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What the future of the auto industry will look like

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Well, maybe not everything. A little company out by the state highway, Wylam adds, is mining the area’s biggest remaining resource – its rich vein of human talent.

That firm is Bright Automotive. A number of its key people used to work at GM’s Indianapolis research center, which developed the EV1, the first modern production electric vehicle from a major automaker. Introduced in 1996, the EV1 was available in California and Arizona, via lease. GM discontinued it in 1999, citing program expense. It recalled the cars. Most of them were crushed. But the EV1 engineers’ dreams weren’t crushed with them.

“These are highly qualified, highly motivated people,” says Wylam. “I wouldn’t want to get in their way.”

The IDEA is Bright’s main project. Working from a gleaming office park on the edge of Anderson, the Bright team has put together a prototype of the vehicle, which combines plug-in hybrid technology with extensive use of aluminum, carbon fiber, and other weight-reduction techniques.

Regular hybrids, like today’s Toyota Prius, use an electric motor and a small internal combustion engine. Plug-in hybrids use that technology, too, but with a big battery and big electric motor, plus – surprise! – a plug. They also recharge their batteries by plugging into the regular electric grid.

Waters says the IDEA will get around 100 miles of city driving for every gallon of gas. It’s van-size because the company figures it could win over bean counters at companies pressed by high fuel costs, such as FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service.

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