Battery maker looks beyond EVs for profits
Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.
David Roberts expects the lithium ion battery company that he heads to begin generating black ink late next year or by 2014 at the latest.
Amid the turmoil hitting the electric vehicle segment and its battery-pack suppliers, that kind of confidence is rare. But Roberts isn't necessarily optimistic about EVs.
Roberts is CEO of EnerDel Inc., the company that emerged from the bankruptcy of its former parent, Ener1, this year after Ener1's disastrous fling with Norwegian EV maker Think.
EnerDel's new momentum shows how an energy company can reboot itself. It also shows how cool the marketplace is to EVs -- especially those aimed at individual consumers.
"Restructuring allowed us to take a good look at who we are and what we do next," Roberts said in an interview.
The result? The Indianapolis company has de-emphasized light vehicles in favor of grid storage, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and home energy storage.
It's winning customers as far-flung -- and varied -- as Russian utility companies, Japanese convenience store owners wary of another earthquake, and the Alameda County, Calif., transit authority, which uses EnerDel batteries to store electricity in fuel-cell buses.
"In all candor, we flipped our strategic approach to the markets," Roberts says.
Under former CEO Charles Gassenheimer, Ener1 took a big stake in Think -- and followed the tiny automaker into trouble. Today, Roberts says, EnerDel does no business with Think.
EnerDel won an order to supply lithium ion battery packs for the EV version of the Volvo C30, continuing a supplier relationship that began in 2009.
"We'd love to have 10 more like that," Roberts says.
But he adds that EnerDel feels that it's unrealistic to expect strong EV sales in the next few years: "We're looking at it. But it's not something that we're penciling in good revenues for right now."
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