Hyliion CEO draws distinctions with besieged Nikola

Hyliion Holdings Corp. (NYSE: HYLN) founder and CEO Thomas Healy considered lessons from the Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) debacle as his startup began public trading Friday — and he became the nation’s youngest paper billionaire.

“From our end, there’s a lot of differences,” the 28-year-old Healy told FreightWaves in an interview. “One is actually having delivered products to fleets.”

Hyliion proprietary technology winds through and around electric driveline systems from Dana Inc. (NYSE: DAN), a partner and investor. Hyliion is in the process of delivering 20 electronic axle systems for diesel trucks. In late 2021, it plans to deliver the first of its Hypertruck ERX natural gas generator systems that convert natural gas to electricity.  

A drastic difference

“There’s a drastic difference in the business plan and business model,” Healy said, referring to Nikola. “With hydrogen fuel cells, you need to build out all this infrastructure. We already have over 700 natural gas stations. The capital we’re bringing in, we’re using to develop and deploy the technology.”

Special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Tortoise Acquisition Corp. raised $560 million for Hyliion through an initial public offering and sales of discounted shares in the SPAC. The money was transferred to the startup Thursday evening.

The HYLN ticker symbol replaced the SHLL ticker used to bring Hyliion public on Friday. Healy became a billionaire based on his 22.9% of shares in  the company he founded in 2015. 

Inevitable comparison

Because both Hyliion and Nikola came to public notice because of reverse mergers in the zero-emissions transportation space, comparisons between the two were inevitable.

Embattled Nikola, which plans to sell battery-electric and hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks and the fuel to run them, came under attack Sept. 10 by Hindenburg Research. The short seller alleged years of fraud and misrepresentations by Nikola founder Trevor Milton. It succeeded in driving the share price dramatically lower.

With its stock plummeting and its rebuttal to the Hindenburg claims only lightly regarded, Nikola and Milton parted ways on Sept. 21. Nikola’s attempt to reset its fortunes by publishing a three-year timeline of manufacturing goals on Wednesday has led the stock price higher. But it still is about 70% lower than its intraday peak of $93.99 on June 9.

Tweeting, yes, but not too often

Milton’s penchant for hyping future Nikola products and technology on Twitter and other social media contributed to his downfall. Milton told FreightWaves in an interview before he resigned as executive chairman that building buzz was a corporate strategy.

“I’ve been getting a lot of crap about not tweeting more,” Healy said. 

“It’s fair to say there are a lot of retail investors that own the Hyliion stock. “We do have a lot of people who are buying the stock on Robinhood,” he said. “It’s on us to figure out an appropriate way to communicate to that group.”

That will include judicious use of Twitter and LinkedIn.

“It’s not going to be every day. We’re not there to hype or pump because that’s not a good approach,” Healy said. “We’ll stay pretty level-headed and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve got going on.’ There’s tons of exciting stuff. We just need to showcase it appropriately.”

A surreal experience

Healy tried to describe the quick trip from struggling startup to well-financed public company. He and a few others will ring the opening bell on the NYSE on Monday.  

“The whole journey of Hyliion has been surreal,” he said. “Every moment of it has had that pinch me feeling. There’s ups and downs. That’s part of being a high-growth startup company. This is definitely one of those big ups, a huge milestone for me personally and for our whole team.”

The celebration on Monday will be tempered by the realities of the coronavirus. Only a few team members will attend, along with a couple of the company’s trucks displayed outside the exchange. 

“It’s all fantastic. But we’ve got a lot of stuff we need to still accomplish,” Healy said. “Don’t wake up every morning and go check the share price. You know what you need to accomplish. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make the company successful.”

Related articles:

SPAC shareholders approve merger to make Hyliion public

Nikola, Hyliion defend divergent paths to zero-emissions trucking

Hyliion partner with Idealease to spotlight Class 8 hybrid trucks

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.