GM's $5M Jumpstart for Bright Automotive

General Motors and Bright Automotive have forged a new strategic relationship just two months after GM launched its venture capital branch to fund advanced transportation projects. 

Bright Automotive, spun off from Rocky Mountain Institute in 2008, now has bragging rights as the first investment of GM Ventures, LLC. The $5 million investment announced by the auto giant earlier this month couldn’t have come at a better time, providing a solid shot in the arm to drive the company’s 100-mpg plug-in hybrid electric fleet vehicle, the IDEA, into mass production.

“It's fair to say that almost every global car company is getting serious about efficiency and electrification,” said Michael Brylawski, vice president of corporate strategy at Bright Automotive. “In particular, getting funded from GM's Venture unit puts the deal in the right context. GM can invest in us as a ‘high risk/high return’ entity, and it lets us commercialize our innovative business model and vehicle concept.”

Bright Automotive's IDEADesigned as a utility van for businesses, the IDEA was originally slated for mass production by 2012, with Bright hoping to put as many as 50,000 cars on the road each year. However, the economic downturn brought challenges and uncertainty that the company could acquire the capital necessary to get the IDEA to market.

Where It All Started

Bright’s origins at Rocky Mountain Institute reveal how a new approach can breathe life into a stagnant industry. By starting with a completely fresh palette, Bright was able to create a wholly different kind of service vehicle.

Bright adopted the approach that enormous fuel savings (and therefore cost savings) could be achieved by focusing energy on the biggest gas guzzlers -- and that platform fitness and innovative design would drive down the cost of electrical components. In addition, a focus on educating consumers on the total cost of ownership of an efficient vehicle vs. a traditional vehicle gave Bright a unique segment of the market.

Bryalwski, a former vice president with RMI’s transportation practice, said making a lightweight, aerodynamic commercial truck focused on government and business customers was the right move. “If we can execute with proven technologies, we're going to offer our customers a breakthrough product that will save them money while saving a lot of carbon and oil. It's the ultimate RMI strategy.”

According to RMI Chief Scientist Amory Lovins in “Hypercars: The Next Industrial Revolution,” efficiency, environment, fuel security and affordability goals are widely assumed to be in conflict in vehicle design. But, if designers start from scratch, using a whole-systems approach to maximize platform efficiency, they could instead meet these key goals simultaneously and without compromise.

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