GM's Electric Van Company Is About Much More Than Electric Vans

Illustration for article titled GM's Electric Van Company Is About Much More Than Electric Vans
Screenshot: GM

General Motors teased many new electric vehicles in its digital Consumer Electronics Show keynote, including Cadillac’s flagship Celestiq and a pair of Corvette-looking crossovers that are, apparently, Buicks. There was a Chevy truck in there too. Lots of EVs, indeed.

Advertisement

Given all those fresh faces, it’s easy to miss one of GM’s more grounded, fleshed-out announcements from the day. That would be BrightDrop, a new company within GM that will build commercial electric vehicles for delivery companies — as well as software solutions to connect them and help clients to manage their fleets.

At the moment, BrightDrop represents two products that GM says will begin making deliveries this year. Due in December 2021 is the EV600, BrightDrop’s first van, which is powered by the same Ultium battery platform as GM’s consumer EVs.

Illustration for article titled GM's Electric Van Company Is About Much More Than Electric Vans
Image: GM

The EV600 has an estimated range of 250 miles on a charge, and it should be able to offer 170 miles of range after an hour plugged in, thanks to 120-kilowatt fast charging. Inside, the EV600 will offer more than 600 cubic feet of cargo room. FedEx will receive the first 500 EV600s BrightDrop builds.

The EV600 is, as my colleague Justin put it, “a good looking van.” However, it looks to play more of a supporting role in BrightDrop’s plans.

More interesting is the EP1, an electric pallet that features a built-in motor to assist movement. GM says the EP1 will begin reaching clients as soon as this month. The EP1 was designed to be easy to get around tight spaces, easy to load and unload from delivery vehicles, and several can be chained together for larger deliveries.

Advertisement
undefined
Screenshot: GM

As it turns out, FedEx has been testing the EP1 and observed encouraging early results. According to FedEx’s regional president for the Americas, Richard Smith:

BrightDrop products will help FedEx Express handle unprecedented demand, improve the safety, security and timeliness of deliveries, reduce our environmental impact and protect the wellbeing of our couriers.

In an initial pilot we ran with the BrightDrop EP1, our FedEx Express couriers were able to effectively and safely handle 25 percent more packages per day. The feedback from our team members has been excellent. The EP1s were easy to maneuver and helped to reduce physical strain. We’re so pleased, we have a second EP1 pilot planned to take place this quarter, and we’re expecting the results to be even more impactful.

Advertisement

Pam Fletcher, GM’s vice president of global innovation, hinted to the Detroit Free Press that BrightDrop has negotiated deals with clients beyond FedEx:

“You will get a sense from the way we are treating this opportunity — making it a standalone business, a terrific team and new leader — that we think the possibilities with this are very impressive,” Fletcher said. “The contribution it will make is more than worth the commitment.”

Fletcher added that the “contribution to the bottom line will start very quickly” because BrightDrop already has letters-of-intent from customers beyond FedEx, but she declined to name them.

Advertisement

One thing absent from BrightDrop’s reveal was any discussion related to pricing for either the EV600 or EP1. Ford promised the upcoming E-Transit would start under $45,000 when it revealed that electric van back in November. However, the E-Transit appears to be targeting consumer as well as commercial sales, while BrightDrop is courting only commercial clients for the moment.

The E-Transit is also projected to offer half the range of the EV600: 126 miles, versus 250. That might seem like a glaring deficiency on Ford’s part, but remember: Delivery vans make lots of short trips.

Advertisement

Indeed, much of Ford’s language surrounding the E-Transit appears to prioritize a low cost of ownership and reduced need for expensive maintenance compared with vans powered by internal combustion engines. That’s quite different from how GM presented the EV600, as keeping the van economical, particularly for small businesses, wasn’t mentioned in the keynote. (For what it’s worth, the official EV600 page projects “over $7,000 in annual operating expense savings versus [a] diesel alternative.”)

Then again, the way GM is pitching BrightDrop, the van part almost seems like an afterthought. GM views BrightDrop as “a delivery ecosystem” for big companies that need that sort of thing — not just a commercial electric vehicle manufacturer. And BrightDrop’s future clearly revolves around the EP1, not the EV600.

Advertisement

In the keynote, Fletcher talked about the company exploring several vehicle concepts, including a “medium-distance solution that transports multiple EP1s,” as well as a “rapid load delivery concept” van that can open a side panel and plop a few EP1s on a sidewalk at once. GM is evidently smitten with this electric pallet idea.

Commercial vehicles offer a major opportunity for electrification to elicit positive change. That’s especially true for delivery vans, which spend lots of time idling and produce disproportionately high emissions for the short distances they travel. I hope BrightDrop can do some good here; I also wouldn’t mind an army of EP1s to do my bidding.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

DISCUSSION

gooseit
Goose

the van part almost seems like an afterthought.

Really? From what I recall, this seems to be the EV delivery van with the biggest range that should come out this year. Is that an after thought? Or just (supposedly) solid execution and not just a rolling pile of dumb, useless, flashy, “features” like a lot of other EVs & vaporware out there. GM has proven to be boringly competent with EVs; I see that as a huge plus for stuff like delivery vans.