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Nikola Motors claims the Tesla Semi wrongfully incorporates design elements covered by its patents.

Clean Transport

Nikola Motors Claims Tesla Stole Its Design Ideas For Electric Truck

Nikola Motors claims the Tesla Semi wrongfully incorporates design elements covered by its patents.

They say the definition of ambition is a flea climbing up an elephant’s hind leg intent on sexual hijinks. If so, Nikola Motors scores 99 out of possible 100 on the ambition scale this week. The tiny electric truck startup based in Salt Lake City is developing a heavy duty electric truck that will have an onboard hydrogen fuel cell range extender. Nikola has sued Tesla in federal court in Arizona, claiming the Silicon Valley behemoth willfully copied some of its patents when creating the Tesla Semi. It seeks $2 billion in damages from Tesla.

Nikola OneMost of what Nikola Motors is upset about involves styling, and in truth there is more than a passing resemblance between the two machines. Nikola says Tesla cribbed the design of the front fenders, wraparound windshields, mid-entry doors, and other aerodynamic features from its patents. To further its claims, it says Tesla once tried to poach its chief engineer.

Nikola Motors says it first became aware that Tesla was copying its design when spy shots of the Tesla Semi began cropping up on the internet prior to the official unveiling last November. It says it sent a cease and desist letter to Tesla prior to that event, asking it to delay the introduction, but got no response.

According to a report in The Verge, the suit claims Tesla’s action are causing “confusion in the market” and that “Tesla’s infringement has harmed Nikola’s ability to attract investors and partners because investors can now partner with Tesla to have an alternative fuel semi-truck.” All that nefarious conduct has resulted in more than $2 billion in harm to Nikola Motors, it says.

Okay. What’s going on here? Does anyone truly think Tesla needs to steal ideas from someone else and that it doesn’t have enough clever people of its own on staff? Yes, there are similarities between the two truck designs but hey, it’s a truck, all right? It’s basically a brick moving through the air towing a semi-trailer behind. It’s not like it’s going to look like a Ferrari or even a Tesla Roadster.

“It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Tesla told The Verge. Whether that statement was intended to be a pun is unclear. Nikola Motors says it can’t comment on litigation, even if its litigation has started.

Nikola Motors says it has booked more than $8 billion in pre-orders for its fuel cell/battery truck, even though it has no production facility as of yet. It also says it intends to build a $1 billion battery factory in Arizona — some day. Recently, it took a swipe at Tesla, saying it was refunding all the deposits it has received for its truck because, unlike Tesla,  it “won’t use your money to operate our business.” Ouch!

More than likely, Nikola Motors is attempting to do in court what it can’t do in the marketplace. One fellow I know thinks this may all be a ploy designed to delay the introduction of the Tesla Semi for as long as possible so traditional manufacturers can have more time to play catch-up.

That may seem far fetched, but in a world where the Koch Brothers have their tentacles in every facet of the fossil fuel economy, no conspiracy theory can be dismissed out of hand. We have seen evidence just recently of how far the Koch Klan is prepared to go to protect their franchise.

So, either Nikola Motors is using the court system to pry some money out of Tesla to help fund its own development program, or it is a little more than a front for one or more special interests, or it is seeking to slow Tesla down so it can get its own products into the hands of customers before Telsa does. You decide which explanation makes the most sense to you.

The whole thing sounds rather silly, like the time Jeep sued GM because the grille of the Hummer had the same number of vertical bars in it. It lost, by the way.

Since the Nikola One supposedly has a range of 1200 miles and the Tesla Semi has a range (for now) of about 300 miles, it seems the companies are targeting two different customers. Maybe instead of whining in court, Nikola Motors should hurry up and get its truck into production before Tesla can target long distance cargo haulers with its own truck. Just a thought.

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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