GM will build Tesla-rivaling Nikola Badger pickup in huge EV deal

General Motors has inked a partnership with EV startup Nikola, with GM set to build the Tesla-rival's zero-emissions Badger pickup. Opening to reservations earlier this year, the Badger doesn't look quite so futuristic – or as polarizing – as Tesla's Cybertruck, but it's no less high-tech, with both pure-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell versions planned.

With both powertrains onboard, Nikola promised, the Badger could drive up to 600 miles on a full battery and a full tank of hydrogen gas. With up to 980 lb-ft of torque and the ability to tow up to 8,000 pounds, the pickup wouldn't be outclassed by more traditional gas- or diesel-powered rivals either.

There was only one real lingering problem: who would actually build it. Nikola was upfront about the fact that it was hoping to outsource the engineering and manufacturing of the Badger to another automaker, as it focused on building its own factory where it would produce hydrogen-powered haulage trucks. Even when reservations opened, Nikola wasn't saying who might actually be making the Badger in the end.

Now we know. GM will engineer, validate, homologate, and build both the battery electric and fuel-cell versions of the pickup, and be the exclusive supplier of fuel-cells everywhere bar Europe for Nikola's Class 7/8 trucks. In return, it'll get a $2 billion equity stake in the automaker startup, "in exchange for certain in-kind contributions," with Nikola issuing new common stock. "General Motors will be subject to a staged lock-up provision beginning in one year and ending in June 2025," the companies say.

For Nikola, it's an opportunity to offload some of the biggest headaches around building an all-new vehicle. The company says it plans to save more than $4 billion in battery and powertrain costs over the course of ten years, and over $1 billion in engineering and validation costs.

The Badger will use GM's Ultium battery system, which will underly its own Cadillac Lyriq, GMC Hummer EV, and other electric models set to launch over the next few years. It'll also use GM's Hydrotec fuel-cell platform. The latter is a much-needed nod of commercial support to General Motors' long-term insistence that hydrogen power is key for long-range haulage and commercial transportation, where faster refueling times are particularly important.

The Nikola Badger will be sold and marketed by Nikola, which will also keep the brand. Production is expected to begin from late 2022, but the pre-order reservations are now being accepted for $100.

The deal follows GM's attempts to buy into another electric startup, with talks between the automaker behemoth and startup Rivian breaking down in early 2019. Rivian ended up cutting a deal with Ford instead, though plans to build a new Lincoln model based on Rivian's electric architecture fizzled out earlier in 2020.