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Skeptics Doubt That An Ohio Company Can Bring Electric Truck To Market

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you grew up in the Midwest, as I did, it is natural to have sympathy for the story of Lordstown Motors. Lordstown, Ohio, is the site of an enormous General Motors plant. I drove around it once, and it was a journey of miles. The changing auto industry punished that community and cost thousands of jobs over time. Then, GM stopped production entirely a couple of years ago. But a new company, Lordstown Motors, took over that same plant, hoping to revive the community and seize a piece of the future by producing electric vehicles. Now the company is struggling, as NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Lordstown Motors wanted to bring the very first electric pickup to market, using unproven technology to conquer a huge chunk of the work truck market. When founder Steve Burns spoke to NPR a year and a half ago, he said his ambitions were big but achievable.

STEVE BURNS: Everybody loves a moonshot, and we are a moonshot, but we've been in orbit at least, right?

DOMONOSKE: Now that moon is looking pretty far away. And if Lordstown does make it, Burns won't be on board. The founder and CEO resigned this week after a whole string of bad news. A short seller had already accused Lordstown of fraud. Then, the company said it needs more cash. It warned it could go bankrupt in a year, and it admitted some preorders were exaggerated. Meanwhile, Ford unveiled an electric truck that will directly compete with Lordstown's pickup.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The fully electric F-150 Lightning.

DOMONOSKE: And it's cheaper. Lordstown insists it's still on track. Executive Chairwoman Angela Strand spoke to the Automotive Press Association on Tuesday.

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ANGELA STRAND: What's not changing is our plan to start limited production in late September. It's a new day at Lordstown, and there are no disruptions and will be no disruptions to our day-to-day operations.

DOMONOSKE: But the CEO's departure was disruptive or at least abrupt.

JAIME PEREZ: You know, here's the door. Get out the door.

DOMONOSKE: Jaime Perez is an analyst with the brokerage R.F. Lafferty. He used to be optimistic about Lordstown, but now...

PEREZ: You have to have a little caution.

DOMONOSKE: For a while, electric vehicle startups were greeted with cash, not with caution. Wall Street loved them, hoping every company would be the next Tesla. But it's really hard to make vehicles. And these new companies have to compete with Tesla and with auto giants like Ford and GM, who are also going electric. So pressure is growing on all electric vehicle startups. Nikola swapped CEOs and canceled its pickup. Canoo swapped CEOs and scrapped its whole business model. Plenty of other startups have delayed their launches. Jaime Perez again.

PEREZ: The next couple of years, the industry is going to start shaking the weak players out, and the market now may look drastically different from the market in a year or two.

DOMONOSKE: So will Lordstown land on the top of the heap or not? For investors, there's money on the line. For Ohio's Mahoning Valley, it's more than that. The region was devastated when GM shut down the Lordstown plant. Then, this electric startup came in and literally named itself after the factory. It promised to bring new jobs and new energy, and people really wanted it to work out. Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill says after this string of bad news...

ARNO HILL: We're holding our breath, waiting to see what happens and hoping for the best.

DOMONOSKE: Some investors and analysts are bracing for the worst. Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAVES OF STEEL'S "KEEP PAINTING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.