Bright Automotive and General Motors Co. have announced they have agreed to pursue a strategic relationship “to accelerate” Bright’s production of the IDEA, which GM called a “revolutionary plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle.” In addition, GM said it is providing funding to the Anderson, IN-based manufacturer— marking the first funding action taken by its newly formed financial operation, General Motors Ventures LLC.

“This relationship is an important step forward for Bright, and a strong endorsement of our highly experienced automotive team and our incredible vehicle,” said Reuben Munger, Bright Automotive chairman & CEO. “With this deal, Bright gets financial support that puts us on the fast track toward mass production of the IDEA. And perhaps just as importantly, we gain a strategic partner that is a world leader in electrification.”

The companies signed a memorandum of understanding in July. GM Ventures provided funding to Bright this week, and the two companies intend to complete the formal agreements later this year. On completion of the agreements and other terms, General Motors Ventures would have a minority stake in Bright and Bright would have access to GM technologies and advanced engine and transmission systems for its vehicle, the news release noted.

In developing the IDEA van, Bright said it “started with a clean sheet of paper, listened to customers, and took a novel approach to product development that focused on light-weighting, aerodynamics and a highly efficient drivetrain.” The result, the company claimed, is a “multipurpose vehicle for business fleets — the first designed to be highly efficient and provide a clear economic benefit.”

According to the companies, the IDEA will deliver a “positive total cost of ownership to fleet customers by providing significantly greater fuel efficiency than current fleet vehicles in its class.” It was pointed out that the IDEA is designed to operate in electric mode for 40 miles before switching to an estimated 36-mpg “hybrid mode for 100+ mpg potential based on daily driving behavior.”

"Funding early-stage startup companies is a new way of doing business at GM to accelerate the introduction of innovative technology to support our core automotive business and give us a competitive advantage," said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures. "In this case, our funding of Bright Automotive will accelerate the introduction of advanced propulsion and light-weight technologies in the commercial vehicle market."

“We talked with several leading automakers, but GM clearly had the right vision, the most capable technology, and the closest alignment with our business approach,” said Michael Brylawski, Bright Automotive executive vp. “We are thrilled to work with GM to create American jobs, stimulate technology development, and build an innovative American vehicle that will help reduce oil dependence and cut costs for businesses.”

The GM Ventures funding will enable Bright to begin ramping up the development of the production program for the IDEA in the third quarter of 2010. Bright noted that it continues to seek a low-interest loan through the Department of Energy’s ATVM program. Financial terms of the GM-Bright deal were not disclosed.