The truck, the Nikola One, is at the center of a $ 2 billion lawsuit with Tesla, in which Nikola alleges his rival infringed his patents. Nikola claims in this lawsuit that Mr Milton started designing the model in 2013, along with other company staff who later worked on it.
In a rebuttal to the lawsuit filed last week, Tesla alleged that Nikola could not protect the designs because they were not from the company itself, but from Adriano Mudri, a designer based in Croatia.
Two people familiar with the deal told the Financial Times that Nikola’s founder purchased the models in 2015 after meeting Mr Mudri during a visit to electric supercar maker Rimac in Croatia.
Although Tesla’s dossier identifies the designer as the source of the original truck designs, it does not contain details of the transaction, does not explain that money was exchanged or that Mr. Milton himself orchestrated. the purchase.
The latest twist comes with Nikola still reeling from accusations earlier this month that he passed off the purchased technology as his own, covering vendor names on key components with stickers while creating promotional videos. Nikola said he never claimed to have made the components.
In a report that blew up Nikola’s stock, Mr 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 staff he planned to defend himself “against false allegations made against me by outside detractors”. The 39-year-old founder has repeatedly insisted he hasn’t lied or cheated on anyone about the trucks.
The lawsuit with Tesla, filed during Mr. Milton’s tenure, focuses on the origins of the “Nikola One” truck designs.
The company claims Mr. Milton worked for two years on the truck before, dissatisfied with his designs, he hired designer Steve Jennes in 2015. The lawsuit says the couple then crafted the final design between them in a long process. .
When it was finished, Nikola had spent “several million dollars to develop the Nikola One”, according to the lawsuit.
In his rebuttal, Tesla said the designs for the model came from Mr. Mudri, a designer from Rimac, who had nicknamed him the “Road Runner”. The origins of the design could raise other questions about Nikola’s intellectual property.
“Trevor Milton has chosen not to disclose the Road Runner concept truck at the [US Patent and Trademark Office] with deceptive intent, ”Tesla said on file.
Nikola said: “The Nikola One truck was designed and patented by Nikola. It is common practice to license third-party designs during vehicle development, and although at the start of the process Nikola purchased a license for Antonio Mudri’s designs, he was not part of the team at design and his creations are materially different from the design invented by Nikola for the Nikola Un. ”
According to several people familiar with the deal, Milton sought, unsuccessfully, to collaborate with Rimac on a series 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 an earlier diploma project.
Mr Milton bought the computer drawings and the virtual 3D model of the vehicle for several thousand dollars from Mr Mudri, according to two people.
The Road Runner name persisted for months. A person familiar with the development of the Nikola One said that “Road Runner. . . was the internal name of Nikola’s project throughout 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 appears identical to the Road Runner in Tesla’s court record.
Nikola did not mention Mr. Mudri or Rimac, or say the designs had been purchased, in his 2018 case against Tesla.
Representatives for Mr Milton declined to comment. Rimac also declined to comment.