GM reveals an electric van, launches a new business for electric cargo delivery

General Motors provided a better idea Tuesday of how it will hasten an electric transformation in commercial fleets—with the formation of a new standalone business, called BrightDrop. BrightDrop plans to expand to offer what GM VP of global innovation Pam Fletcher described as “a portfolio of integrated zero-emissions products,” with all products from the company […]

General Motors provided a better idea Tuesday of how it will hasten an electric transformation in commercial fleets—with the formation of a new standalone business, called BrightDrop.

BrightDrop plans to expand to offer what GM VP of global innovation Pam Fletcher described as “a portfolio of integrated zero-emissions products,” with all products from the company having integrated connectivity and controllability via the same software set. 

The first product from BrightDrop will be an electric pallet system called the EP1, set to arrive “in early 2021,” while its second product, the EV600 electric cargo van—an ”electric light commercial vehicle”—will be on roads by the end of the year, with first deliveries going to FedEx.

no title

The EP1 pallet would provide true last-mile cargo delivery—essentially from a van to a front door or loading hub—with lockable cabinet doors and adjustable shelving. The pallet would be able to maneuver in tight spaces, powered by an electric hub motor with adjustable speed up to 3 mph and capable of carrying up to 23 cubic feet of cargo or up to 200 pounds. 

To be powered by GM’s Ultium battery and propulsion system, the EV600 van will offer an estimated range of up to 250 miles and 120-kw DC fast-charging capable of restoring up to 170 miles of range per hour. GM said that the van would offer up to 600 cubic feet of cargo area—thus the name—and be offered at gross weight ratings (GVWR) of less than 10,000 pounds. 

The EV600 will get a 13.4-inch infotainment system, as well as a cargo-area security system with motion sensors, and a standard set of active-safety features will include automatic emergency braking front and rear parking sensors, an HD rear vision camera, and lane-keep assist. Optional items will include rear cross-traffic braking, reverse automatic braking, a blind-zone steering-assist system, and an HD surround-camera system. 

BrightDrop EV600

BrightDrop EV600

FedEx Express will be the first customer for the EV600—and the integrated solution that includes both products—GM said, although it expects to make the EV600 available to more customers starting in early 2022.  

In addition to the first two vehicles, BrightDrop has two other vehicles in development: a medium-distance solution for moving multiple EP1 cabinets, and what Fletcher described as “a rapid local vehicle concept that really gets at congestion and eliminating and freeing up curb space.”

Software is the other element that will be proprietary and tie BrightDrop’s products together—with “an integrated, cloud-based platform,” allowing fleet managers and others a top-level view of their product movements, plus assessments of their efficiency of operations. The software will include both mobile asset management and fleet management, with the ability to tap into vehicles and devices remotely, for monitoring and management, including over-the-air upgrades.

BrightDrop EP1

BrightDrop EP1

The goal is to take some of the burden off customers from having to integrate all these different elements as they electrify cargo delivery. Fletcher said that the unit did “a tremendous amount of empathy work,” including riding with delivery drivers to see the pain points, and watching cargo operations. 

BrightDrop will have its own customer support team—including for charging—and plans to establish its own dealer network to support sales and service. GM hired Travis Katz, who played a role in the expansion of Skyscanner and MySpace, to lead the expansion as CEO of BrightDrop. 

no title

The unit will be separate from existing GM Fleet operations, but it will work “synergistically” with another GM affiliate, Cruise, as it follows its own trajectory toward autonomous cargo vehicles (already in a pilot with Walmart). Fletcher said that while the future for BrightDrop might include autonomous vehicles, everything that it is initially showing “can be scaled in a big way today to literally get at problems affordably.”

GM would not say yet where the EV600 would be built, or reveal information about the size and scope of the operation or its initial investment, but it said that it already has letters of intent from a number of customers other than FedEx. 

BrightDrop EV600

BrightDrop EV600

verall, it adds up to a very different strategy than that of Ford, which plans to add electric versions like an E-Transit van and F-150 Electric that will be positioned alongside its gas and versions and use some of the same fleet tools. But with a number of other electric-van options in the works—like an affordable one in the works from Canoo—businesses may soon have many great options.