By Mark Kleis
Wednesday, Feb 29th, 2012 @ 5:03 am
 
Close to two years after Indiana-based EV builder Bright Automotive received a $5 million investment from General Motors' venture funding arm, the eco-friendly startup has been forced to pull its own plug.

Bright says that it was waiting on millions of dollars in loans from the Department of Energy to build a plug-in hybrid work van similar in size and function to the Ford Transit Connect, but the Herald Bulletin says that the EV builder was unable to receive the loans it expected.

"Bright [Automotive] has not been explicitly rejected by the DOE; rather we have been forced to say 'uncle.' As a result, we are winding down our operations," said a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu from Bright CEO Reuban Munger and COO Mike Donoughe.

All told, Bright says it spent $15 million during negotiations alone with the DoE over the course of three years while trying to come to terms for a federal loan. However, the process was drawn out so long that executives were forced to stop taking salaries. The company says that some executives even contributed personal funds to keep the company afloat over the last year.

"We couldn't meet payroll and ran out of cash," said Michael Brylawski, VP of corporate strategy. "We couldn't feed the beast anymore."

The straw that broke the camel's back arrived last week in the form of a fourth "near final" Conditional Commitment Letter since September 2010. The Bright executives claim that with each successive letter from the DoE, the terms became more and more "onerous and outlandish," eventually forcing the company to give up. "The first three were workable for us, but the last was so outlandish that the most rational and objective persons would likely conclude that your team was negotiating in bad faith," wrote Bright executives.

Where does General Motors enter the picture?
Bright says that it believed it would receive funding from the DoE as early as August 2010 when the department told the start-up that it would have funding within weeks rather than months if it could form a partnership with GM. Bright complied, giving a stake to the fresh-out-of-bankruptcy automaker in exchange for a $5 million investment.

The now-closed start-up says it even went well beyond that, lining up over $200 million in private capital commitments, a number it says was far greater than raised or required by previous automakers that received DoE funding. Despite its efforts, the loan never came.

What went wrong?
The DoE has yet to officially announce exactly why it never gave Bright the loan it had applied for, but some critics suggest that at least part of the reason might stem from the negative press associated with now-bankrupt Solyndra, which became a black eye for the Obama administration after it funneled $527 million in taxpayer funds to the failed green company.

Increased pressure from Congress, largely from Republicans, is believed to have driven the DoE to be much more scrupulous with its loan approvals for fear of further taxpayer backlash. Whether or not that played a major, or any role, in the ultimate demise of Bright Automotive may never be known.