TRAVERSE CITY, MI – U.S. government support for electric vehicles, in the form of loans to manufacturers and incentives for consumers, likely is drying up, Bright Automotive Chief Operating Officer Mike Donoughe says.

Government backing of EVs “has to” disappear, Donoughe, a former Tesla executive, tells Ward’s following remarks to the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

The rate of adoption of EVs such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt probably means the U.S. government’s per-car incentive of $7,500 will be cut off sooner rather than later, he tells the audience.

California already has reduced its own EV consumer incentive from $5,000 to $2,500, as the state struggles to fund basics such as police and education.

Donoughe describes himself as a “free-market guy, but I came to the pragmatic realization that across the world there’s not a lot of free markets.”

He now espouses a “fair market” providing government loans and consumer incentives; without them, electric-vehicle and other advanced auto technology cannot take root.

“I see it as an enabler to help the technology get started on the provider side,” Donoughe says. “On the tax credit side, (it is) an enabler to help with adoption, because the technology starts off at a relatively high cost.”

Indiana-based Bright makes the IDEA, a hybrid-electric plug-in cargo van.

According to company documents released last year, Bright has set the timeframe for the van’s introduction at 2013/2014, a delay from 2012 due to the global financial crisis.

Donoughe denies that timing, but declines to provide a launch date. Bright last year received a $5 million subsidy from General Motors. Asked whether GM should replace its dated cargo vans with Bright IDEAs, Donoughe says, “Theoretically, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

Also shoring up Bright’s financial future are carbon credits it expects to receive from the government, thanks to its zero-emission vehicle.

“I see it as a marketable commodity, absolutely,” Donoughe says of the credits.

He doesn’t discount Bright’s chances of someday being acquired by either a light-vehicle manufacturer or a commercial company, but says the IDEA first must stand on its own.

“We need to be successful or no one will want to buy us.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com