CEO and founder of Nikola Trevor Milton speaks during a presentation of its new full-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell battery trucks. © REUTERS

Who would have thought batteries could be so exciting? Shares in Nikola hit $24 for a time today — down from their June high of nearly $80 — after the electric truckmaker’s founder stepped down over allegations that included it was buying in batteries rather than using its own much vaunted technology.

Then, on Tuesday, we have Tesla’s annual meeting, incorporating a “Battery Day”, which chief executive Elon Musk has promised will be “one of the most exciting days in Tesla’s history”.

The Nikola story has been moving fast since short seller Hindenburg Research published a report this month alleging Nikola was an “intricate fraud” and disputing its claims to have developed breakthrough technology. In a rebuttal last week, Nikola said the report contained false and misleading claims, but added the company “does use third-party parts in prototype vehicles”.

A Financial Times story at the weekend revealed Nikola was relying on Californian manufacturer Romeo Power Technology for batteries for one of its prototype electric trucks. This was a second example, following its choice of General Motors’ Ultium battery this month rather than its own “game-changing” one.

Nikola founder Trevor Milton said today he was stepping down as executive chairman and told employees he intended “to defend myself against false allegations levelled against me by outside detractors”.

Elon Musk has his own detractors and our Big Read today quotes Bob Lutz, the former top executive at America’s three biggest automakers, as saying about Battery Day: “One thing is sure: Elon will announce something big which is nowhere near ready for prime time.”

However, Mr Musk may claim the industry’s first “million-mile” lithium-iron phosphate battery, capable of many more charge and discharge cycles than typical car batteries. Software and electronics improvements could create more efficiencies, while a possible announcement that it will make better-fitting battery cells itself would increase confidence Tesla will stay ahead of the pack in increasing range and performance.

Nikola’s defenders are already saying it is more focused on building a network of hydrogen stations than building trucks. Tesla’s own network of regular battery recharging points may seem less important after tomorrow.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. More TikTok Trumpfoolery
President Trump has given his “blessing” to Oracle’s partnership with ByteDance to operate TikTok, but his claim that the companies would finance a $5bn “patriotic” education fund “so we can educate people as to the real history of our country” has led to some head scratching. Our weekend Big Read looked at the politicisation of American business. Meanwhile, ByteDance has muddied the waters, saying on Monday that it would maintain majority ownership and control of TikTok Global, contradicting statements by Mr Trump, Oracle and Walmart. A ban on the TikTok app has now been postponed, while a California judge has temporarily blocked a US Department of Commerce ban on Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, as a result of a case brought by users.

2. EU considers new Big Tech powers 
Brussels is mulling new powers to take on Big Tech companies, including the ability to force them to break up or sell their European operations, EU commissioner Thierry Breton told the FT. YouTube has reverted to using human content moderators after machines proved overzealous in judging what content was harmful.

3. Kinnevik is no SoftBank, says chief
Sweden’s Kinnevik has reaped the benefits of its two “big bets” on digital healthcare and online grocery start-ups after demand for remote services soared during the pandemic, but the boss of Europe’s largest listed tech investor has rejected comparisons with Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, in an FT interview. Meanwhile, Nathan Benaich, general partner at Air Street Capital, explains in an opinion piece why AI has disappointed during the pandemic.

4. Europe’s telcos fail to capitalise on wfh
What should have been a golden year for European telecoms companies as millions work from home has become a missed opportunity. The value of listed telecoms companies has dropped almost 20 per cent on average over the past year, despite efforts to revive the sector. Nic Fildes reports on the high debt and unwieldy corporate structures that have dented valuations of European telecoms operators.

Chart showing that mobile data usage has grown in the pandemic but not everywhere

5. Virtual Emmys and Quibi for sale?
AT&T-owned HBO dominated Sunday’s Emmy awards, winning 30 prizes including Best Drama Series for Succession and Best Limited Series for Watchmen. The awards cemented the network’s long-held position as television’s creative powerhouse, despite stiff competition from Netflix, which was up for a record 160 nominations this year. While streaming services are generally doing well, the shorter-form Quibi mobile service is exploring strategic options including a possible sale, says the Wall Street Journal.

Tech week ahead

Tuesday: “Battery Day” at Tesla is expected to reveal new advances in its industry-leading technology. Microsoft’s three-day Ignite developer conference begins. HMD Global will unveil a new line-up of Nokia-branded phones.

Wednesday: Apple’s online store opens in India. The annual Huawei Connect tech forum takes place from Wednesday to Saturday in Shanghai. Chairman Guo Ping will open the gathering with a 15-minute speech, the first executive-level public address since the US cut off Huawei from global suppliers.

Thursday: The UK government will try again with the release of a new version of its Covid contact tracing app. Amazon will unveil its latest Alexa-enabled hardware.

Tech tools — GoPro Hero9 Black

GoPro has one-upped 4K ultra high definition pictures with its latest action camera offering — the £330 ($350) Hero9 Black has 5K. There is also a new front-facing LCD screen with Live Preview for framing those selfies. Engadget says this is “possibly the most significant update to a GoPro in recent years”. 

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