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Former Opel, Vinfast CEO becomes president of Nikola

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Michael Lohscheller has been appointed president of Nikola Motors, the troubled hydrogen fuel cell and electric truck maker and one-time Tesla rival.

According to Nikola, the former Opel and Vinfast CEO will be responsible for “scaling Nikola’s global truck business” and will report directly to CEO Mark Russell.

In announcing his appointment, Russell said Lohscheller “brings several decades of direct automotive industry expertise” to the company, and he will be “immediately pivotal” as the Nikola Tre electric truck moves into production and the company completes development of the fuel cell version of the Tre.

Thanks to disgraced founder and former CEO Trevor Milton, Nikola has been covered extensively in the automotive and business press since 2015 when it unveiled the One hydrogen fuel cell semi.

Milton claimed the One was a fully working prototype, but it was later revealed the truck was towed to the top of a hill and allowed to roll back down for a promotional video.

In 2020 the company launched its Badger electric pickup truck. Again Milton claimed the car was a “fully functioning” and built off a “billion dollars of knowledge” from the company’s semi-truck development, even though it was a rebodied Ford F-150.

Not long afterwards, Nikola signed a partnership with GM to build, engineer and produce the Badger. GM backed out of the deal when revelations about Nikola’s lies went public, Milton left the startup automaker, and Nikola pledged to refocus on developing hydrogen fuel-cell trucks.

Milton has since been charged with fraud, and Nikola has paid a US$125 million ($174 million) fine for lying to investors.

Nikola will be the latest stop in Lohscheller’s 30-year working career, which began in 1992 at Jungheinrich, a firm specialising in forklifts and other warehouse equipment, as a financial controller.

He later spent a year at DaimlerChrysler Rail Systems, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he joined the automotive industry when he became the chief financial officer (CFO) of Mitsubishi Motors Europe.

In 2004 Lohscheller jumped over to Volkswagen, starting out as the head of group marketing and sales before being appointed Volkswagen Group of America’s CFO.

Opel, then still under GM ownership, hired Lohscheller in 2012 to be its CFO. After Groupe PSA bought the troubled automaker from GM in 2017, Lohscheller was appointed Opel/Vauxhall CEO.

Unable to turn a profit since the beginning of the millennium, GM’s “European patient” lost the automaker billions of euros.

By aggressively cutting fixed costs, reducing production costs, and trimming its workforce, Lohscheller was able to put Opel/Vauxhall back in the black within a year. He also oversaw brand’s new design language, and its commitment to be an EV-only brand by 2028.

It was a surprise when he quit Opel in 2021 before becoming CEO of Vinfast in July that year, as the Vietnamese automaker stepped up its plans to become an EV brand on the global stage.

He stepped down five months later for personal reasons and returned to Europe.

MORE: A full history of Nikola’s lies and misdeeds

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