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Indiana company planning hybrid van gets GM backing

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The first investment by General Motors' new venture capital arm is giving a boost to a central Indiana company's plans for building a plug-in hybrid work van.

The $5 million going to Anderson-based Bright Automotive will give General Motors Ventures an ownership stake in the company, which hopes the move will attract other investors and help its bid for a $450 million federal loan.

Bright is considering sites in Indiana and other states for a potential 1,000-worker factory to build up to 50,000 vans a year, company Chairman Reuben Munger. The vehicle would be targeted for use as delivery or repair vans by companies and use both gasoline and electric engines.

"We're looking to make sure we've selected the best site for our vehicle," Munger said. "We are evaluating multiple locations and multiple states and are in a process of narrowing and optimizing our site election in the next few months."

Delays in arranging financing have forced Bright to reduce staff and delay its planned 2012 start of mass production by perhaps two years, Munger said.

The company, which employs 30 people in Anderson, expects to hire 70 more engineers and technicians this year as it ramps up development work.

GM Ventures President Jon Lauckner said the Bright van could fill a market niche for a vehicle smaller than the conventional Chevrolet Express. General Motors executives will consider the van, called the Bright Idea, down the road for possible sale through GM's dealer network.

Idea would have GM's four-cylinder engine and transmission powering the front axle. An electric motor and lithium-based battery would power the rear axle.

Anderson Mayor Kris Ockomon said Bright's partnership with GM is a "huge step" in the right direction for the company and that he hoped it would lead to more good news for his city, where GM once had 27,000 workers.

"This is going to spurn excitement and motion from the Department of Energy," Ockomon said. "Now we have to go to work and make sure this stays right here in Anderson."

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