More bad news at any already difficult time.
Nikola founder and now ex-CEO Trevor Milton is facing a new accusation that could further damage the electric vehicle automaker's reputation. According to a report from the Financial Times, Milton purchased the design of Nikola's hydrogen-powered semi-truck for several thousand dollars from a Rimac Automobili designer identified as Adriano Mudri.
The Nikola One, a hydrogen-powered semi the company continues to have grand plans for, has also been embroiled in another legal issue. Back in 2018, Nikola filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Tesla claiming the latter's own Semi look awfully similar to its own design. Tesla continues to deny the charges.
In fact, it was Tesla who, in its response to the lawsuit, accused Nikola of using the Rimac design and then continued to give the impression it was created in-house.
"The Nikola One truck was designed and patented by Nikola," said the company in an official statement. "It is commonplace to license third party designs during vehicle development, and although early in the process Nikola purchased a license to Adriano Mudri's designs, he was not part of the design team and his designs are materially different from the design invented by Nikola for the Nikola One."
Tesla is sticking to its allegations that Mudri was the original designer of the vehicle, originally called the Road Runner in concept form. It too features a curved windshield and a bullet-like front, making it look awfully similar to both Tesla's and Nikola's designs.
Tesla further alleges Milton met with Rimac's design boss in either late 2014 or 2015 and, therefore, was aware of what Rimac had created.
A year later, Nikola filed its own patent design. Therefore, because Nikola didn't give proper credit to Rimac on the patent application, Tesla is arguing Nikola's patent should be null and void. Meanwhile, Rimac has not commented on the matter. The legal battle between Nikola and Tesla is far from over, but it's Nikola that has even bigger problems to resolve first.
Milton resigned as CEO earlier this month due to serious allegations by a financial firm of deception and fraud. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice are now involved and Nikola pledges full cooperation.
With Milton's departure, former GM executive and Nikola board member Steve Girsky has been appointed new CEO. Among his numerous challenges in the role will be to ensure the start of production of the Nikola Badger pickup truck, a direct rival to the Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian R1T.
GM, which recently invested $2 billion in Nikola, will engineer, homologate, validate, and build the Badger as part of the deal.