By JOHN O’DELL October 3, 2011
EV battery developer Ener1, gasping for breath after the bankruptcy of its largest customer, said that longtime chairman and chief executive Charles Gassenheimer is out as part of a senior management shakeup. The lithium-ion battery company also said in a statement that it expects Gassenheimer (below) to resign from its board. Chris Cowger, recently hired as president of Ener1 and CEO of its battery-making subsidiary EnerDel, has replaced Gassenheimer as chief executive of the parent company. Before joining Ener1, Cowger had been an executive with Advanced Micro Devices. He is the son of former General Motors North America President Gary Cowger. Board of directors member and former Remy International CEO Thomas Snyder has replaced Gassenhemer as non-executive chairman. Like Cowger, Snyder spent his early career at General Motors.
The value of New York-based Ener1’s common stock has plummeted almost 95 percent in the past year and was selling at 19 cents a share on the Nasdaq exchange Monday. Under Gassenhemer the company had bet heavily on the success of Norwegian electric vehicle maker Think, whose plastic-bodied, two-seat Think City commuter car was unable to win a sustainable market share. Think struggled financially for years, and Ener1 helped pull it out of bankruptcy twice with sizeable investments. Ener1 ended up as a major Think shareholder and was forced to write off more than $73 million in Think stock as the EV maker went down for the third time earlier this year.
In a regulatory filing in August, Ener1 said that it had invested a total of $90 million in Think and additionally was owed $35 million for batteries it had supplied the company. It said that it expected to post a net loss for 2010 of more than $165 million. In September, Ener1 said it has restructured $58.5 million in debt and obtained a one-year extension of a $15 million credit line from its primary shareholder, a private financial company owned by Russian billionaire Boris Zingarevich. In addition to EV and hybrid vehicle batteries, Ener1 develops battery- based stationary electrical storage systems for solar and wind-generation power plants. Its remaining automotive clients are Volvo — which is launching a battery-electric version of its C30 small wagon for the European market — and China’s Wanxiang Electric Vehicle Co.