The mysterious story of the battery startup that promised GM a 200-mile electric car
December 19, 2013
by Steve LeVine
At the end of November 2012, Atul Kapadia and Sujeet Kumar hosted the staff of their startup company for a holiday lunch of Mexican food at a Palo Alto, California restaurant. For days, the pair—the CEO and CTO, respectively, of a lithium-ion battery company called Envia Systems—had awaited an email from General Motors.
It was to contain a deal rare to an industry newcomer—a contract worth tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to provide the electric central nervous system for two showcase GM models including the next-generation Chevy Volt. Untested small suppliers almost never get in the door of the world’s major automakers, which regard them as too risky to rely on. But GM was won over by what seemed to be the world’s best lithium-ion battery—a cell that, if all went well, would catapult the company to a commanding position in the industry with a middle-class electric car that traveled 200 miles on a single charge and rid motorists of the “range anxiety” that disquieted them about such vehicles.
A year later, the deal is in tatters, GM has accused Envia of misrepresenting its technology, and a document suggests why the carmaker may be right. The startup’s unraveling is a blow for GM as it transitions to a new regime next month under CEO-designate Mary Barra, setting back its ambitions in the potentially gigantic future electric-car industry. It also risks making Envia, the recipient of several small federal grants, another punching bag for critics of US government funding of advanced battery companies.
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