EnerDel May Supply Batteries for Fisker Karma — What Happened to ALP?

Updated with comments from Fisker Automotive: Rumors circulated for months last year that plug-in hybrid car startup Fisker Automotive would tap Advanced Lithium Power to make the batteries for its first vehicle, the $87,900 Fisker Karma. The relationship proved even tighter than expected in March when Fisker not only picked ALP to supply its batteries, but also took a partial stake in the Canadian company “in order to secure an exclusive supply of battery technology,” Fisker spokesperson Russell Datz told us earlier this year, when Fisker raised money for the investment. But this morning Ener1 (s HEV) subsidiary EnerDel says it has signed a letter of intent with the automaker “for a potential long-term battery supply agreement” for the Karma (it has to hit certain performance benchmarks for the deal to be finalized). What gives?

According to EnerDel spokesperson Gordie Hanrahan, “Both Fisker and EnerDel remain open to working with other companies,” so EnerDel didn’t necessarily steal the deal away from ALP. At this point EnerDel is gearing up for in-vehicle testing. “The performance benchmarks we’re looking at are all pretty standard automotive safety and performance testing marks,” Hanrahan said. “They need to put EnerDel’s batteries in the cars and run some final in-vehicle tests to make sure everything checks out.” Today’s deal comes as the result of several months of discussion, Hanrahan tells us, and “the in-vehicle testing phase is just another step to getting electric vehicles on the road powered by EnerDel batteries.”

Fisker plans to make its first production models by year’s end, and enter full-scale production — about 1,200 cars per month — by June 2010. So ALP and EnerDel have less than a year to get manufacturing of 22.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs ramped up. EnerDel, one of the battery suppliers tapped for the electric City car from Norway’s struggling Think Global, is launching a new commercial-scale production line of automotive lithium-ion batteries at its factory in Indiana today.

Meanwhile five-year-old ALP, which had backing from Fisker affiliate Quantum Technologies (s QTWW) before Fisker took a stake, said in 2007 that it was developing lithium-ion battery packs as part of a joint venture with Quantum and an unnamed “leading Chinese automaker,” and that it would supply batteries for a fleet of Ford (s F) Escape Hybrids converted to plug-ins for a demo project in Southern California. Deals have been scarce for the company over the last two years. We’ve also reached out to Fisker and ALP and will update this post when we hear back. Update: Fisker’s Datz tells us, “We will continue to work with ALP but we are always on the lookout for new technology, especially with the government poised to finance it.” He said the Karma’s June 2010 deliveries will not be delayed if Fisker cannot “reach an agreement with EnerDel.”

“From the start Fisker Automotive has been working with ALP to create the best Lithium ion battery for automotive applications,” CEO Henrik Fisker said in a release about his company’s stake in the battery maker this March. “Now we have a vested interest.” We’re curious to see how that interest is playing out.