Bright IDEA: A 100-mpg Industrial Strength Plug-in Hybrid

By Editors on April 21, 2009 11:54 AM

You never can tell what might happen when you take a bunch of creative thinkers with lots of hands-on experience in advanced automotive technologies and turn them loose to design a new kind of high-efficiency transportation. In the case of the team at Bright Automotive, it led to the IDEA, the world's first purpose-built 100-MPG plug-in hybrid aimed at commercial and government fleets. Bright presented an operational prototype of the IDEA this week at an event in Washington, D.C., where it announced plans to build 50,000 units annually by 2013.

According to John E. Waters, CEO and president of the Indiana-based operation, the IDEA will be five to ten times more efficient than a conventional vehicle now in service. Those gains reflect not only its advanced powertrain, but a purpose-driven design that uses lightweight aluminum and composite materials to keep the curb weight to just 3,200 pounds, aerodynamics that yield a car-like 0.30 coefficient of drag and low rolling resistance tires. Bright's data indicates that a typical IDEA customer could lower their per-vehicle gasoline consumption by up to 1,500 gallons per year while reducing CO2 output by up to 16 tons annually in a vehicle that offers 180 cubic-feet of interior volume and a 1,000-pound payload. To further maximize its utility, the IDEA's passenger area can be transformed into a de facto office/productivity zone that incorporates a computer interface, 12V charging ports, lockable file storage and a large work surface -- all features that seem to make it equally capable of serving as a rolling dorm room for eco-centered college students.

The IDEA's claimed 100-mpg capability is based on a 50-mile daily use schedule in which it will run 30 miles on pure electric power before its gasoline engine steps in to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack, a function that will require roughly a half gallon of gasoline. As the daily mileage goes up, the average mpg drops, although a 70-mile trip will still see it return 70 mpg. Total range per tank will be about 400 miles.

Waters and his team are no neophytes when it comes to the world of EVs and plug-ins. He developed the battery pack for GM's original EV1, and other Bright players have honed their craft with organizations like Chrysler, Delphi, Eaton, Johnson Controls, Sun Power Technologies and the ZF Group. Bright Automotive was launched in January 2008 with the help of the non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization that, like Bright, is dedicated to finding new, economically sound ways to deal with cleaning up the air, lowering our dependence on petroleum-based fuels and increasing overall sustainability.