Battery Startup Envia Systems Brings In "Father of the EV-1"

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Robert Stempel, whose brief tenure as chairman and chief executive for General Motors (s GM) in the early nineties earned him the moniker, “father of the EV-1,” in some circles, has just joined the board of directors for battery startup Envia Systems.

Based in Hayward, Calif., early-stage Envia Systems raised a $3.2 million first round of financing in 2008 to help with development of low-cost cathode materials for vehicle batteries and other applications. By September of last year, a regulatory filing indicates Envia had raised the bulk of a $7.7 million Series B round that Envia tells us closed late last year (the startup’s backers now include Bay Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Pangaea Ventures).

In October, Envia snagged  a first-round grant under the Department of Energy’s high-risk energy tech fund, ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy). With its $4 million award, Envia co-founder and business development director Michael Sinkula has told us the company will expand its focus to include anode technology. Working in collaboration with the Argonne National Laboratory on the DOE-backed research, Envia aims to develop a prototype of a non-graphite anode for vehicle batteries.

Stempel says in a statement this morning that he looks “forward to working with Envia and lending expertise with the complex automotive market as they collaborate with the automakers, component designers and suppliers to put their technology in the cars of tomorrow.” But how many doors the longtime electric vehicle advocate will be able to open for the startup with major automakers remains to be seen.

Alex Taylor III, author of “Sixty to Zero,” a look at the downward spiral and collapse of GM and Detroit’s auto industry, has described Stempel as, “an engineer who was not equipped to run the company, especially in a tough environment like the recession in the early 90s….the board kicked Stempel out, then fell asleep for 20 years.”

According to Sinkula, however, Stempel will bring “the unique combination of background that could not be more relevant to Envia’s business – the experience of leading the world’s largest automaker,” combined with “intricate knowledge of energy storage needs” for next-gen vehicles. He told us this morning that Envia also expects Stempel to contribute from “an operational perspective,” given his experience with automotive product cycles. That knowledge “will be critical to our business as we continue to grow,” Sinkula said.

Envia isn’t the only startup working on tech for electric cars to bring a former GM exec into the fold in recent months. Earlier this year electric car developer Coda Automotive brought in a former GM marketing executive, and lithium-ion battery maker Boston-Power named to its board Robert Purcell, who worked on electric models for the automaker as head of GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Group from 1994-2002.

Images courtesy of Envia Systems

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