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GM invests in Bright's plug-in, hybrid van

August 4, 2010

General Motors Co. announced a partnership today with Indiana-based Bright Automotive Inc. aimed at spurring production of a plug-in hybrid van.

GM will invest $5 million for a minority stake in the company, while Bright gains access to GM's engine and transmission technology for its IDEA van.

"This relationship is an important step forward for Bright and a strong endorsement of our highly experienced automotive team and our incredible vehicle," Bright Chairman and CEO Reuben Munger said in a statement. "With this deal, Bright gets financial support that puts us on the fast-track toward mass production of the IDEA. And perhaps just as importantly, we gain a strategic partner that is a world leader in electrification."
After a splashy unveiling of the IDEA in Washington, D.C., last year, Bright planned to get it on the market by 2012, but the economic slowdown and a failure to secure federal grants slowed the plan. The company, a spinoff of the Rocky Mountain Institute, missed out on Department of Energy grants worth $17 million and $18 million and was forced to slash staffing from 31 to 22.

Bright is still in contention for a $450 million low-interest loan from DOE's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. Munger told reporters today he hoped the GM partnership would help his company's chances.

Bright also has its own "revenue-generating business," distributing vehicles and sharing battery expertise, he said.

John Lauckner, the president of GM Ventures, said his company's investment would not only help GM accelerate the introduction of lightweight commercial trucks but also spur more investment in Bright.

The IDEA van, which is geared toward commercial fleets, also provides GM an alternative to Ford's Transit Connect Electric, an all-electric light-duty van that is targeting a similar market. GM will enter the passenger electric vehicle market with the launch of the Chevy Volt later this year.

IDEA will get about 38 miles on an electric battery before switching to a hybrid engine with the capacity to go 100 miles on a gallon of gas, the company said. IDEA, which is known for its unusual curved design, will be marketed to business fleets for use by delivery companies, utilities and repairmen.

Bright had previously discussed the van with a number of potential customers, including Frito-Lay and Duke Energy Corp., and Munger said discussions with those customers were continuing. The company also has contracts with the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Defense.

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