Electric and hydrogen-powered truck startup Nikola secured a $2 billion partnership with General Motors earlier this month—and lost its founder two weeks later amid swirling accusations about an "intricate fraud" allegedly carried out by the company. Trevor Milton, who also served as the executive chair, stepped down Monday while promising to defend himself against the "false allegations," reports NBC News. “Nikola is truly in my blood and always will be, and the focus should be on the company and its world-changing mission, not me,” he said in a statement. Things turned for the company by way of a Sept. 10 report from short-seller Hindenburg Research that alleged the company was bolstered by "an ocean of lies," including that it captured video of a truck rolling down a hill but presented it as if it was driving on a highway and painted the words "hydrogen electric" onto a vehicle that uses natural gas.
Nikola suggested the "ocean of lies" is more applicable to the Hindenburg report, which the AP reports it described in a statement as “replete with misleading information and salacious accusations directed at our founder and chairman.” Nikola says it has lawyered up and is looking at possible actions, and stated that the video did not describe the truck as moving under its own propulsion. GM plans to close the deal, with GM CEO Mary Barra last week stating that a “very, very capable team has done the appropriate diligence" on it. Under the deal, GM will engineer and build Nikola's Badger hydrogen fuel cell and electric pickup truck. CNN reports Nikola board member Stephen Girsky, a former vice chairman of GM, will immediately take over as Nikola chair. (Read more General Motors stories.)