Third Nikola CEO ex-Opel boss Lohscheller quits his job

American electric and fuel cell truckmaker Nikola keeps on sailing through stormy waters. Its third CEO in a row, Michael Lohscheller, the ex-boss of Opel in a former life, is stepping down immediately ‘for family reasons’ and returning to Europe. From there, he will stay on as an ‘advisor’ to assist CEO number four, until now chair of the board, Steve Girsky, until September.

Lohscheller didn’t specify the reasons for quitting his job after less than a year, other than ‘due to a family health matter’. But in exchange circles, it is regarded as maybe the rats are leaving the sinking ship, after declining Q2 results and production figures, with share values dropping by double-figure percentages.

VinFast CEO

German automotive veteran Michael Lohscheller joined Nikola in February 2022, succeeding Mark Russell as CEO and President of Nikola Corporation when he retired on January 1, 2023. Before joining the truckmaker, Lohscheller was briefly the CEO of Vietnamese VinFast but decided to return to Europe ‘for personal reasons’ after four months.

Lohscheller has more than 20 years of experience in the automotive industry. He was Chief Financial Officer of Mitsubishi Motors Europe and CFO and executive vice president of Volkswagen Group of America, among other positions. After joining Opel, he took over the finance department and became chairman of the executive board after the departure of then-Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann.

In this role, he oversaw the integration of Opel into the PSA Group (later Stellantis) and led the brand back into the black. Lohscheller was also laying the foundations for Opel to become a fully electric brand, and later within the PSA Group, he oversaw the development of fuel cell hydrogen technology.

Welcomed by Girsky

According to the German press, his changeover to VinFast was triggered by his dissatisfaction with his new position in the Stellantis Group. The move to Nikola had been inspired by old GM veteran Steve Girsky, who Lohscheller had known very well. At the same time, the latter was president of GM’s European arm and chairman of Opel’s supervisory board.

Now Girsky can pick up the role of CEO himself, as Lohscheller is pulling the door shut behind him with immediate effect. The timing couldn’t be worse, as Nikola finally started production of its hydrogen trucks, with the first due for delivery in September. According to the company, 200 of them were pre-ordered by 18 clients.

Steve Girsky, president of the board since September 2020, has been named the new Nikola CEO. He will remain a member of the board, while Steve Schindler will be the new chair /Nikola

Rebadged Iveco S-Way

Meanwhile, of the battery-electric version of the Nikola Tre – an Italian Iveco S-Way in origin –  96 were built so far, with 76 delivered. Of them, only 33 trucks were built in Q2, down from 50 in the same period last year. For Q3, Nikola hopes to deliver 60 to 90 more, ending the year with 300 to 400 trucks.

In Italy, the romance between Iveco, the daughter of Industrial Vehicles Corporation, a Dutch-based Italian multinational transport vehicle manufacturing company, ended in a divorce.

In May of this year, Iveco announced to assume full ownership of the joint venture in Ulm, Germany, it had with Iveco. Iveco Group partially acquired the JV by paying ($35 million) in cash and getting 20 million Nikola shares.

No messy divorce

Both companies said in a press release they are “excited to enter a new phase of their partnership, which started in 2019 and has so far met all milestones to leverage the respective expertise to deploy zero-emission heavy-duty (Class 8) trucks in North America and Europe.”

Smart talk to say it’s no messy divorce. But a former Italian Iveco engineer, now working for a Chinese carmaker, told us the Italians lost trust in the American truckmaker, saying he was convinced “Nicola is a hoax”.

The first battery-electric trucks from Nikola delivered in the US at the Port of Los Angeles apparently were built in Germany in a joint venture with Iveco /Nikola

Bursting soap bubble

Iveco isn’t the first company to break up the (intended) partnership. The fairy tale of the hydrogen truckmaker burst like a soap bubble when short seller firm Hindenburg Research released a report accusing Nikola of being ‘an intricate fraud’. As a result, several pulled out gradually.

In March 2020, Nikola Corporation announced its plans to merge with VectoIQ Acquisition Corporation, a SPAC company run by former General Motors (GM) vice-chairman Stephen Girsky. Yes, the one who will be Nikola’s CEO number four.

General Motors announced on September 8 to take an 11% share in Nikola, which was over-valued at around $13 billion in early August 2020 but estimated to be worth €2 billion at that time. But two days later, all hell broke loose with the Hindenburg report. By September 12, Nikola’s stock had fallen by 36%

Convicted for four accounts

The straw that breaks the camel’s back would be a Nikola One ‘hydrogen’ truck shown in a promotional video driving down a hill, which turned out to be a mock-up having no drive train at all. The ‘lies’ of Nikola’s founder and then-CEO Trevor Milton eventually would bring him down.

He stepped down as CEO on September 21 and was convicted for four fraud accounts during his time as CEO by a federal court in October 2022. Nicola Corporation itself got off scot-free.

But that couldn’t prevent big partners who hoped to make a buck with the promising start-up, making the best of a lousy job and pulling out as fast as possible. BP started by dropping the intended partnership to build a network of hydrogen filling stations, followed by an announcement by GM to blow up the proposed equity deal in November 2020.

End of Badger

That also was a death sentence for the electric Nikola Badger pickup that GM eventually would build for them. And it marked the end for Nikola’s Powersports products, dream projects like the Nikola NTZ, a two-seater off-road vehicle, or the Nikola WAV electric water scooter.

In December 2020, Nikola got its next blow from Republic Services, one of America’s biggest waste collection companies, announcing that the mega-deal for 2 500 battery-electric garbage trucks with an option for 5 000 was abandoned.

Bosch remaining faithful

One of the few to remain faithful so far seems to be German automotive giant Robert Bosch. Already in 2017, there were talks between Nikola and Bosch to jointly develop a hydrogen fuel cell system, which resulted in an announcement in September 2021 that Bosch would build fuel cell stacks at its factory in Arizona for Nikola’s Class 7 and 8 fuel cell trucks.

The latest news was that Bosch started on July 14 of this year mass production of fuel cell engines at its Stuttgart-Feuerbach factory, one of the ‘oldest’ of the group’s numerous factories worldwide. The first fuel power modules are said to be going to  Nikola, whose Class 8 hydrogen truck should come to the US market in the third quarter of this year.


Ready to join the conversation?

You must be an active subscriber to leave a comment.

Subscribe Today

You Might Also Like

%d bloggers like this: