ to certain highly contagious and highly fatal diseases.

Townsend — whose district includes Florence, Apache Junction and San Tan Valley — said she doesn’t expect Ducey to exercise that power, especially given that the fatality rate from COVID-19 is not that high.

Her bigger concern is on the commercial level.

She pointed out that businesses already refuse service to patrons who are not wearing masks. Townsend fears that would extend to those who have not been inoculated.

And if it seems like that would be impossible for business owners to enforce, she pointed to research being done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which would not only deliver vaccines but plant fluorescent “quantum dots’’ beneath the skin which emit near-infrared light that can be detected by a specially equipped smartphone to show who has been inoculated.

Are Arizonans willing to take a coronavirus vaccine right now?

Group / Yes / No / Unsure

Democrat / 38% / 42% / 20%

Republican / 41% / 38% / 21%

Independent / 35% / 35% / 30%

Urban / 38% / 40% / 22%

Suburban / 41% / 36% / 23%

Rural / 30% / 45% / 35%


HS or less / 31% / 9% / 60%

Some college / 37% / 42% / 21%

College grad / 40% / 38% / 22%

Post-grad degree / 47% / 31% / 22%

White non-Hispanic / 39% / 37% / 24%

Hispanic/Latino / 45% / 32% / 22%

Other / 28% / 54% / 19%

— Source: OH Predictive Insights Blended phone survey conducted Sept. 8 thru 10, 46.5% live caller, 53.5% touch-tone response. Margin of error 4.0%