Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival

A few years ago, the Tesla Cybertruck had some serious competition from another all-electric pickup truck.
Christopher McFadden
What happened to the Nikola Badger?

Nikola Motors 

  • First announced at the end of the twenty-teens, the Nikola Badger looked to be a promising alternative to the Tesla Cybertruck.
  • After a few months of solid marketing and General Motors' support, the vehicle's future looked strong.
  • However, its meteoric rise was swiftly followed by a dramatic fall. But why?

As far as electrically-powered pickup trucks go, the Tesla Cybertruck is leagues ahead of the competition. A striking and unique design, it also has the Tesla branding behind it, with all the marketing potential that implies.

However, there was once a time when the Cybertruck appeared to have a serious contender, the Nikola Badger. You may or may not remember it, but for a time, the future of EV pickup trucks was more than a one-horse race.

But what happened to the Badger? Let's find out.

What was the Nikola Badger truck?

The Nikola Badger truck was first announced in February 2020. At the time, it was said to be the most promising alternative to Tesla's Cybertruck. An all-electric pickup, the truck's creators planned to make two variants: -

  • The first was to be a battery and hydrogen fuel cell variant.
  • The second was a planned all-electric variant with no fuel cells.
Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
Rendering of the Nikola Badger exterior.

Customers who bought the electric-only model could later upgrade their existing vehicle with the fuel-cell system, so Nikola advertised. The Badger would have had a constant output of 455 horsepower (339 kilowatts) and a maximum output of 906 horsepower (676 kilowatts) and 980 lb-ft (1,329 Newton-meters) of torque, according to pre-sales information released by Nikola.

With a fully loaded trailer and a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 8,000 pounds (3,629 kg), the fastest model was planned to have a 2.9-second zero to 60 mph (97 kph) acceleration time, be capable of driving up slopes of 40 percent, and even launch from a stop without stalling on a 30 percent slope.

Initially, the electric-only Badger was advertised as having a single charge range of 300 miles (483 km). The hydrogen fuel cell/battery-electric model was also advertised as having an extended 600-mile (966 km) driving range.

Impressive, but there was, and still is, a catch.

Currently, in the United States, at least, there are just a few hydrogen filling stations, most of which are in California. However, Nikola claimed it was planning to add 700 facilities around North America to expand coverage.

But, the attraction of the truck, at the time, wasn't just the "brass tax" of its powertrain. It was also something of a "looker."

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
Rendering of the Nikola Badger exterior from above.

Artistic renderings of the finished vehicle showed that it was to be, quite literally, beautiful on the outside and inside.

The interior of the truck would combine traditional and futuristic aesthetics. For example, inside was a standard center console with many cupholders and a unique way to attach things to the floor.

Additionally, Nikola was to have boasted five-person seating, waterproof materials, and even a concealed refrigerator. Potential buyers were sold on other features about the Badger, including, but not limited to, that it would have a 15-kW outlet to power camping gear and tools.

Also, models powered by fuel cells were planned to have a water fountain for a cup of pure water. This water, so customers were told, would be supplied by the constant water supply generated as exhaust gas from the fuel cell.

Of course, the water would be treated and purified before being allowed to be consumed.

So far, so good, but the Badger promised customers even more features, notably its infotainment capabilities. While little technical information was provided at launch, sales information and artistic renderings had some tantalizing insights into the finished vehicle.

Renderings of the truck's interior appeared to show a large, horizontal screen in the middle of the dashboard. Below it, the mockups of the truck revealed a row of knobs and buttons that could be used to control the HVAC system or talk to the digital interface.

From a road safety point of view, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) never put the Badger through a crash test. However, it remained unclear what kind of driver-assistance technology it would include.

However, as it was touted as an alternative to Tesla's Cybertruck, it would likely have come with automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and parking sensors.

There was also limited information on potential warranties for the vehicle. However, they would likely have been similar to market standards for other pickup trucks. Costs would probably be comparable, and the primary electrical parts would have been covered by the legally required warranty of 100,000 miles or eight years.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
Artistic rendering of the interior of the Badger.

For reference, pickup warranties typically include the following: -

  • A limited warranty that covers three years or 36,000 miles (about 58,000 km), whichever is sooner.
  • The powertrain is usually warranted for five years or 60,000 miles (about 96,560 km), whichever is sooner.
  • Eight years or one hundred thousand miles (160,000 km) for electrical components (est., whichever is sooner.

The Nikola Badger made something of a storm in the automotive press at the time. In late June 2020, the company began taking pre-orders. In September, General Motors announced that it would be involved in the development and building of the vehicles in exchange for an 11 percent stake in the company. The vehicles had an estimated delivery of complete units by 2022.

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But in November 2020, after a negative report from Hinderburg Research which claimed that Nikola had made false claims about the vehicle, GM and Nikola announced a revision of their deal where GM would now only be supplying Nikola with fuel cells, rather than building the vehicles in exchange for an equity stake.

With the partnership ended, plans to produce the Nikola Badger truck were shelved. But why?

Let's take a look at its meteoric rise and fall.

What happened to the Badger truck?

The truck's story started in 2016, when the Nikola Motor Company, a brand-new startup that no one had ever heard of, entered the EV market with the bold claim that it could develop an all-electric semi-truck capable of hauling 80,000 pounds (36,287 kg) with a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km).

Later, in February 2020, Nikola revealed its plans for the Badger, a consumer-focused hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric hybrid pickup truck.

Trevor Milton, the company's founder and then-CEO asked at the time, "Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semi truck early June program, so why not build it into a pickup truck?"

To this end, they unveiled plans for a futuristic-looking pickup with stylish LED lighting that was advertised as having a 600-mile (966 km) range, the ability to haul more than 8,000 pounds (3,629 kg), and more than 900 horsepower (671 Kilowatts).

In early June 2020, the company announced a reservation date for the truck at the end of June, and investors appeared to get excited when the company's stock rose by 104 percent almost overnight.

Deposits for the three available packages ranged from $250 to $5,000. Before November 1, 2020, the corporation said all deposits were completely refundable; however, the $250 deposit would become nonrefundable after that date.

On his now-deleted Twitter account, Milton said that Nikola Motor would not use the deposit money to make Badger better.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
The Nikola Badger caused quite a stir when it was announced.

A few months later, on September 8, 2020, General Motors decided to get in on the action. The company declared that it would assist Nikola in designing and producing the vehicles, including the Badger's fuel cells and batteries. In exchange, GM would receive an 11 percent ownership stake in Nikola, a seat on the board, and $2 billion in shares, ostensibly assuring itself a rival for the electric Ford-150.

It also appeared to be the perfect alternative to Tesla's Cybertruck. But Nikola's good luck was soon to run out.

On September 10, 2020, Hindenburg Research published a massive report that accused Nikola of fraud entitled "Nikola, How to Parlay an Ocean of Lies Into a Partnership With the Largest Auto OEM in America."

The impact of this report was devastating, and the company behind the truck took to social media immediately to calm the storm. Milton called the report a "hit job" on Twitter and added that more specific Nikola rebuttals to the claims made in the report would follow.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
The Badger looked very impressive when it as first unveiled.

In a statement published on the company's website on September 14, Nikola called Hindenburg's report "false and defamatory." At the same time, GM CEO Mary Barra stood firm behind Nikola, saying her company had conducted "appropriate diligence" about its $2 billion deal with Nikola.

However, the damage was already done.

On September 21, Milton stepped down as board chair. Despite Barra's earlier stance, Bloomberg reported in early October of that year that GM had considered revising its deal with Nikola. It "may seek a higher stake in the startup now that its valuation has fallen after allegations of deception," the outlet wrote.

This didn't necessarily rule out the Badger's completion, but it wasn't the best news for anyone who'd put down a deposit for the new truck.

"They are taking what I believe is the best fuel cell in the world — with our fuel cell that is made in our joint venture with Honda right here in Michigan — and taking that fuel cell and looking at deploying it in the heavy-duty transport market with the large trucks — the Class 7 and 8s — and also in the light-duty Badger truck," Reuss said.

However, any hope investors and depositors had for their trucks collapsed when, on November 30, 2020, GM and Nikola announced updates to their deal, including reducing GMs role to supplying the fuel cells. Since Badger's production leaned significantly on OEM participation, it can't happen without it.

"Nikola will refund all previously submitted order deposits for the Nikola Badger," the company said in its statement.

In late 2021, Nikola agreed to pay $125 million to settle charges with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that had defrauded investors by misleading them about its products and technology.

Milton, meanwhile, was indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts of securities fraud and wire fraud. In October of 2022, Milton was convicted of one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud by a jury of his peers at Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in New York. His conviction was about allegations that he lied to investors about Nikola Motors' EV technology, as reported by Reuters.

The prosecution accused Milton of making false and deceptive statements about Nikola's vehicles and technology through social media, interviews for television, podcasts, and print media. For example, he was accused of making false claims about the "Nikola One" semi-truck that he knew would not work.

He also claimed the Badger's was built "from the ground up," including its batteries. However, it was discovered that the batteries were bought in from a third-party supplier.

Throughout the trial, which started on September 13, 2022, the prosecution claimed that Milton made the claims to boost his net worth and the company's stock price. According to the defense, the prosecution misrepresented Milton's claims regarding Nikola's plans to upend the automobile sector.

After Milton was found guilty, Nikola said it was "pleased to close this chapter" and would keep pursuing shareholder value creation. Milton will be sentenced in January 2023 - he faces up to 20 years in prison.

How did the Nikola Badger compare to the Tesla Cybertruck?

Apart from the fact that the Badger would never be built, many at the time were interested in how it would square up against the Tesla Cybertruck. However, a direct comparison of the two vehicles can only ever be academic at this point, given the latter's cancellation.

That being said, the first significant difference was the initial advertised price.

When the Badger was still being advertised, the electric-only variant was being marketed with a starting price of $60,000 plus add-ons. After discounts, the starting price for the second model, which combines hydrogen fuel and an electric battery, was around $80,000.

The Tesla Cybertruck, by comparison, is currently set to retail a base price of around $40,000 for the single-motor, two-wheel drive. Although the Cybertruck is yet to have any models delivered, it appears that Tesla is gearing up for production to start in mid-2023.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
The Nikola Badger was meant to be an alternative to the Tesla Cybertruck.

The next major differences were the relative sizes of both trucks.

First off, the Nikola Badger was to be slightly wider and about the same length as the Tesla Cybertruck. The Badger was planned to have a width of 7.15 feet (2.18 meters) in a length of 19.3 feet (5.89 meters). Contrarily, the Tesla Cybertruck is 19.32 feet (5.89 meters) long and 6.65 feet (2.03 meters) wide.

The Tesla Cybtertruck, however, is slightly taller, with a height of 6.3 feet (1.91 meters) compared to the Badger's advertised height of 6.14 feet (1.87 meters). Bed width or the width of the main rear section of the trucks was one of the primary considerations for potential owners, and they varied fairly significantly here.

The Badger had an advertised bed width of 5.12 feet (1.56 meters) compared to the Cybertruck's 5 feet (1.53 meters). However, Tesla has since stated that the bed width will typically be closer to 5.42 feet (1.65 meters).

What becomes clear is that the two were pretty much the same, with the bed width being the only notable exception. If the Nikola Badger were to exist today still, the Cybertruck would be the better choice regarding space available. This would be especially the case if you were looking for a pickup truck carrying a big family and a lot of cargo at once.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
The Nikola Badger looked pretty good on paper.

Nikola Badger allegedly had a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 2.9 seconds, a 455 continuous horsepower engine with a top speed of 905 horsepower, and a 980-pound-foot rotational force. The vehicle also allegedly would have had an independent motor arrangement and an 8,000-pound towing capacity rate.

The Badger also had an estimated range of 300 miles (483 km) for its all-electric variant, while the range of the hydrogen fuel-electric battery combination would have been 600 miles (966 km). The Cybertruck, on the other hand, is set to come in three main variants, each with its specific range expectation. The entry-level rear-drive-only version is planned to range about 250 miles (402 km).

This means the Badger would have offered genuine competition to the entry and mid-level Cyertruck. Still, Badger's hydrogen fuel cell's added complexity and refueling logistics might have severely limited its marketability of that version.

Its tri-motor model will have, so Tesla advertises, a range of about 500 miles (805 km). The mid-spec dual-motor model should provide a 300-mile (483 km) range, and the entry-level model (rear-drive only) should be able to manage 250 miles (402 km).

The Badger, as we've previously touched upon, was advertised as having a large touchscreen infotainment system and a digital instrument cluster. It was also advertised as having other fancy features like a power outlet where you may use plug-in tools for a sustained experience without a generator.

On the other hand, Tesla Cybertruck currently offers three truck variations, each with a unique range, drive, speed, acceleration, and price. Again, if the Badger were still available, it would be simpler for customers to select the configuration best suits their demands and budget.

The next major difference is Tesla's now highly developed self-driving capabilities. Despite the various problems these systems currently suffer from, this is, hands down, a major benefit of the Cybertruck over the, as advertised, Nikola Badger. For this reason, the Badger would have needed some serious add-ons and other "gimmicks" even to attempt to compete with the Cybertruck for added features beyond its powertrain.

How would the Badger compare to the Ford F-150 or Rivian?

Nikola Badger's comparisons with the Cybertruck are interesting, but what about other EV trucks that are already on the market? Let's start with the Rivian R1T.

First, the Rivian R1T is already in production, which puts it leagues ahead of the Badger and even the Tesla Cybertruck. An all-electric, battery-powered, light-duty pickup truck, it started rolling off the assembly line in September 2021. It has an official range of 314 miles (504 km) and a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds (4,536 kg) (although at full capacity, the range is decreased).

This puts it on par with that of its gas and diesel competitors and also happens to be one of its most attractive features, and at least 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of towing capacity, more than the Badger was advertised as having.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
The Badger would have had a hard time up against the R1T.

The Rivian R1t also has some impressive (and proven performance) with its 0-60 mph time of about 3 seconds. It includes a four-motor setup that distributes power to each wheel separately, giving it enviable off-road capabilities.

Its features align with most existing EVs or recreational vehicles, including large screens for the instruments and infotainment. Since the EVs' range is one of its most important considerations, at 314 miles (504 km), this is more than many other EVs can offer. Additionally, the R1T can charge quickly, going from 0 to 80 percent in less than an hour.

Great, but what about the Ford F-150?

Before we get into that, it is interesting to note that a comparison with the Ford F-150 might be the most appropriate. This is for reasons that will soon become clear.

This is because, during Nikola's former CEO's recent trial, it was claimed that the Badger prototype may have used scavenged parts from the F-150 Lightning's predecessor, the F-150 Raptor.

According to TT News, former Nikola team member Brendan Babiarz testified during the trial on September 5, 2022, that engineers working on the highly anticipated Badger in 2020 combined components from the gasoline-powered Raptor with an electric Nikola power sports vehicle, also in the early stages of development.

According to Babiarz, who oversaw the design and produced graphics for the Badger, Milton set a timetable for revealing the pickup.

Babiarz said a tweet by Milton announcing that the business will begin taking orders "took me a little by surprise."

“We were still developing, obviously, the trucks, and the timing was not adding up, so we did not have a definitive date,” he added.

The fourteenth generation of the highly successful Ford F-Series includes the battery-electric full-size Ford F-150 Lightning, which Ford unveiled in May 2021. As of April 2022, the F-150 Lightning went into production.

With a wheelbase of 145 inches (3.68 meters), a length of 231.7 inches (5.89 meters), a width of 79.9 inches (2.03 meters), and a height of 77.2 inches (1.96 meters), the Ford F-150 Lightning is roughly comparable to the now-defunct Nikola Badger.

The Ford F-150 is a beautiful machine and boasts impressive power and range for an electric vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the range of the available four models to be between 230 and 300 miles, giving it a range about the same as the EV-only advertised Badger.

Nikola Badger: The rise and inglorious fall of the would-be Cybertruck rival
Ford F-150 Lightning on display at the DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2022.

The Ford F-150 Lightning can accelerate to 62 mph (100 km/h) in about 4.5 seconds and has a maximum payload of 2,235 pounds (1,014 kg), which includes a 400-pound (180 lb) capacity for the front trunk (called a "frunk" by Ford). The newest Lightning has a 10,000-pound towing capacity (4,500 kg).

All four models of the F-150 will initially be dual-motor, four-wheel-drive vehicles (370–480 km). The base price of the all-wheel drive (AWD) commercial truck in the US has been announced to be $52,000, with more powerful, deluxe, and extensive models costing up to $97,000.

And that's your lot for today.

Despite a solid start to Nikola Badger's time on the stage, a mixture of false promising and behind-the-scenes shenanigans meant it was ultimately doomed. If these issues hadn't hamstrung the Badger project, it is interesting to think how it might have developed over time.

Especially with the technical and financial support that General Motors could have provided.

But fate ultimately did for the Badger.

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