GM's BrightDrop unveils a second electric cargo van
Detroit — General Motors Co.'s new commercial and logistics business, BrightDrop, on Tuesday introduced another electric commercial vehicle to add to its growing lineup.
The EV410, a midsize electric van, is designed for more frequent trips with smaller loads and Verizon has signed up to be its first customer. BrightDrop did not disclose how many EV410 vehicles Verizon purchased for its maintenance and service fleet. Production of the new van is slated to start in 2023 at the CAMI Assembly plant in Ontario, where BrightDrop's other electric delivery van, the larger EV600, will also be built starting in late 2022.
BrightDrop has completed the first production builds of the EV600 at a Michigan-based supplier for its first customer, FedEx Express. The first EV600s for FedEx will be delivered before the end of this year — representing the fastest vehicle program to market in GM history, the automaker says, with it taking 20 months from concept to commercialization despite the global supply chain delays and shortages affecting the industry.
GM wants to have an emissions-free lineup of vehicles, including commercial offerings, by 2035 and BrightDrop's products are a crucial part of that plan. The new business and its initial products were first showcased at this year's virtual Consumer Electronics Show, where GM CEO Mary Barra flexed the Detroit automaker's electrification efforts.
"At a high level, what this really is is a story of momentum, and that we are moving forward with urgency to bring these new vehicles to market to expand our presence into new fields, and really address the quite pressing challenges of both climate change and urban congestion," BrightDrop President and CEO Travis Katz said on a media call.
BrightDrop is building the EV600 vans out of supplier Kuka AG's Livonia plant to meet the delivery to FedEx, which has purchased 500 of the vans. Merchants Fleet, a fleet management company, purchased 12,600 of them in February, a month after they were revealed.
"We're seeing incredible demand across the board for these vehicles," Katz said.
The interest, he said, is because "unlike some of the other players in the space that are taking ... a generic ICE cargo van and slapping a battery in, this is built from the ground up as a purpose-built EV; that makes a lot of difference."
The vehicles are also built with specifics that meet delivery needs, he said, including a wider back door that makes it easier to get packages in and out, a front staging area for packages and a lower step-in height since delivery people "are often getting in and out of the vehicle 100 to 150 times per day, which can be very hard on the knees."
"Our design and engineering team spent hundreds of hours in the field riding along with delivery drivers to really understand the ergonomics of how do they move packages, how do they deliver things and to develop a vehicle that was purpose-built for their needs," Katz said.
The EV410 has more than 400 cubic feet of cargo space, while the EV600 offers more than 600. Ford Motor Co.'s E-Transit electric cargo van offers a max of 487.3 cubic feet of cargo space on the high-roof, extended-wheelbase model.
"You definitely need multiple sizes of vehicles for these commercial vans because not everybody needs something with 600 cubic feet of cargo capacity," said Sam Abuelsamid, analyst for market research firm Guidehouse Inc. "Adding a smaller version makes total sense."
Both of BrightDrop's products are powered by GM's Ultium battery platform. Similar to the EV600, the EV410 gets 250 miles range on a charge. The E-Transit gets 126 miles on a charge on the low-roof option.
BrightDrop will offer other battery configurations in the future, but Katz did not expound on them.
"We do recognize there are a broad number of routes," he said. "We wanted to go out with a very strong battery range for a couple reasons, one being just the confidence .... there's a lot of people worried about those things, but the other thing is really that the range can really vary a lot," when a driver goes from a standard 70-degree day to working in below-zero conditions.
BrightDrop, which hasn't mentioned its dealership strategy with these products, also has not specified prices for them. Ford has priced its E-Transit under $45,000.
In addition to the two electric vans, BrightDrop also has the EP1 electric pallet, which was used in a FedEx pilot in Toronto and helped increase package delivery efficiency by 25%, Katz said.
"We are actively working through ... bringing that out for a fully commercially ready version, and we'll have some more news to share with that hopefully before too long," he said.
BrightDrop also has "a pretty rich pipeline of new products that we are working on," Katz said, noting the company is focused on delivery services and products. "We're not trying to go and just create a broad portfolio of everything but really stay focused on a few key markets and doing those really better than anyone else."