August 17, 2023

Girsky’s goal at Nikola: Don’t ‘screw up the momentum’


Steve Girsky knows Nikola Corp. as well as anyone. He was instrumental in bringing the electric truck and hydrogen distributor public via SPAC, and he chaired the board for a tumultuous two and a half years of federal investigations and setbacks. 

Now, as the company prepares to commercially ship hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks to customers, he has one near-term goal as the third CEO in a year: Don’t “screw up the momentum.”

Girsky gave his first one-on-one interview as CEO to FreightWaves on the Truck Tech podcast on Wednesday. Here is a Q&A based on that interview edited for clarity and conciseness.

FREIGHTWAVES: You pretty much had your choice of companies to merge with three years ago. What attracted you to Nikola?

GIRSKY: I thought Nikola was a big idea then. I still think it’s a big idea and I think the thesis is still intact. Nikola was on the leading edge of putting a fuel cell truck on the road. Second [was] the partners. Bosch was a big technical partner. Iveco was a partner. Third is the model. Here’s an opportunity where you launch a truck and you’re providing the downstream fueling at the same time — sort of a chicken and the egg, and that’s what’s going to make the execution so powerful as we get launched.

FREIGHTWAVES: What have you learned in the last three years that can help you run the company on a day-to-day basis?

GIRSKY: If you look at early Nikola, I would call it big eyes, small stomach. They wanted to do a lot of things that required a lot of resources and a lot of capital. Remember, the group that mass produces a vehicle is not the same group that does prototypes. What I’ve learned over the last three years is the need to focus. [Previous CEO] Michael [Lohscheller] put that in place. My goal is to continue that. Resources are tight and we need to be mindful of that.

FREIGHTWAVES: You do have some financial flexibility following the recent increase in authorized shares.  

GIRSKY: We need to raise more capital here. We’ve been upfront about that. There’s dilutive ways and non-dilutive ways. Non-dilutive ways are asset sales and stuff like that. There’s some of that laying around here. Dilutive ways are issuing more shares. We have the flexibility to issue more shares. But it all comes down to this: We need to validate that we can build this truck and build the hydrogen highway. Once that gets validated, I have high confidence that investors will want to support this. 

FREIGHTWAVES: The original thesis was a battery-electric truck for Europe only. In hindsight, was it a good idea to start with that truck here?

GIRSKY: There are commonalities between the two. They share a lot of components. And they have different use cases. The BEV (battery electric vehicle) is more short haul. The fuel cell truck is more long haul. So you can use essentially the same platform for both trucks and I think there’s a business case to be made for that. The challenge was doing two trucks here and two trucks in Europe and doing your own fuel and doing your own network. Nikola today versus a few years ago is a much more focused company.

FREIGHTWAVES: But you’re not giving up on BEVs, just moving to a build-to-order basis?

GIRSKY: The [BEV] adoption rate has been slower than expected. There’s people that want to try onesies and twosies. I was shown data that Nikola has the second-largest market share in Class 8 [electric] trucks, which is not a lot and something we want to grow. But in the near term, we’ve got this hydrogen truck that we’re going to launch in late September.

Everything this company has worked towards for three years since I joined is coming together in the fourth quarter when we launch the hydrogen semi-truck and we start to launch the hydrogen highway. It hasn’t been easy. There’s been lots of ups and downs, but this team is incredibly resilient to go through everything they went through and get back on the field again every day, every week, every month, because they believe in the mission.

FREIGHTWAVES: What do you see as your main goal in the next six months?

GIRSKY: My first priority is not to screw up the momentum that’s already been generated here. Second priority is to get that fuel cell truck launched. Priority three is to launch that hydrogen highway and get hundreds of trucks on the road being fueled with Hyla fuelers.

FREIGHTWAVES: You have a very complicated relationship with Nikola founder Trevor Milton. You sponsored the Nikola SPAC, you introduced him to General Motors, although that didn’t work out. Now you just concluded an arbitration to try to get back some of what Nikola spent to defend him and to reimburse Nikola for an SEC fine. What should we expect to result?

GIRSKY: Let’s be clear. My relationship was with the management of the company at the time. I knew Milton a little bit but not a lot. We’ve made our case to the arbitrator. He’s made theirs. It’s up to the arbitrator to decide and we’ll know in probably a couple of months.

Nikola gets 3rd CEO in a year with Girsky taking over

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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