DETROIT -- Bright Automotive Inc., an engineering services company that is developing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, is on the verge of an agreement with an unnamed major automaker on a joint venture or acquisition, Chairman Reuben Munger told Automotive News today.
The agreement, which likely will be completed in the next six months, comes as Bright awaits a U.S. Energy Department decision on its application for a $280 million loan to build a manufacturing facility and develop its vehicles, he said.
Closely held Bright of Anderson, Ind., has been developing electric vans and light trucks for sale to corporate fleets. It hopes to produce its first electric vehicles in 2013 and sell about 50,000 a year, said Michael Brylawski, executive vice president of corporate strategy.
Munger and Brylawski were interviewed after Brylawski's speech at the Automotive News World Congress. Bright CEO John Waters, who invented the battery pack system for General Motors Co.'s 1990s EV1 electric vehicle, also attended the conference.
The 13-month wait for the possible Energy Department loan has postponed Bright's projections of its IDEA electric-vehicle launch from 2012 to 2013, Brylawski said.
Move to China?
Bright, a spinoff of the Rocky Mountain Institute, has been offered incentives by the Chinese government to move its headquarters to China, Brylawski said.
“It's not our preferred route,” he said. “But the Chinese have a more can-do attitude than our own government.”
Bright is in talks with a handful of domestic and overseas auto manufacturers, said Munger, who used to be a managing director of the $20 billion Baupost Group hedge fund in Boston.
If one of the automakers were to acquire the company or enter a joint venture with it, that would provide funding to develop Bright's IDEA electric vehicle concept. The agreement is not contingent on Bright getting a federal loan, Brylawski said.
Bright had several million dollars in revenue last year and expects more than $10 million this year, in part from engineering-service contracts with the Defense Department and U.S. Postal Service, Munger said.
The company also has more than $20 million in private equity funding, most of it from Duke Energy, Novus Energy Partners venture capital fund and White Pines Partners venture capital fund, Munger said.
The 30-employee company expects to generate positive cash flow this year, Brylawski said.
In December 2008, Bright applied for an Energy Department loan. The department has assigned five different consulting teams to review Bright's application, Brylawski said. But the company has not yet heard if it will be granted the loan.
“To achieve President Obama's economic and security goals, the Energy Department needs to become more aggressive,” Munger said.
Last fall, Energy Secretary Steven Chu appointed venture capitalist Jonathan Silver to help speed application reviews for the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.
The plug-in hybrid IDEA has a mostly aluminum body to reduce weight. A small gasoline engine takes over when the batteries run out.
Last year, the Energy Department's $25 billion loan program to develop electric and other high-technology vehicles awarded about a third of the available loans. The biggest by far was to Ford Motor Co. for $5.9 billion to retool factories in five states to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.