Ener1 Files for Bankruptcy; Will Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels Get Thrown Under the Electric Bus?

By · January 27, 2012

Mitch Daniels and the Think electric car

In Dec. 2010, Gov. Mitch Daniels today accepted delivery of 15 Think City all-electric vehicles to be used in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources properties.

Ener1, parent company of Indianapolis-based electric car battery manufacturer EnerDel, today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today after defaulting on bond debt. Conservative politicians and pundits were quick to characterize EnerDel as the next Solyndra, and attack the Obama administration for supporting losing clean technologies—as they’ve done with Tesla Motors, Fisker Automotive, and General Motors for support of the Chevy Volt.

Florida Republican Representative Cliff Stearns, who has been leading the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s probe into the Department of Energy following the Solyndra bankruptcy in September 2011, said, “Unfortunately, you can now add Ener1 to the growing list of failed companies that went belly up after hundreds of millions of dollars in administration backing.”

But if Republicans continue along this path, they’ll need to throw Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels—who gave the rebuttal to President Obama’s state of the union speech earlier this week—under the electric bus.

Appearing in January 2010 at an event to promote EnerDel’s $237 million battery plant expansion, Daniels said, “I've always been an internal combustion guy, but I have been converted in every way to electric vehicles. They drive great, by the way." The Governor added that he believed, "Indiana can be the capitol of this new industry."

In court bankruptcy papers filed today in Manhattan, Ener1 listed assets of $73.9 million and debt of $90.5 million. Ener1 chief executive officer, Alex Sorokin, claims that heavy competition from battery manufacturers in China and South Korea have made it difficult to turn a profit while operating in the US. Sorokin says that lower labor and raw material costs abroad have led to reduced lithium-ion battery manufacturing costs, which in turn makes it difficult for a US-based battery maker to compete with foreign firms.

Mitch Daniels and the Think electric car

Gov. Mitch Daniels takes the Think electric car for a spin.

EnerDel has been championed as a rare domestic company producing lithium-ion electric car batteries in the United States—and thereby a creator new clean-tech jobs.

At a Dec. 19, 2010 ceremony to accept delivery of 15 Think City all-electric vehicles to be used in Indiana Department of Natural Resources properties, Gov. Daniels said, “Nearly four years ago we set the goal of establishing our state as the ‘Silicon Valley’ for advanced vehicle manufacturing and have attracted top industry leaders, including Think and Ener1, and now we’re seeing the fruits of this initiative.” At the time, Governor Daniels reiterated his commitment to making Indiana a leader in the use of electric cars in state fleets. “We call upon other states to join in and help get this vitally important industry off the ground to make electric cars available for everyone.”

Of the $118-million US Department of Energy grant awarded to EnerDel, the company already received and spent $55 million. Under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package, the DOE awarded grants to spur the plug-in vehicle industry in the United States. Public support of Ener1 actualy began under the administration of George W. Bush, which awarded a $6.5 million Energy Department advanced-battery grant and a $4 million Defense Department research and development to the company. Those grant applications received bipartisan support from Indiana lawmakers.

Ener1 was credited as the savior of the struggling Think City electric car, which the company invested in with the idea of bringing production to Indiana. In August 2011, Ener1 changed course and pointed to Think as a financial drain. EnerDel additionally has commercial and strategic partnerships with Volvo, Nissan and Mazda, and is supplying batteries for a prototype hybrid version of the Humvee being tested by the US Army.

Ener1 expects to complete the restructuring process in approximately 45 days. Chapter 11 filing will reduce Ener1's existing debt and allow it to continue to operate it subsidiaries, including EnerDel.

"While it’s unfortunate that Ener1, the parent company, has entered a restructuring process, [the investment of] private capital demonstrates that the technology has merit,” said Jen Stutsman, a Department of Energy spokeswoman. “The restructuring is not expected to impact EnerDel’s operations and the company has made clear that they do not expect to reduce employment at the site."

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