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GM invests in electric vehicle start-up Bright

Newly created GM Ventures takes a minority stake in Bright Automotive, which has created a plug-in hybrid utility van that can get up to 100 mpg.

General Motors has invested in electric vehicle company Bright Automotive, marking the first investment by the auto giant's venture-capital arm.

The companies said Tuesday that the investment by recently created GM Ventures for an undisclosed amount will give GM a minority stake in Anderson, Ind.-based Bright and accelerate Bright's plans to manufacture a plug-in hybrid van that can get up to 100 miles per gallon.

The prototype of Bright's Idea plug-in hybrid utility van.
The prototype of Bright's Idea plug-in hybrid utility van. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Bright designed the hybrid gas-electric utility van, called the Idea, specifically for fleet vehicle operators. The company was spun out of the Rocky Mountain Institute think tank and co-founded by John Waters, Bright's vice chairman and who worked for GM in the 1990s to help produce its EV1 electric car.

The Idea van is designed to run almost entirely on batteries for the first 40 miles and then run in a standard hybrid mode, where it gets about 36 miles per gallon. Fuel efficiency is also improved through light-weight materials and an aerodynamic shell.

The company has been planning to start manufacturing its van in late 2012 and ramp up to mass production in 2013. To finance the shift from product development to production, the company is seeking a loan, which it has not received thus far, from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

With the investment from GM, Bright will begin to ramp up a production program for the Idea in the third quarter this year, according to the companies.

GM has said its venture-capital arm will speed adoption of various auto technologies. "Our funding of Bright Automotive will accelerate the introduction of advanced propulsion and light-weight technologies in the commercial vehicle market," GM Ventures President Jon Lauckner said in a statement.