In February 2020, EV startup Nikola revealed its Badger pickup truck prototype with the promise of two available powertrains: a battery electric one and a hydrogen fuel-cell.
The company started taking preorders for the Badger in June 2020, only to announce the cancelation of the project in November that same year after GM backed off a deal to build the Badger for Nikola.
As it turns out, Nikola had no prototype or manufacturing plan for the pickup at the time it started taking $5,000 reservations from customers, according to fresh details that emerged from the criminal fraud trial of Nikola founder Trevor Milton.
The jury was told that the prototype shown to the world in February 2020 was made partly of components from the Ford F-150 Raptor and a "chopped up" electric Nikola power sports vehicle, which was also in early development at the time.
This was revealed by former Nikola employee Brendan Babiarz last week in federal court in Manhattan, according to a Bloomberg report. Babiarz, who led the Badger design efforts and created renderings for the pickup, said the improvisation was done to meet a deadline Milton had set for unveiling the truck.
Babiarz also revealed that he was taken by surprise by Milton's tweet indicating that Nikola was going to start taking orders for the Badger.
Gallery: Nikola Badger Electric Pickup Truck
"It 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."
Prosecutors asked Babiarz about text messages he exchanged with other Nikola employees expressing concern about the content of Milton's tweets and public statements in 2020.
In one conversation dated June 7, 2020, the same day Milton tweeted that Nikola was going to start taking reservations for the Badger later that month, Babiarz forwarded the tweet to Badger project's lead engineer Michael Erickson, commenting, "Oh no."
"I told Trevor on Thursday we are at least 6-8 weeks from any tooling starting," Babiarz told Erickson in the exchange prosecutors presented to the jury. "I know," Erickson responded. “Haha Trevor doesn't let facts or details get in the way of a good story."
Trevor Milton faces securities and wire fraud charges, being accused of deceiving investors by portraying inoperable products as fully functional and lying about the company's technology and partnerships. He risks a maximum prison term of 25 years if convicted of the most serious charge.
The defense has called the case "a prosecution by distortion," arguing Milton was just following the company's marketing plan and never said anything he didn't believe to be true.