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Bright Automotive

Bright AutomotiveStealthy Bright Automotive gives hints about electric car launch.

Indiana-based startup plans to unveil gas-electric plug-in hybrid capable of reaching 400 miles on a tank of gas at Norway auto show in May.

Anderson, Ind.-based startup Bright Automotive is being cagey about the details of its gas-electric plug-in hybrid set to debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Norway in May.

The one-year-old company has created buzz because of its origins in the consulting organization Rocky Mountain Institute and the track record of CEO John Waters, who invented the battery pack system for General Motors’ EV1 electric vehicle, which was discontinued after three years in 1999.

Bright Vice President of Marketing Lyle Shuey told the Cleantech Group that the company has designed the vehicle from scratch, using lightweight materials, aerodynamic shapes, low-resistance tires, and highly efficient battery and drivetrain systems.

“In order to make a plug-in hybrid cost-effective, a person must look at the entire vehicle structure,” Shuey said today. “The aerodynamics, all the platform efficiencies, and the most important thing is mass. Every gram of mass increases the size and cost of the battery.”

Bright says low-resistance tires can improve fuel economy by 6 percent to 9 percent, and a 10 percent weight reduction improves fuel efficiency by 7 percent. Bright is working to replace steel with strong lightweight materials. In all, the company is seeking to reduce vehicle weight by more than half, allowing it to use smaller and less costly batteries.

Shuey said the company is still “looking at multiple battery cell technologies around the world” to power the car, which Bright says will have an electric range of 30 miles and a full range of 400 miles.

“We’ll take all the best technologies available,” he said. “We’re not tying the vehicle to any existing infrastructure or any materials.”

Shuey declined to name the target price or reveal the intended customers. But he did say that Bright expects to begin selling the vehicle in the fourth quarter of 2012 in the United States, with global markets to follow. The company has fewer than 50 employees, Shuey said.

Bright plans to manufacture the vehicle in the United States. The vehicle is planned to be classified as light-duty, a category that includes pickup trucks. Shuey ruled out the possibility of a small, two-seat passenger vehicle, such as Mercedes-Benz’s Smart car (see Electric Smart cars head to Denmark).

Bright doesn’t plan to be a vertically integrated company using all its own technology, Shuey said, declining to detail what proprietary technology the company is providing, and what is being provided by partners. However, he said the company is using its unique IP on how to control the powertrain.

“We’ll look at partners on the interior system, but we also have strong intellectual property on the interior… We’ll look at partners on the powertrain, but we have intellectual property there. We’ll work with partners in the body architecture, but we have strong expertise there,” Shuey said.

The company reportedly raised $11 million of a $17 million Series A round as of February. Investors include White Pines Partners of Boston and Duke Energy’s venture capital arm Duke Investments (see Trans-India drops $375M Solar Semiconductor bid).

The company spun out of the Rocky Mountain Institute in January 2008. The work at the institute was funded in part by companies including Google, Alcoa, Johnson Controls and the Turner Foundation. Shuey said the companies are “involved at different levels at Bright Automotive” but declined to say whether any of those companies have invested in the company.

As leader of the Breakthrough Design Group for the Rocky Mountain Institute, Bright CEO John Waters reported favorably on the debut of the electric SUV by Altairnano in 2006 (see Altair shows off all-electric SUV with nanotech batteries).

Bright has other plans that could be realized sooner than 2012. The company’s Bright Works division is creating systems for mass-production vehicle conversion, hybrid controls, and battery pack integration that Bright plans to sell to major automakers around the globe. Shuey said he expects the company to announce customers for those products in the second of third quarter of this year.

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