Nikola Corp. is seeing another strategic partner sell down its stake as South Korea’s Hanwha Group signaled its intention to liquidate half of its holdings in the troubled electric-truck startup.
Hanwha, which Nikola has described as a key partner and strategic investor, plans to sell 11.05 million shares, or 50 percent of its current stake in the Phoenix-based company, according to a securities filing Wednesday. Hanwha Corp. is the publicly traded holding arm of the group, a conglomerate spanning financial services, chemicals and solar energy.
The amount to be sold is worth about $180 million based on Nikola's closing price of $16.39. Nikola shares closed down 9.8 percent to $14.78 on Thursday in New York.
The sale comes as Nikola attempts to recover from a blow to its credibility triggered by a short-seller report last year and after another key investor and partner, Robert Bosch Gmbh, slashed its stake in the company three months ago.
“Hanwha remains an important strategic partner and continues to play an active role on Nikola’s board of directors,” Nikola said in an emailed statement.
A representative from Hanwha said on Thursday that it plans to sell the shares from June 9 until Dec. 10 and “might not sell the whole 50 percent.” Hanwha plans to use the proceeds to help expand its energy transition business as well as its hydrogen business. The company will maintain a strategic partnership with Nikola, the representative added.
Nikola plans to launch its first zero-emission fuel cell-powered truck in 2023, complete the first phase of a factory under construction in Arizona by year-end and build the first of up to 700 hydrogen fueling stations starting next quarter.
It has said Hanwha will supply third-party solar farms with panels needed to generate electricity for production of “clean energy” hydrogen for a planned network of refueling stations in the U.S. Hanwha bought its stake in 2018, two years before Nikola gained a public stock listing in June through a reverse-merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
Nikola was one of the first of many EV startups targeted by SPACs and at one time saw its valuation surpass the market capitalization of established automakers such as Ford Motor Co. But the stock collapsed amid concern about federal probes after the short-seller’s allegations, which the company had strongly denied last year.
An internal probe of those allegations of deception disclosed last month subsequently found several cases involving inaccurate statements, including seven made by its former chairman and founder, Trevor Milton, who stepped down in September.