Two people familiar with the matter said Trevor Milton bought the Nikola One’s design from a designer at EV brand Rimac Automobili, according to the Financial Times.
This is despite Nikola saying Milton was responsible for initially designing the One “in his basement.”
Nikola is currently involved in a $2 billion lawsuit with Tesla, claiming that the Tesla Semi is “substantially" similar in design to the Nikola One.
Tesla’s rebuttal to the lawsuit claims the Rimac designer whom Milton bought the designs from called the truck project “Road Runner."
The story with the Nikola One, zero-emissions brand Nikola's hydrogen-electric semitruck, was that embattled company founder Trevor Milton designed it in his basement. But a new report from the Financial Times suggests otherwise.
Two sources with knowledge on the matter, who were not named by the Financial Times, said Milton bought the original design for the Nikola One from a designer who works at Croatian EV brand Rimac Automobili.
The sources told the outlet that Milton purchased the truck's designs from Adriano Mudri in 2015 after they met during a visit to Rimac's headquarters in Croatia, authors Claire Bushey, Peter Campbell, and Ortenca Aliaj wrote. The designs were part of Mudri's "earlier diploma project."
Mudri's own LinkedIn page lists him as Rimac's director of design at the time, and the Financial Times reported that Milton bought the virtual 3D model and computer drawings of the truck for "several thousand dollars."
The findings refute Nikola's claim that Milton designed the One "in his basement," made during a 2018 lawsuit against Tesla. In the ongoing $2 billion suit, Nikola alleged patent infringements against Tesla, saying that the Tesla Semi is "substantially" similar in design to the One, Reuters reported at the time.
The Financial Times reported that a rebuttal from Tesla last week claimed Nikola could not protect the truck's design because it came from Mudri, not Nikola. Tesla said Mudri called the project "Road Runner" — and according to the report, so did Nikola.
"Road Runner . . . was the internal name for Nikola's project the entire time we worked on it," an unnamed source told the Financial Times. The outlet viewed a screenshot of a Nikola document that displayed 13 people being asked to collaborate on the "Nikola Roadrunner Prototype Project."
Additionally, a previous version of Nikola's website showed a truck that looked the same as the Road Runner from Tesla's court filing, according to another screenshot the Financial Times viewed. The second Google result for Mudri's name as of this writing, in fact, returns a page for the Michelin Challenge Design, where sketches of the Road Runner appear.
"The Nikola One truck was designed and patented by Nikola," a Nikola spokesperson told Business Insider via email. "It is commonplace to license third party designs during vehicle development, and although early in the process Nikola purchased a license to Adriano Mudri's designs, he was not part of the design team and his designs are materially different from the design invented by Nikola for the Nikola One."
Rimac declined to comment, as it is "not a stakeholder in the story."
The semi reports are just the latest in a long news cycle for Nikola and Milton, which began on a high note with a $2 billion deal with General Motors. Soon after, the company faced fraud allegations. Then came sexual-assault allegations.
Last week, Milton resigned from his position as the company's executive chairman.
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