Nikola Corp., the electric-vehicle startup that recently partnered with General Motors Co., said its founder stepped down as executive chairman, coming just days after the company was reported to be the focus of investigations by U.S. regulators following a highly-critical short-seller report.
Trevor Milton, the public face of the startup he founded in 2014, was replaced by board member Stephen Girsky, whose title will be chairman, Nikola said in a statement late Sunday.
The shakeup comes less than two weeks after the Phoenix-based company found itself in the crosshairs of short seller Hindenburg Research, which said Nikola deceived investors about its business prospects — claims that are now the subject of investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and, reportedly, the Department of Justice. On Sunday night, Milton said he planned to defend himself against “false allegations” in a statement issued via Twitter.
“Nikola is truly in my blood and always will be, and the focus should be on the company and its world-changing mission, not me,” Milton was cited as saying in Nikola’s statement. “So I made the difficult decision to approach the board and step aside.”
General Motors earlier this month decided to take a $2 billion stake and manufacture Nikola’s new pickup truck. The Detroit-based automaker got a cash-free 11 percent equity position in its smaller partner in a bid to scale up and fast-track its own vehicle electrification efforts.