Elon Musk's Feud With Trevor Milton—Is It Personal?

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Jul. 30 2021, Published 12:51 p.m. ET

Nikola Motor founder and former executive chairman Trevor Milton has been called a lot of names, including an Elon Musk "wannabe." Being compared to someone with a $160.4 billion net worth can't be easy, but it's nothing compared to Milton's recent indictment on multiple accounts of fraud.

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Musk and Milton have been known to butt heads, but is it personal or just an EV industry feud? Here's what we know about the feud so far.

Elon Musk started the feud.

Shortly after Nikola stock (NASDAQ:NKLA) hit the public market, Musk—naturally—took to Twitter. He wrote that Milton's company, then worth more than $20 million, wouldn't get far with electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

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More specifically, he wrote, "Fuel cells = fool sells." That sounds like him. In response to one person's tweet about the problems associated with sourcing hydrogen, especially as totally renewable, Musk wrote, "Staggeringly dumb."

Musk's own vehicles are battery electric and have achieved great success in the real world. So far, Nikola hasn't completed any commercial production for its trucks. The company is focusing on long-haul transportation, which makes the onus even heavier.

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Trevor Milton's company has been called a Tesla "wannabe."

Multiple sources have referred to Milton as a "wannabe" when it comes to Tesla and Musk. Milton likely takes offense to this since it refers to his unsuccessful attempts to achieve success. Now that Milton has been indicted on multiple counts of fraud for lying to the world about Nikola, it's pretty obvious that he won't achieve Musk's status. Whether you love Musk or hate him, this is a fact you just can't deny. After all, Milton's dramatic loss of billionaire status as Nikola shares tanked pretty much puts him out of the running.

Elon Musk's name gets dropped at SEC briefing on Trevor Milton charges

At a briefing from the SEC on Milton's fraud charges, one reporter piped in to ask a serious question. When speaking to the Director of Enforcement, the reporter asked if the SEC will be taking a hard look at Musk's claims about Tesla, too.

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This is relevant considering that the Nikola indictment is almost entirely about Milton making false claims from the start. In the past, Musk has been targeted for his tweets. Some experts even accused him of using his influence to conduct pump and dump schemes through the social media platform.

Grewal didn't mention Musk or Tesla by name in his response, but he did say that the SEC would be targeting "materially false statements," regardless of where the statements were made. The agency will especially be focusing on situations where investors were given the short end of the stick.

The Musk-Milton feud doesn't feel personal.

While Milton and Musk might not have an interpersonal issue, it seems that the two men just don't get along. More than anything, it feels like a competition between two industry forces. Both parties are familiar with courtrooms and SEC drama, so maybe they aren't so different after all.

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