Nikola truck fire: Fire department says ‘no evidence at all that supports arson’

The Phoenix Fire Department has released its report on the Nikola truck fire that happened at the company’s headquarters last month. Despite Nikola quickly claiming that “foul play” was behind the fire, the fire department says it found “no evidence at all that supports arson.”

The fire department listed the cause of the fire as “undetermined.”

On June 23, we reported on the Phoenix fire department confirming that five Nikola semitrucks caught on fire at its headquarters. The company was quick to tell the public it believed “foul play” was involved in the fire, but it didn’t have a lot of evidence to back the claim. It only mentioned that a vehicle was spotted on the scene prior to the fire.

We were always suspicious of Nikola’s claim because “foul play” sounds better for the company than its electric trucks catching on fire.

On top of that, we found out last week that Nikola had a major defect in the battery module produced by Romeo Power for its Tre electric truck. Battery cells were being punctured as part of the welding process.

Nikola acknowledged that it was aware of the problem, but it claimed that, based on what Romeo told them, it believed that no damaged battery module made it into a Tre truck. The company seemed to be setting the stage to put the blame on Romeo, even though it acquired the battery maker last year.

When we wrote our report, Nikola told us that it was still considering the fire being intentional as a possibility.

Today, Electrek contacted the Phoenix Fire Department for an update about the fire’s final report. The department said that the cause of the truck fire at Nikola’s headquarters was officially declared to be “undetermined.”

But at the same time, the department said it hadn’t found any evidence of arson.

Daniel Cheatham, the City of Phoenix’s Fire Investigations Task Force division chief, told Electrek in an email:

It officially is undetermined. But we do not have any evidence at all that supports arson.

In our report last week, we also noted how company insiders believed it would have been hard to start a thermal event in the trucks with arson as the battery packs were exposed to 1,000-degree Celsius heat without damaging them in testing.

Electrek also reached out to the Phoenix Police Department, which said that the case is still open on their side.

When asked if it was due to Nikola’s claim of “foul play,” a police spokesperson wrote:

Fire [department] determines the cause of manner of the fire, arson investigators will still look into any evidence available such as video survivable, witness tips that come in. Overall, the investigation will continue as detectives work with insurance companies as they determine any and all outcomes. When arson investigators complete their investigation they will determine if criminal behavior took place or not.

Electrek has also contacted Nikola for a comment about the fire department stating there was no evidence of arson. We didn’t get a response by the time this was published. We will update if we get a response.

Update: a Nikola spokesperson repeated the same thing as last week about “not ruling out anything.”

Electrek’s Take

Again, I’m not claiming I know for a fact that a battery defect caused the fire. What I am saying is that we know for a fact that Nikola had a major defect in battery modules produced by Romeo for its trucks, and now we also know that the fire department has found no evidence of arson.

You can draw your own conclusions based on that information.

Don’t shoot the messenger for having made that information public. I’ve been attacked quite a bit by Nikola shareholders after my last article.

Some went as far as claiming that I was making up the defect report, which I published screenshots of, and some even claimed that I was making up responses from Nikola representatives. Of course, I understand that this comes from their bias as investors, but before attacking someone for writing things you don’t like to read, you should really balance the hard facts for a second instead of assuming intentions.

I have no bad intentions behind this reporting. I believe in electric trucks, but I also believe that the only way they can succeed in replacing diesel trucks is by making them competitive and safe. You can’t achieve that by cutting corners. It’s important to report on issues like this one to make sure the highest level of safety possible is achieved.

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