NEW YORK -- Charles Gassenheimer is not your typical green-car entrepreneur. He's not a garage tinkerer or a Silicon Valley mogul.
Gassenheimer, 37, is a Wall Street hedge fund guy who became convinced that building battery packs for electric vehicles is an enormous business opportunity.
"It's the future. Everybody can see it's the future," Gassenheimer said in an interview in his Manhattan office, 25 floors above Broadway. "Everybody sees it 20 years from now."
The trick, though, is navigating the EV business today.
Gassenheimer is CEO of Ener1, a lithium ion battery maker created out of a former Delphi unit. Ener1 has been a major investor in Norwegian EV maker Think, for which it supplies battery packs, and Gassenheimer is chairman of the Think board. Both Ener1 and Think have built plants in Indiana.
But last month, Gassenheimer announced during Ener1's first-quarter earnings call that Ener1 would write off its $73.3 million in Think stock. Gassenheimer said Ener1 will take about $30 million in loans and receivables owed it by Think in equity, remaining a shareholder. He said Think is trying to recapitalize. Think did not respond to a request for comment.
Gassenheimer's office is spacious, but not lavish; a putter in the corner and open-collar shirts set the tone. A visitor notes a magazine with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on the cover, and Gassenheimer remarks that the two were at the University of Pennsylvania together, although they were two years apart.
He talks about EVs and Ener1's challenges with buoyant enthusiasm: "Energy storage can change industries like microchips did." Gassenheimer may have come out of the numbers-crunching world, but he appears to be an unusual mix: a Wall Street EV believer. He even sent a Think City EV to his mother, Linda Gassenheimer, a Miami Herald food columnist and best-selling cookbook writer.
Gassenheimer's main point is that Ener1 is more than Think's battery maker. He says that a deal to supply batteries for the Volvo C30 EV, which goes into test fleets this year; a partnership with Chinese supplier Wanxiang; heavy-duty vehicle batteries; and grid storage deals in Russia will offset the Think loss.