Technology, particularly that designed with an eye towards curbing reliance upon fossil fuels and/or alleviating the incipient climate crisis, is meant to be the magic bullet to save the human race. But that tech is still designed by people, and as much as the machines are meant to represent human advancement, the humans behind it are still tied to some of the baser instincts that landed us in our precarious position in the first place.
Tesla is the first name in electric cars today, but it was always a marketplace that would become more crowded and thus more competitive as companies sought to make inroads on the burgeoning demand for alternative fuel vehicles. Now it’s locked in a lawsuit with one of those competitors, in a case that grows more complicated as it progresses.
The matter began when the electric truck maker Nikola sued Tesla, claiming that Tesla infringed upon its patents in creating its Tesla Semi. As though the pairing of those two names wasn’t cause for enough confusion, Tesla countered those claims by asserting that Nikola’s truck, the Nikola One, was itself a ripoff of a design created by a Croatian designer named Adriano Mudri. The story, as laid out in Tesla’s claim, is that Nikola founder Trevor Milton met with Mudri in 2014 or 2015, long after he had designed the Road Runner truck that Tesla is suggesting Milton and Nikola copied for its own design.
Tesla furthered its defense by submitting that the design elements in question on its truck are standard for modern semi design, but the suggestion that Nikola is itself the thief is the the more salacious part of the case. And yet the plot would thicken even further: additional reporting from Ars Technica uncovered that Milton in fact purchased the designs for the Nikola One from Mudri, a fact previously unknown and one contradicting the company’s narrative that Milton had designed the truck himself.
While such revelations would resolve any questions of theft on the part of Nikola, the deception doesn’t do much for the company’s standing or Milton’s, which would struggle to fall further. Milton and his company had also been found out to have faked a promotional video of their truck driving down a road by towing it to the top of a hill and letting it roll down. And far more seriously, two women have now come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, days after he announced his departure from his role as executive chairman.
Nikola wouldn’t be the first company built upon false hope and products that don’t yet actually work, but it’s a bold gambit to take on others when your own business is a house of cards, primed to be blown over.