Bright Automotive signs AM General to build hybrid vans

The northern Indiana factory where AM General once made H2 Hummers could be building plug-in, hybrid cargo vans under a deal with Anderson-based Bright Automotive announced Friday.

Bright said production of its Idea work van could start in 2013 or 2014 at AM General's Mishawaka factory. Up to 300 workers ultimately could be hired to build the van once production ramps up, chief operating officer Mike Donoughe told the South Bend Tribune.

The startup is seeking a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to finance the start of production, but last year received a $5 million investment from General Motors' venture capital arm.

Donoughe said the company has been in the loan process for "quite a long time" but that he's confident the vehicle will be built.

"I'd like to say I'm highly confident, otherwise we wouldn't be making an announcement like we are," Donoughe said. "We just have to keep moving forward and get the ball over the goal line and start creating jobs in St. Joseph County and the surrounding area that I think are highly needed."

Bright announced plans in January to hire 200 employees for a new technical center in Rochester Hills, Mich., to develop the Idea van for the commercial market. The company says the van will be able to travel more than 30 miles in all-electric mode and get 35 miles per gallon in standard hybrid mode.

The company opted to build the tech center in Michigan instead of its Madison County hometown, where it employed about two dozen workers last year.

Building the van would be a boost for AM General, which last month announced it was laying off about 350 workers because of reduced demand for military Humvees also made at the Mishawaka factory.

AM General's new production of Humvees for the U.S. Army ended in December 2010, but the company still is doing other work for the Army and making the vehicles for other customers, including foreign countries and for Afghan troops under contracts with the Department of Defense.

The company last month began assembling wheelchair-accessible cars in the plant where it formerly made H2 Hummers, which AM General stopped making for General Motors Corp. in January 2009. It stopped making the Hummer H1 in 2006.

AM General is making the wheelchair-accessible vehicles, known as the MV-1, under a contract for The Vehicle Production Group, based in Miami.

The commercial side of the Mishawaka factory has a capacity of 70,000 vehicles a year, running two shifts. VPG plans to make about 1,000 MV-1s this year, about 10,000 next year and 25,000 to 30,000 a year after that.

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