The rubber meets the road again—inflated sales, inflated projections charged at electric vehicle manufacturers
Is it Groundhog Day again? Haven’t we heard about this before? An electric vehicle manufacturer that went public through a SPAC transaction is charged by the SEC with fraudulently misrepresenting the status of its products, even posting a misleading video of a truck purportedly operating on hydrogen fuel when it did not. But no, it’s not Nikola Corporation (see this PubCo post). Just this past week, in the rush to beat the shutdown and fortify the SEC’s fiscal year-end statistics, Enforcement announced two settled actions against two manufacturers of electric vehicles for misleading investors. In the first case, Hyzon Motors Inc., a maker of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), was charged with misleading investors about the status of Hyzon’s products, business relationships and vehicle sales, agreeing to pay a civil penalty of $25 million. Two executive officers, also charged, agreed to pay civil penalties of $100,000, and $200,000. Not to mention a restatement to reverse revenue improperly recognized. According to a Regional Director, “[t]ransparency in the form of full, fair, and accurate disclosure is fundamental to the federal securities laws….The defendants allegedly violated this principle by misleading investors about virtually every aspect of Hyzon’s business.” [Emphasis added.] In the second case, the predecessor to Spruce Power Holding Corporation, XL Fleet, which provided fleet hybrid electrical vehicles, was alleged to have misled investors about its sales pipeline and revenue projections. As the successor, Spruce agreed to pay a civil penalty of $11 million. According to the Associate Director of Enforcement, “[i]t goes without saying that investors commonly rely on revenue projections when deciding how and where to invest, and that’s perhaps especially true for investment decisions involving early-stage companies in the SPAC market….By linking its bold revenue projections to misleading claims about the company’s historical performance, XL Fleet misled investors by inhibiting their ability to differentiate between credible facts and mere aspiration.” It’s worth noting here that, in March last year, the SEC proposed new rules regarding SPACs, including rules related to the use of projections in SEC filings “to address concerns about their reliability.” (See this PubCo post.)
Reuters is reporting—exclusively—that the SEC is contemplating issuing more guidance that would “rein in growth projections” made by listed SPACs and clarify when the PSLRA would be available to protect SPAC projections, “according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.” According to Reuters, the SEC guidance “would escalate its crackdown on the deal frenzy” in SPACs and could exacerbate the slowdown that has already occurred in reaction to the SEC’s previous guidance on SPAC warrants. For 2021 so far, Reuters, citing data from Dealogic, reported the value of de-SPAC transactions at a record $263 billion; however, SPACs raised only $2.5 billion during the first 20 days of April compared to $17 billion raised during the first 20 days of January.