Hindenburg Research, the short-seller firm whose report on Nikola Motor led to an SEC investigation and the resignation of its founder, is targeting another electric vehicle company. This time it’s Lordstown Motors, the Ohio electric automaker that went public after merging with special-purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., with a market value of $1.6 billion.
Hindenburg said in a report Friday that it has taken a short position on Lordstown Motors, causing shares to plummet 21%. Shares have recovered slightly and are now down about 15% from the previous day’s trade. Hindenburg’s short position is based on a company that it says has “no revenue and no sellable product, which we believe has misled investors on both its demand and production capabilities.”
In a report issued Friday, Hindenburg disputes that the company has booked 100,000 pre-orders for its electric pickup truck, a stat shared by Lordstown Motors in January. The short seller says that “extensive research reveals that the company’s orders appear largely fictitious and used as a prop to raise capital and confer legitimacy.” The firm goes further and alleges that Lordstown founder and CEO Steve Burns paid consultants for every truck pre-order as early as 2016 while he was leading Workhorse.
The report also provides photos and a 911 call of an incident in January when a Lordstown prototype vehicle burst into flames during a test drive.
Update: A Lordstown Motors spokesperson responded to TechCrunch on Friday afternoon. “We will be sharing a full and thorough statement in the coming days, and when we do we will absolutely be refuting the Hindenburg Research report,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
In comments to the Wall Street Journal, Burns said the report contained “half-truths and lies” and that it was an attempt by Hindenburg to hurt its stock ahead of its first quarterly earnings report as a publicly traded company.
The startup is named for the Ohio town where the company purchased a dormant former General Motors Co. assembly plant in 2019. As a result of that deal, GM acquired a small stake in Lordstown Motors.
Lordstown has an interesting history for company that is less than two years old. Lordstown Motors is an offshoot of Burns’ other company, Workhorse Group, a battery-electric transportation technology company that is also publicly traded. Workhorse holds a 10% stake in Lordstown Motors.
Workhorse is itself a small company that was founded in 1998 and has struggled financially at various points in its lifetime. Most recently, Workhorse lost a bid to become the supplier of electric vehicles to the U.S. Postal Service, which caused shares to fall nearly 15% in the days following the news. Workhorse shares are now hovering around $16.58, down 60% from its record price of $42.96 reached February 4.
Lordstown Motors acquired a 6.2 million-square-foot factory from GM in 2019. The company has said it plans to produce 20,000 electric commercial trucks annually, starting in 2021, at the former GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Lordstown revealed its Endurance electric pickup in a splashy and political-leaning ceremony in June 2020. At the time, the company didn’t provide details on the interior, performance or battery of its planned electric pickup truck. The entire second half of the event took a 90-degree turn away from the truck and centered on its special guest, former Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke for 25 minutes about former President Trump’s policies on jobs and manufacturing, China and the COVID-19 response.
Despite those lack of details, Burns told the crowd in June that it had received 20,000 pre-orders. That would mean the entire first year of production would be locked in if every customer who pre-ordered the truck followed through and bought the vehicle. Lordstown Motors said, at the time, that a number of potential customers had sent letters of intent, including AutoFlexFleet, Clean Fuels Ohio, Duke Energy, FirstEnergy, GridX, Holman Enterprises and ARI, Summit Petroleum, Turner Mining Group and Valor Holdings, as well as several Ohio municipalities.
Burns later said pre-orders had reached 100,000. Hindenburg disputes those claims.
From the Hindenburg report:
Our research has revealed that Lordstown’s order book consists of fake or entirely non-binding orders, from customers that generally do not even have fleets of vehicles. According to former employees and business partners, CEO Steve Burns sought to book orders, regardless of quality, purely as a tool to raise capital and confer legitimacy. In addition, we show how, in desperation to claim there was demand for the proposed vehicle, he paid for customers to book valueless, non-binding pre-orders.
We detail conversations with Lordstown “customers” who were eager to explain that the letters of intent (“LOI”s) with the company were “promotional”. Others assured us they were “not committed to anything” and that the pre-order commitment size recorded by Lordstown was “totally impossible”. One CEO at a ‘key’ customer told us our outreach was the first he had heard of any arrangement with Lordstown.
Burns did confirm to the WSJ that Lordstown paid consultants to generate preorders that were understood to be nonbinding. He explained that this was to “assess market demand.” Burns denied that the practice misrepresented the company’s preorder book.