By Dan Strumph
WASHINGTON — It sounds like a bright idea.
Anderson, Ind.-based startup Bright Automotive on Tuesday unveiled the IDEA, a 100-mpg plug-in hybrid electric van that it is looking to sell to fleet customers such as businesses and government agencies.
The automaker’s goal is to produce 50,000 vehicles a year starting in 2013. The ultimate outcome, it hopes, will be millions of dollars in savings in gasoline and drastically reduced emissions for fleet users.
“We are ready to provide the necessary automotive leadership our nation is calling for,” Chief Executive John Waters said in a conference call with reporters.
Waters, who developed the battery pack for General Motors Corp.’s first electric vehicle, the EV1, unveiled the IDEA on Capitol Hill in Washington. He said the company has applied for a $450 million loan from a Department of Energy program designed to help automakers develop fuel-efficient technology.
Waters hopes to begin production of the vehicle by 2012 and begin supplying to fleet customers the following year. He said the company is targeting fleet, rather than retail, customers, because fleet customers buy vehicles “on spreadsheets” in large quantities, which helps bring down the cost and eliminates the emotion present in car-buying.
“We feel there would be a rapid adaptation and adoption of vehicles in the fleet sector,” Waters said. He declined to offer an estimated price of the vehicle.
Waters said the IDEA will run on battery power alone for 30 miles. At that point, it will function like a conventional hybrid, drawing on a combination of gasoline and an electric battery to generate power. He said the 100 mpg figure is an estimate that assumes a fleet driver averages 50 miles per day.
Bright Automotive is the latest entrant in a growing field of high-tech automotive startups, many of which have placed their bets on pricey, high-end vehicles. Tesla Motors, based in Silicon Valley, sells the $109,000 Roadster electric car and recently unveiled a much cheaper sedan, the Model S. EV Innovations unveiled two new electric sports cars at the New York International Auto Show earlier this month.