Ener1 Inc., the battery firm charged with supplying battery packs to the ill-fated Think electric car company and parent company of EnerDel -- a $118.5 million U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee recipient -- was officially delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange yesterday after it failed to file its latest financials on a timely basis. 

The latest draining blow comes just days after its Chief Accounting Officer Melissa Debes resigned, and just a month after its longtime CEO and director of the Board of Directors, Charles Gassenheimer, also left the company. 

In the politically-charged months heading up to the 2012 Presidential Election, many will use Ener1’s latest failure as further reason to end the Department of Energy advanced technology loans and the career of Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu, but who is really to blame for the failure of a company [NASDAQ:HEV] which two years ago commanded a share price of $7.15?

Assembly of Think City electric cars, Elkhart, Indiana, Jan 2011

Assembly of Think City electric cars, Elkhart, Indiana, Jan 2011

Think Thunk

Although Ener1 suffered some setbacks throughout 2010 thanks to tough competition from battery companies in Asia, as well as suffering a gradual drop in share price throughout 2010, its biggest troubles started courtesy of the doomed Norwegian Electric Automaker, Think. 

Earlier this year, continuing delays at Think forced Ener1 to write off $73.3 million in losses and accounts receivable, causing the firm to re-think its relationship with the automaker. 

Worse still, Think had sold shares to Ener1, resulting in the battery firm owning 48 percent of a company it relied on for business. 

As a consequence, and even after handing back shares in Think, Ener1 reported a net loss of $84.71 million in the first quarter of 2011. On top of its 2010 losses of $165.32 million, Ener1’s future looked bleak.

When Think finally declared bankruptcy for the third time in its life this June, any remaining life left in Ener1 seemed to drain away, with Ener1’s share price almost halving in one single day during August. 

It Isn’t the Loans, but the auditing process

These days, it is impossible to discuss Ener1 without discussing the $118.5 million in loan guarantees its parent company, EnerDel received from the U.S. government. 

But while Ener1 looks to be heading the way of Solyndra -- another DoE loan recipient which filed for bankruptcy protection after struggling to raise private financing -- the DoE loans shouldn’t be judged on its failures. 

While there are several firms struggling to survive despite federal stimulus, firms like luxury electric automaker Tesla [NASAQ:TSLA] and automotive parts company John Controls Inc., [JCI:US] are examples of current DoE success stories, ones for whom the stimulus money looks to be helping bring electric and plug-in electric vehicles to market.

At the moment however, it is failures,  not successes which grab the headlines, and ones which perhaps could have been prevented with a little more in-depth due diligence into the inter-company relationships of loan applicants, along with a more astute analysis of potential points of failure.

We also need to remember that sometimes, bad things happen in business, regardless of checks and balances in place. Simply put, it is sometimes down to bad luck. 

As for Ener1? It is continuing trading on Pink Sheets since its delisting from the Nasdaq, and has been told that in order to receive the remanding $63 million in DoE loans it must match any remaining U.S. funding dollar-for-dollar. 

Are we on death watch for Ener1? And whose fault is it the company has suffered such a dramatic change of fortunes? 

Tell us in the Comments below.


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