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Electric shock for a staid industry
Electric shock for a staid industry
The Bright Automotive staff shows off the IDEA delivery van.

John E. Waters got his start developing battery systems for GM's ill-fated, mid-'90s electric vehicle, the EV1. For his new startup he rounded up 30 auto industry veterans, including former EV1 compatriots. Together, they have a total of 200 years' experience at Chrysler and other top-tier auto manufacturers.

So what glamorous automotive niche do they hope to enter? Electric delivery vans.

For all their blandness, delivery vehicles are the perfect place to test electric car technology. Delivery vans are usually based at a company's depot, so at the end of the day they are easily plugged in and recharged -- addressing critics' biggest complaint about all-electric automobiles. Ranges are limited, but proper scheduling and routing can resolve that problem.

What's more, by electrifying their fleets, companies could save 12 cents to 18 cents per mile (depending on the price of fuel). Assuming an average use of 80 to 100 miles a day, that's $3,600 per vehicle per year. So a company like Verizon, with something on the order of 35,000 vans, could save $125 million a year if its entire fleet went electric.

"Customers can use our technology to improve their bottom line," says Waters. His company, Bright Automotive in Anderson, Ind., and has raised more than $20 million in private capital.

In April 2009, the company announced its new IDEA delivery van to much fanfare. The vehicle gets 40 miles on a single charge and also features a standard hybrid battery that is recharged by a gasoline engine -- like a Prius. Running on gas, the IDEA fetches nearly 40 mpg.

NEXT: A boat builder hits the road

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