A Brighter IDEA
John Waters worked on the General Motors EV1 and Electric S10 program. He led the development of the lithium battery pack on the Segway Transport and iBOT. He managed product development at Delphi Corporation and eventually founded the Transportation Practice at the Rocky Mountain Institute, where the concept of the Hypercar was born.
Based on the premise that the average automobile wastes virtually all of the fuel it burns either moving its own mass or as unused heat and friction, the design philosophy behind the Hypercar starts at the wheels where the work is done. Making the vehicle lighter, more aerodynamic and powered by a highly efficient electric drive system would, its creators at RMI argued, lead to three to five-fold improvements in fuel efficiency.
While the Hypercar never saw production beyond the concept vehicle in the above photo, Waters believed the time was right to apply the theory behind it and set out to pull together a "dream team" of automotive professionals to create Bright Automotive, the purpose of which is to design and manufacture a plug-in hybrid crossover vehicle now called the IDEA, which it will reveal on Capitol Hill next week.
Before that event, EV World spoke with Waters about the long road that has brought him and his team to this point, one that includes, in his words, more than their share of "busted knuckles" over numerous technology and new vehicle launches. He finds it a bit ironic that while he was literally counting grams on the EV1 program in an effort to reduce vehicle mass, RMI co-founder Amory Lovins was in Colorado writing a draft white paper that would become the thesis for the Hypercar.
When Waters finally found himself working at RMI with Lovins, he calls it a "match made in heaven."
Picking up on the "lighter is better" concept, he notes that if the vehicle's mass is less, as is its rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag, the battery pack can also be lighter, which helps reduce the cost of the vehicle, as well as extends the range. In effect, the Hypercar methodology creates a "virtuous spiral" instead of a "vicious" one. The more you reduce mass, the less battery it takes to go a given distance, which further reduces mass, etc.
Unlike other firms that want to license their technology to larger OEMs, Bright's business model is to become a 50,000 vehicles-per-year car manufacturer in the spirit of other great Indiana OEMs of the past: Auburn and Studebaker. Water's is planning to start selling their newly named IDEA plug-in hybrid in 2012.
Of course, getting that done in today's economy is proving a challenge, so Bright is keeping the cash flowing by hiring out their team's expertise through a subsidiary called Bright Works that is assisting other manufacturers who are also pursuing more efficient vehicle programs. Water's is also lining up private investors and has applied for funding through the U.S. Department of Energy's "green car manufacturing" initiative, a pool of some $25 billion.
I asked Waters how he expects to successfully compete with the likes of GM and Chrysler, or Tesla for that matter, for a piece of that pot? His company is small and relatively new.
"From the outside looking in, that's a common question," he responded. "From the inside looking out, we see [this fund] as being the ideal stimulus for start-up companies such as Bright Automotive." He argues that there is no better return on investment strategy for the American taxpayer than to put it into a company with a solid business plan to build 50,000 fuel efficient vehicles a year, compared to investing it in one of the troubled OEMs that may or may not produce a viable vehicle.
To listen to the complete 33-minute dialogue, use either of the two MP3 players to the right, or download the file to your computer hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.