Echo Automotive Fails: Bolt-On Plug-In Hybrid Kits Used Bright Technology

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Starting a company is tough; starting a company in the green automotive field may be even tougher.

So it seemed like the engineering team from defunct startup Bright Automotive, once granted investment by GM, might have a second chance to see their technology on the road.

The assets and intellectual property of Bright were acquired by Echo Automotive, which proposed to sell bolt-on plug-in hybrid kits for trucks and vans that could improve fuel economy by 40 percent or more.

ALSO SEE: Will 'Bolt-On' Plug-In Hybrid Package Succeed For Fleets Where Bright Failed?

Sadly, it is not to be.

On August 4, the company received a notice of default on debts it owed, after it had previously been able to extend some financial obligations.

Echo Automotive's EchoDrive bolt-on plug-in hybrid kit

Echo Automotive's EchoDrive bolt-on plug-in hybrid kit

Enlarge Photo

"At this time," it wrote on August 6 in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, "the Company does not have adequate liquidity to repay any outstanding obligations."

Employees were let go at that time, and the company could not find the capital to complete test units and move toward production. Echo Automotive stock [OTC:ECAU] is no longer listed.

[UPDATE: A reader points out that the stock is still listed and is still traded--albeit at a value well below 1 cent per share, or less than 1 percent of its price six months ago. We regret the error.]

Not vans, just kits

The company had started with more modest ambitions than Bright, which proposed not only to develop a plug-in hybrid system but also a lightweight, aerodynamic delivery van in which to sell it,

Echo, on the other hand, developed an aftermarket add-on kit that it claimed could save fleet operators $30,000 to $45,000 in fuel costs over 10 years on vehicles like the Chevy Express and Ford E-Series vans.

The company's EchoDrive mild-hybrid system used a 9.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, mounted in the spare wheel well, packaged complete with onboard charger and power electronics.

Echo Automotive's EchoDrive bolt-on plug-in hybrid kit

Echo Automotive's EchoDrive bolt-on plug-in hybrid kit

Enlarge Photo

The pack, which could be recharged overnight, supplied power to an electric motor bolted to the back of the transmission--making aftermarket retrofitting (or subsequent removal) easy.

While the motor couldn't propel the vehicle on electricity alone, it provided enough assistance--powered by the generous battery pack--that the load on the truck's original engine was substantially reduced.

DON'T MISS: Startup Bright Automotive Shuts Down, Slams DoE Loan Process

The company claimed a 50-percent economy improvement in the fuel-economy of vehicles fitted with the EchoDrive system. Third-party fleet testing produced real-world improvements of 42 to 58 percent in normal driving.

It remains unclear whether any plug-in hybrid offering that targets commercial fleets will reach volume production.

The remaining contender is VIA Motors, which continues to test and market its plug-in hybrid conversions of General Motors full-size vans, pickup trucks, and sport-utility vehicles.

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