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There’s no pleasure in Ener1’s troubles, but there is a lesson: Better to leave commercial financing decisions to private investors and bankers who are likely to take more care with their own money. Politicians write the press releases first and worry about the taxpayer losses later.

“After the disaster, the perception of electric cars is changing,” said Osamu Masuko, President of Mitsubishi Motors Corp., speaking at a panel discussion at IT trade show CEATEC Tuesday. His company provided 89 of its i-MiEV small electric cars to the Tohoku region, severely hit by the earthquake and tsunami in March, upon hearing that electric vehicles were in demand.

Mr. Masuko said at first he wondered exactly what help the i-MiEV, designed a small city commuter vehicle, could be in the devastated northeastern areas. However, he soon realized that many roads needed for trucks to refuel gasoline stations were blocked or damaged. But with power supplies restored relatively quickly, the electric vehicles were of great use to hospitals and local governments. “I think many people realized how important electricity is after the disasters,” Mr. Masuko said.

Ener1 attributed its financial restatement to the bankruptcy earlier this year of Norwegian electric car maker Think, in which Ener1 had invested, and with which it had signed a contract to supply batteries. Think had a long history of financial troubles and was hardly a safe investment.

Then again, Ener1 had to rely almost exclusively on Think after it lost its bid to supply batteries to Fisker Automotive, a battery-powered car maker which received a $529 million U.S. taxpayer-backed federal loan guarantee in 2010. Fisker chose to buy its batteries from a company called A123 Systems, itself the recipient of a $249 million U.S. Department of Energy grant (announced at the same time as Ener1’s grant).

“The Spark EV offers customers living in urban areas who have predictable driving patterns or short commutes an all-electric option,” said Jim Federico, Chevrolet’s global vehicle chief engineer for electric vehicles. He said the coming car will complements the company’s growing range of extended-range electric and traditional hybrid vehicles.

But the March 11 disasters also exposed some troubling issues for the electric car industry. The nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has seriously curtailed production of power using a technology that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and, according to supporters at least, producers power more cheaply than by other means.

If as a result of the nuclear crisis Japan turns toward greater use of traditional thermal power plants to generate electricity, such as coal-fired stations, the net result is that electric cars may not be as green and inexpensive as previously perceived.

Still, both executives at the CEATEC panel shrugged off that view. The disasters made “all the people in Japan think about” future energy policy, Mr. Shiga said. That will increase demand for clean, renewable energy in the future, he said, and along with it electric cars will be able to help. “For instance, wind power can’t always generate the same quantity of electricity” as other methods, Mr. Masuko said. And in such cases, batteries in electric vehicles can be used as storage systems to enable stable power supply, he said.

Following on Solyndra’s great success comes Ener1 Inc., a lithium-ion battery maker also promoted by the White House. President Obama gave the company’s subsidiary, EnerDel, a shout out in August 2009, in a speech in which he announced $2.4 billion in grants “to develop the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks powered by the next generation of battery technologies.”

The move marks a sharpening of parent company General Motors Co.’s turn toward electric vehicles as a way to tap into the growing urban-mobility market. As populations grow in certain cities, small electric cars begin to look more practical compared with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Other makers from BMW to Nissan and Honda have also been developing cars to suit densely populated urban areas.

The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau began ordering temporary plant closures last month after routine back-to-school medical tests determined unhealthy levels of lead in the bloodstream of a small number of youngsters—and sparked a local outcry.

Mr. Masuko said at first he wondered exactly what help the i-MiEV, designed a small city commuter vehicle, could be in the devastated northeastern areas. However, he soon realized that many roads needed for trucks to refuel gasoline stations were blocked or damaged. But with power supplies restored relatively quickly, the electric vehicles were of great use to hospitals and local governments. “I think many people realized how important electricity is after the disasters,” Mr. Masuko said.

The Japanese electronics giant originally planned to invest a total of ¥100 billion ($1.31 billion) in two stages in the Suminoe plant in Osaka, western Japan, which makes lithium-ion batteries for use in consumer electronics.

GM has sold 5,003 Volts through October. The car is powered by a lithium ion battery and has an electric motor onboard to power the vehicle when the charge runs low. Lithium ion batteries are used in the Volt and all-electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster.

Buyers of the Renault Fluence Z.E. will have the option of leasing a battery —instead of buying one with the car—as part of a monthly service agreement with Better Place. For a set monthly fee, drivers will be covered for whatever it costs them to charge their vehicle at home and will be able to swap out depleted batteries at a network of robot-operated service stations. The fee in Denmark, where the program will start, will range from €199 to €399 ($265 to $530) a month.

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