General Motors has made its first investment of $5 million through its newly formed GM Ventures, the automaker’s venture capital group. The winner is Bright Automotive, Anderson, Ind., an electric-vehicle company developing a plug-in hybrid van that will boast a fuel efficiency of up to 100 mpg. Named the IDEA, the van is designed specifically as a fleet vehicle for government and business, with input from large fleet operators such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Cox Cable, and Duke Energy.
The IDEA will run on batteries during the first 40 miles and then switch over to standard hybrid operation, getting around 36 mpg. Aluminum and composites and an aerodynamic shape also improve fuel efficiency. So far, Bright Automotive has developed a prototype version of the IDEA with a fully functioning plug-in hybrid drivetrain. The company also has developed hardware prototypes for the Dept. of Defense, U.S. Postal Service, and Duke Energy.
Bright has designed what it calls a “parallel road-coupled architecture” that combines a gasoline engine on the front axle and an all-electric drivetrain on the rear axle, linked together by proprietary controls software. The company is partnering with both General Motors and Bosch on the technologies in the drive system, though details are being kept under wraps.
The company is in the process of choosing a manufacturing site. As for employees, several hundred engineers will be developing the IDEA through to vehicle launch, between Bright and its engineering partners. Once in production, more than 1,000 people will be involved on the manufacturing side, according to company officials.
Bright is now working with both the DOE and private entities to fully fund development, including seeking a loan from the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program. The company says it expects to ramp up development within the next few quarters, but is not yet committing to a launch date.