It was a tough year for those who hoped electric vehicles would ramp up production in 2010. As vehicle delays hit manufacturers, battery makers were struck especially hard by the lack of demand for their products. This week the first battery maker to report fourth quarter earnings will give us some insight into how 2011 is shaping up.

Valence Technology (Nasdaq: VLNC) leads off reporting on how fast commercial vehicle sales are picking up. Valence will likely report the closest thing to a profit we will see from North American battery makers. Overall here are some of the highlights I'm looking for from the industry.

  • Electric vehicle launch schedules: A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE) in particular has been hurt by delays in electric vehicles, so we need to hear if the company still expects the second quarter to be an inflection point. Further delays only increase the chances battery makers will have to return to the market for more cash.
  • How are Advanced Battery Technologies (Nasdaq: ABAT) expansion plans going? After a dilutive stock offering, shares have suffered and investors need to see growth before they get kick-started again.
  • How fast will commercial vehicles ramp up production at each company? Valence has a head start with Smith Electric, but Ener1 (Nasdaq: HEV) and A123 Systems could catch up with Hyundai and Navistar, among other partners.
  • Maybe most importantly, we need to hear an update about how grid projects are going. A123 and Ener1 are pushing their grid solutions. As systems are installed and tested we should start to see momentum in this area.

A123 Systems and Ener1 have high hopes for the future but are likely to report disappointing earnings again as partnerships are slow to move into production. We're starting to see the companies emphasize their diversity of customers instead of pushing electric vehicles as their golden goose, so progress in those areas are key.

Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) helped take the wind out of the auto hopes for battery maker by not only snubbing the industry on contracts for its one successful product, the Roadster, but also by forgoing their batteries for the future production of its new Model S, and winning a contract on the electric version of the Toyota Rav 4. Ford and GM didn't help either A123 or Ener1 either. The companies selected LG Chem subsidiary Compact Power in their Focus Electric and Chevy Volt models. This left Ener1 and A123 to wait for the second generation of electric vehicles.

Battery makers need to take a little of that momentum back by showing progress in commercial vehicles and grid applications. We'll find out soon if they can do it.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

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