Hope for Bright's Plug-in Hybrid Van Depends on Government Loan

By · November 09, 2011

Plug-in Hybrid Bright IDEA

Bright announces that its plug-in hybrid IDEA van will be manufactured at the same facility that previously produced the Hummer H2.

General Motors-backed Bright Automotive announced this week it will work with Indian-based AM General to assemble its plug-in hybrid IDEA commercial-duty van. AM General is best known as the military contractor that produced the original Hummer.

Bright Automotive says it could bring the plug-in van to market as early as 2014, but that its plan are contingent on an application for a federal government loan of “less than $400 million,” according to Reuben Munger, Bright’s chairman and chief executive officer. By comparison, GM’s investment is modest—a mere $5 million contributed from the auto company’s investment arm, GM Ventures.

The IDEA plug-in van could conceivably compete against the Ford Transit Connect Electric all-electric delivery van. However, Ford will only produce about 1,000 of the Transit Connect Electrics. The Transit Connect Electric program—for all intents and purposes a short-term trial program—will be finished by the time IDEA comes to market. The Transit Connect Electric is currently being assembled in former Hummer production facilities, as well.

When we reported on Bright Automotive a year ago, the company had just received the investment from GM, but was in a similar position: fighting off bankruptcy and hoping for the DOE loan.

Given the current political climate concerning government loans for clean energy initiatives, Bright’s IDEA plug-in van may never get out of, well, the idea stage. In the wake of the bankruptcy of California solar power company Solyndra, which had a half-billion US loan guarantee, lawmakers and media have placed loans to electric carmakers Tesla and Fisker under great scrutiny. Along with Bright Automotive, the list of applicants for
funds in the Advanced Technology Vehicles (ATVM) Manufacturing Loan Program include Think, Aptera, EnerDel and Zap—companies that are either flirting with or have succumbed to bankruptcy.

In what appears to be a threat, Mike Donoughe, Bright's chief operating officer, told the Wall Street Journal that if the company doesn’t receive the loan, it will consider moving the venture to China.

If Bright Automotive doesn't survive, and Ford doesn't keep its Transit Connect Electric van alive, then small companies wanting to run their deliver fleets on clean, green and cheap electric fuel will be left without an option.

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