How times change.

Startup Bright Automotive announced last week that, once the company completes its funding, its advanced plug-in hybrid Idea delivery van would be assembled under contract by AM General.

That's the outfit that built the Humvee and Hummer, and spawned the now-defunct HUMMER brand, including the HUMMER H1 and HUMMER H2--which AM General also assembled.

Bright wants to put its Idea van into production by 2014, for sale to commercial and government fleets, and its projected sales volumes make contract manufacturing feasible.

GM invested in Bright more than a year ago through its GM Ventures unit, and the company also has several other private investors.

But Bright still awaits a verdict from the Department of Energy on its application for low-interest loans under the DoE's advanced technology vehicle manufacturing program--which previously granted loans to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla, and then Fisker.

The Bright Idea delivery van is built to be exceptionally lightweight, and an electric motor powers the rear wheels--providing a very low load floor inside the van body.

It offers up to 40 miles of electric range from a 13-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, after which a front-mounted four-cylinder engine drives the front wheels through a conventional transmission--an arrangement known as a "through-the-road hybrid."

Running on the engine, the Bright Idea is projected to return 36 miles per gallon, and provide a total range of about 400 miles.

But over a blended daily route of 80 miles, the last 40 miles would use roughly 1.1 gallons of gasoline, making the effective overall gas mileage an impressive 70 mpg. A 60-mile route would boost that number above 100 mpg.

Bright IDEA plug-in hybrid delivery van, prototype

Bright IDEA plug-in hybrid delivery van, prototype

That's far higher fuel economy than any light-duty delivery vans today. The 2012 Ford Transit Connect small delivery van, which uses a 2.5-liter gasoline engine, is rated by the EPA at 22 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.

And running costs are the main interest of fleet managers, who make far more rational purchase decisions based on overall total cost of ownership than do retail car buyers.

Those fleet buyers will pay more up front if there's a payoff in lower running costs down the road. That's the promise of the Bright van, whose cost to recharge overnight for those first 40 miles of electric range is just a small fraction of the cost-per-mile of running on gasoline.

Granted, Bright Automotive has many miles to go before its Idea van will roll into distributors for commercial sale.

But we rather like the idea that the plant in Mishawaka, Indiana, that formerly saw HUMMER H1s rolling off the lines may one day build plug-in hybrids with fuel efficiency perhaps 10 times as good as those HUMMERs.

There's karma in there somewhere.


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