Life After Fisker: What's Next for EnerDel?

Not too long ago, EnerDel seemed mighty close to winning the contract to supply batteries for Fisker Automotive’s upcoming plug-in hybrid Karma. After several months of talks between the companies, EnerDel told us it had entered the in-vehicle testing phase, or what it described as “just another step to getting electric vehicles on the road powered by EnerDel batteries.”

Well, this week we learned that EnerDel batteries won’t be on the road in the Karma after all — EnerDel has broken off talks with Fisker, which is now partnering with battery maker A123Systems (s AONE). So what does EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1 (s HEV), have cooking now?

Ener1 has announced a number of deals in recent months, including R&D work with Nissan (s NSANY); an expanded partnership with backer Itochu Corp.; a smart grid/smart charging demo project with Itochu, Mazda and others; and the use of EnerDel batteries in demo versions of Volvo’s C30 electric car. And then there’s the pending request for government loans and the great Norwegian hope, car maker Think. EnerDel has a $70 million supply agreement with Think and holds a 31 percent stake in the firm.

But while Think has dreams of building out U.S. manufacturing and launching its Think City in North America as early as this year, whether that plan comes through, and in what form, will depend in part on how the feds allocate a shrinking pile of funds for green car manufacturing.

EnerDel, too, hopes to win government funds to help it expand manufacturing capacity. Ener1 CEO Charles Gassenheimer said in a November earnings call that he expected to announce federal loans “before the end of the year,” but such an announcement has yet to materialize.

In the meantime, Gassenheimer this week told Reuters, “We have some capacity constraints on our side.” The company currently has two facilities in Indiana (a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis and an assembly plant in Noblesville), and earlier this month it scaled back plans to for a new manufacturing facility in the state.

According to Gassenheimer, however, EnerDel plans to pursue higher-volume supply deals than the Fisker Karma project — it’s gunning for the big guys and seems confident it will get the capacity soon enough to meet their demand. While the existing relationships with Mazda and Volvo hardly give EnerDel a lock on future deals with major automakers down the road, they could help pave the way to larger projects.

Even a future deal with Fisker remains a possibility. Ener1 said in its SEC filing this week (informing shareholders that the Fisker talks had ended) that both parties “remain open to exploring possibilities” for working together on “other potential Fisker programs.”

While the Karma represents a relatively low-volume project, as Gassenheimer noted to Reuters, Fisker’s second-gen model is targeted for mass production (the type of project EnerDel has in its sights). A123Systems will collaborate with Fisker on battery systems for this so-called Project Nina sedan under the agreement announced Thursday, but other suppliers may be considered, a Fisker spokesperson told us.

We reached out to EnerDel asking what it sees as the most promising opportunities to pursue now that the Fisker deal is off. Wait until next week, a spokesperson said — that’s when EnerDel will lay out the road map (part of it, anyway) at a press event with Volvo in Indiana.