The original design for Nikola’s flagship truck was bought by founder Trevor Milton from a designer in Croatia, according to two people familiar with the matter, despite the company claiming in a 2018 lawsuit that the vehicle was initially designed by Mr. Milton. “in his basement”.
The truck, the Nikola One, is at the center of a $ 2 billion lawsuit with Tesla, in which Nikola claims his rival has infringed on his patents. Nikola claims in that lawsuit that Mr. Milton began designing the model in 2013, with other company staff subsequently working on it.
In a rebuttal to the lawsuit filed last week, Tesla said Nikola couldn̵
Two people familiar with the transaction told the Financial Times that Nikola’s founder bought the models in 2015 after meeting Mudri during a visit to electric supercar manufacturer Rimac in Croatia.
Although Tesla’s filing identifies the designer as the source of the truck’s original drawings, it contains no details on the transaction, explaining that the money was exchanged or that Mr. Milton himself orchestrated the purchase.
The latest twist comes with Nikola still reeling from allegations earlier this month of peddling the technology he bought as his own, covering up vendor names on key components with stickers while making promotional videos. Nikola said he never claimed to have produced the components.
In a report that wrecked Nikola’s stock, Milton was accused of spreading an “ocean of lies” about the company’s technology and its products by short seller Hindenburg Research.
A little over a week later, Mr. Milton decided to leave the company, telling the staff he intended to defend himself “against false accusations made against me by outside detractors.” The 39-year-old founder has repeatedly insisted that he didn’t lie or deceive anyone about the trucks.
The lawsuit with Tesla, filed during Milton’s tenure, centers on the origins of the plans for the “Nikola One” truck.
The company claims that Mr. Milton worked on the truck for two years before, dissatisfied with his designs, hired designer Steve Jennes in 2015. The lawsuit says the couple then made the final design between them in a long process.
By the time it was finished, Nikola had spent “several million dollars developing the Nikola One,” according to the lawsuit.
In his rebuttal, Tesla claimed that the blueprints for the model came from Mr. Mudri, a designer at Rimac, who had nicknamed it “Road Runner”. The origins of the design may raise further questions about Nikola’s intellectual property.
“Trevor Milton chose not to reveal the Road Runner a concept truck [US Patent and Trademark Office] with deceptive intent, “Tesla said in his filing.
Nikola said: “The Nikola One truck was designed and patented by Nikola. It is common to license third party designs during vehicle development and although Nikola purchased a license for Antonio Mudri’s designs early on in the process, he was not part of the design team and his designs are substantially different from design invented by Nikola for the Nikola Uno. “
According to several people familiar with the agreement, Milton tried unsuccessfully to partner with Rimac on a number of projects in 2015.
On a trip to Rimac’s headquarters on the outskirts of Zagreb, he met Mr. Mudri, the company’s designer, who had designed a futuristic truck as part of a previous graduation project.
According to two people, Mr. Milton bought the computer drawings and virtual 3D model of the vehicle for several thousand dollars from Mr. Mudri.
The Road Runner name has stuck for months. A person familiar with the development of the Nikola One said “Road Runner. . . was the internal name of Nikola’s project all the time we worked on it. “
A screenshot of a Nikola document seen by the Financial Times shows 13 people invited to collaborate on the “Nikola Roadrunner Prototype Project”.
Another screenshot shows an early version of Nikola’s website depicting a truck that looks identical to the Road Runner in Tesla’s courthouse depot.
Nikola did not mention Mr. Mudri, or Rimac, nor did he say the designs were purchased, in his 2018 statement against Tesla.
Milton’s representatives declined to comment. Rimac also declined to comment.