The original design of the main Nikola truck was purchased by founder Trevor Milton from a designer in Croatia, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, despite the company’s claims in a 2018 lawsuit that the car was initially designed by Mr. Milton “in his basement ..”
The truck, Nikola Wan, is the focus of a $ 2 billion lawsuit with Tesla Corporation in which Nikola alleges that her competitor infringed on her patents. In that lawsuit, Nicola claims that Mr. Milton began designing the model in 2013, with other company employees working on it later.
In refuting the lawsuit filed last week, Tesla claimed that Nikola couldn’t protect the designs because they didn’t originate from the company itself, but from Adriano Mudri, the designer based in Croatia.
Two people familiar with the deal told the Financial Times that founder Nicola bought the designs in 2015 after meeting Mr. Modri while visiting the electric supercar maker Rimac in Croatia.
While the Tesla file identifies the designer as the source for the original truck’s drawings, it does not contain details about the transaction, or make clear that the money was exchanged, or that Mr. Milton himself coordinated the purchase.
The latest development comes with Nicola who is still reeling from accusations earlier this month that he passed on technology purchased as his own, covering supplier names on key components with stickers when creating promotional videos. Nicola said he never claimed to have made the ingredients.
In a report that sent Nikola’s stock to the market, Mr. Milton was accused of publicizing “an ocean of lies” about the company’s technology and products by Hindenburg Research Inc.
Just over a week later, Mr. Milton decided to leave the company, telling employees that he intended to defend himself “against false allegations made against me by outside critics”. The 39-year-old founder has repeatedly insisted that he has not lied or fooled anyone about the trucks.
The lawsuit filed with Tesla during Mr. Milton’s tenure focuses on the design origins of the “Nikola One” truck.
The company claims that Mr. Milton worked for two years on the truck before, dissatisfied with his designs, and hired designer Steve Guinness in 2015. The lawsuit says the couple then drafted the final design between them in a long process.
When this was completed, Nicolas had spent “several million dollars developing Nicolas Wan,” according to the lawsuit.
In response, Tesla said that the model’s designs originated from Mr. Modri, a designer at Rimac, who called it “Road Runner”. The design origins could raise more questions about Nicolas’ intellectual property.
Trevor Milton chose not to reveal the Road Runner test truck to [US Patent and Trademark Office] With deceptive intent, “Tesla said in his file.
Nicolas said, “The Nikola Wan truck was designed and patented by Nicola. It’s common to license third-party designs during the development of the car, and although Nicolas had bought an early license for Adriano Mudri’s designs, he was not part of the design and design team.” Fundamentally different from the design Nikola created for one Nikola.
According to several people familiar with the deal, Mr. Milton sought, unsuccessfully, to collaborate with Rimac on a host of projects in 2015.
On a trip to the Rimac headquarters in the suburbs of Zagreb, Mr. Modri met the company’s designer, who had designed a futuristic truck as part of a previous diploma project.
Mr. Milton purchased the computer graphics and a virtual 3D model of the car for several thousand dollars from Mr. Modri, according to two people.
The Road Runner’s name remained for months. A person familiar with the development of Nikola One said, “Road Runner … has been the internal name for Project Nikola the entire time we worked on it.”
A screenshot of the Nikola document seen by the Financial Times shows 13 people invited to collaborate on the “Nikola Roadrunner Prototype Project”.
Another screenshot shows an early version of Nikola’s website depicting a truck that appears identical to the Road Runner in a Tesla court file.
Nicolas did not mention Mr. Modri, Rimac, or say that the designs were purchased, in the 2018 dossier against Tesla.
Representatives of Mr. Milton declined to comment. Rimac declined to comment.