PHOTOS: Bright Automotive Unveils 100MPG Plug-In Fleet Vehicle

We can’t say it’s terribly slick, but Bright Automotive’s first concept vehicle — unveiled this morning at an event in Washington, D.C. — could do the job for commercial and government fleets. That’s where the startup envisions its plug-in hybrid model making inroads in less than five years. Bright, a spinoff from the not-for-profit think tank and consulting firm Rocky Mountain Institute that’s run by the former chief of General Motors’ EV-1 project, reiterated its plans today to make 50,000 “IDEA” vehicles per year by 2013.

When 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 for the Indiana-based startup to have pulled back the sheets closer to home. Today’s event in DC, scheduled to have members of Congress and White House officials in attendance, gives Bright a platform to make its case for government funds. Waters told us that the startup 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 gave some details about the car itself, designed specifically for public and private fleets, which buy about 500,000 vehicles per year, in a call with reporters this morning: The 3,200-pound IDEA (the Rocky Mountain Institute emphasizes making vehicles lighter as a way to improve efficiency) will have a 30-mile all-electric range, according to a release from the company today. When the battery runs out, it’s supposed to function like other hybrids. According to Bright, 50 miles of city driving would take half a gallon of gas. Double that, and you’d get 100 MPG, but the car is actually less efficient for longer trips (when it can rely less on battery power). The company says driving 70 miles would take a full gallon — still a big leap from the efficiency of traditional vehicles if Bright can take its concept into production.

Waters declined to offer a base price estimate, saying it would give consumers “the wrong idea” about the relative cost of the vehicle, since fleet operators consider the overall cost (they “buy on a spreadsheet”) and would stand to save up to $3 million per year on fuel costs. “There is no question that we are ambitious with our goals,” Waters said. Nonetheless, he said “we think the future is very, very bright.”

Photos courtesy Bright Automotive