Nikola chairman, VectoIQ CEO Steve Girsky eyes his next transportation investment

Steve Girsky, the former GM vice chairman, consultant and investor whose special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merged with hydrogen electric startup Nikola this summer, is in talks to back self-driving trucks startup TuSimple, according to four people familiar with the deal.

The capital would come from Girsky’s VectoIQ LLC, a consulting and investment company he runs with managing partner Mary Chan, and would be part of a consortium of investors, according to one unnamed source who requested anonymity because the deal had yet to be finalized. The deal could close as early as mid-October.

TuSimple as well as Girsky declined to comment.

It’s no secret that TuSimple has been seeking new capital. TechCrunch reported in June that TuSimple was in search of $250 million in fresh capital from investors. The company hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise funds, according to multiple sources familiar with the effort. Since then, TuSimple, which already has backing from Sina, UPS and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corp., has announced a partnership with Navistar and most recently, the Traton Group.

Girsky has most recently captured headlines because of Nikola, where he is now the executive chairman. Girsky took over as chairman in September after Nikola’s founder, Trevor Milton, stepped down following fallout from a scathing report by short-seller firm Hindenburg Research that accused the company of fraud. VectoIQ Acquisition Corp., the SPAC that Girsky formed in 2018, announced a merger with Nikola in March, and Girsky oversaw its public listing this past June. He shepherded an introduction between Nikola and his former boss, GM CEO and chairwoman Mary Barra, according to one source familiar with the deal. By mid-September the automaker had announced a partnership valued at $2 billion with Nikola.

Girsky may be Nikola’s new chairman and certainly has executive experience, but his focus in recent years has been as an advisor, investor and matchmaker. Girsky has long had an interest in mobility-related companies. His firm VectoIQ LLC specializes in advising companies and connecting large companies with startups working on autonomous vehicle technology, electrification, connected, cybersecurity and mobility-as-a-service.

VectoIQ invested in lidar startup Luminar, which recently announced it was going public through a SPAC merger with Gores Metropoulos Inc., at a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion. Girsky also sat on the board of autonomous vehicle startup, which was acquired by Apple as the company prepared to shut down.

Girsky’s investment in TuSimple is separate from his interests in Nikola, which has yet to begin production of its Class 8 trucks, according to sources.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in China, San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, is focused on the autonomous vehicle technology stack that will allow Class 8 trucks to operate without a human driver. TuSimple operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S. that are used for testing and to carry freight between Arizona and Texas.

TuSimple announced in July plans to develop and begin producing autonomous semi trucks by 2024 in partnership with Navistar. In September, Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business Traton Group said it took a minority stake in TuSimple as part of an agreement between the two companies to develop self-driving trucks. Neither company disclosed the financial terms of the partnership or the percentage of the minority stake. Traton did make a direct capital investment into TuSimple, according to one unnamed source familiar with the deal. It’s unclear if it also included in-kind contributions.