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Summary:

The way Bright Automotive CEO John Waters tells it, General Motors forgot any lessons learned from its first foray into electric vehicles. Waters, who headed up design for GM’s initial EV-1 project, is skeptical that a hulking steel platform like GM’s Chevy Volt can be economical. […]

bright-auto-logoThe way Bright Automotive CEO John Waters tells it, General Motors forgot any lessons learned from its first foray into electric vehicles. Waters, who headed up design for GM’s initial EV-1 project, is skeptical that a hulking steel platform like GM’s Chevy Volt can be economical. Instead, he tells us, if you want to make a plug-in for the mass market at decent profit margins, you need to design around a smaller, lighter (read: less costly) battery pack.

That’s the tack Waters has taken with Bright Automotive’s first vehicle: a lightweight, aerodynamic plug-in hybrid. The Indiana-based startup was spun out of the not-for-profit think tank and consulting firm Rocky Mountain Institute a little over a year ago. Founded by Amory Lovins, RMI is famously committed to the idea of “lightweighting” vehicles to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption.

bright-auto-waters“We’re not limited by leveraging steel relationships,” Waters said, contrasting Bright’s “clean sheet” approach with GM’s longstanding ties to the steel industry. As a startup, he added, “agility allows us to tap into complete, solid business models and physics.”

At this stage, however, Bright remains long on vision and short on details. What we do know is that Bright’s first prototype car, said to have a 30-mile all-electric range and 400-mile extended range with a small gas engine, is slated to debut this May at Norway’s Electric Vehicle Symposium. It’s also clear that the company faces some serious financial hurdles before moving into production.

According to Waters, the company now needs to secure $400 million in Department of Energy loans or raise capital from private equity markets ($400 million over three years) before June 1 in order to reach its targeted U.S. rollout in the fourth quarter of 2012. Waters said Bright had been “well on its way” to raising enough capital last fall when the economy and credit markets seized up.

The $400 million prize, requested under the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, is what Waters calls the price of a “car company in a box” and Bright would use the funds for additional development of the vehicle as well as setting up manufacturing. It’s around the same amount requested by electric car startup Tesla Motors, which also says it would use the government funds to set up manufacturing for a mass-market model.

If all goes well for Bright with financing (a very big if in this economy), Waters expects to scale production up to 50,000 vehicles per year by the end of 2013. At that rate, and assuming fuel prices go back up (bolstering demand and justifying higher price tags), Waters said Bright could achieve profitability in the first year of production and repay loans within the next five years. Initially, the car will not be available to consumers (commercial or municipal fleets are more likely entry markets).

Bright is in talks with a number of potential battery suppliers in the U.S., Asia and Europe — mostly big, more established players, said Waters, a former VP of business development for the lithium-ion battery maker EnerDel. Asked if the company might consider working with a fellow startup, Waters said, “We’re talking with some that are in the wings, unknown, but realistically they won’t be able to meet our timeline.”

Photo courtesy Bright Automotive

  1. Will be interesting to watch this company; clearly they’re on a different path than Telsa and others like them. Coming out of RMI, they’ve got great people backing them.

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  2. kerry bradshaw Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    RMI, of wence Waters comes, is well known as a phoney pseudo scientific organization. It’s ‘Chief scientist” (they never bother to mention which scientific discipline he pretends to represent) is a bozo named Lovins, who publishes very unscientific
    types of rants against nuclear power and in favor of wind. His arguments are pretty embarrassing and can be amusing because of the irrelevance and obsolescence of most of their claims. With the world embarked on the planning/building stages for almost 400 nuclear plants, Lovins has apparently moved on to greener pastures, hawking that really crappy alternative energy called wind, 5 times more expensive, when properly costed by NOT using invalid “rated capacities” as a metric and NOT forgetting that nuclear plants last three to four
    times longer than soalr panels or windmills. And produce reliable (even peak load) power, easilly worth two to three times more than intermittant and unreliable power from solar PV/wind.
    So now we have someone who claims that GM “forgot” how to build an electric (this is all part of the technique for grabbing venture capital – show that the surefire technology (the Volt) is crappy compared to mine. Unfortunately, when Waters speaks of the reasons for his advantage he makes several absurd claims – one, that GM forgot what it learned with the EV-1 and then talks about HOW HEAVY the Volt is , which he claims signifies “inefficiency.” We all know from GM redesign of the Volt for aero effects (which , for some reason, Waters apparently is unaware) that weight in an EV don’t reallymean much – aero effects and tire rolling resistence (which the Volt reduced via design by a tire manufacturer) are more important than weight. You see, an EV (like a hybrid) can recover almost all that energy that is required to get that weighty car up to speed. So weight isn’t the factor here as it is in a regular gas car. Apparently GM isn’t the only one who forgot a lot of what they once knew.

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  3. [...] we spoke with Bright CEO John Waters last month, the IDEA was slated to debut at Norway’s Electric Vehicle Symposium in May. But it makes sense [...]

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  4. [...] and government fleets in less than five years. Bright CEO John Waters told us in March that the company needs to secure $400 million in Department of Energy loans or raise capital from private equity markets ($400 million over three [...]

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