Let’s face it, many people have done a lot more online shopping than driving in the past year. Delivery vans are racking up miles like never before.

Automakers have long realized how lucrative commercial vehicles are, and the pandemic has further ramped up e-commerce and businesses’ reliance on delivery fleets. Many carmakers are working on electric and autonomous vehicles, from pods to vans, and innovative ways to get goods from the cargo bay to the front door.

General Motors is no exception and has decided meeting the commercial needs of freight companies is important enough to warrant the creation of a new business with its own products, customers, and mission.

Barra Uses CES to Introduce BrightDrop

GM chairman and chief executive officer Mary Barra used CES 2021 to introduce the automaker’s newest venture: BrightDrop. Serving as president and CEO of the brand is Travis Katz, formerly of venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures.

BrightDrop will focus on offering a full ecosystem of connected electric products, software, and services to delivery and logistics companies such as FedEx—a one-stop-shop for fleets to get parcels from the first mile to the last. “BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” Barra said.

BrightDrop will make electric delivery vans, but also electric pallets that get parcels from the warehouse to the van and from the van to the lobby. Additionally, BrightDrop will offer a connected suite of software to make delivery as seamless as possible with information on location, charging stations, or remotely unlocking a vehicle. It is seen as a business opportunity that can utilize GM’s tech and aligns with the corporate vision of an all-electric vehicle future.

Meet the BrightDrop EV600 Electric Van

The first electric vans are called EV600. The purpose-built vehicles will directly compete with the large electric vans that Rivian is making for Amazon. The EV600 has a range of 250 miles on a full charge of its battery pack, GM vice president of innovation Pam Fletcher said. The vans offer more than 600 cubic feet of cargo space and have front sliding pocket doors.

BrightDrop worked with delivery giant FedEx Express to develop a van that meets its needs and used the freight company to test an electric pallet to get parcels to and from the van.

GM will start making the BrightDrop EV600 light commercial vehicle this year with the first of the 500 vans earmarked for FedEx Express. Deliveries will start by the end of the year, Fletcher said. The vans are initially exclusive to the BrightDrop brand within GM. And all are for sale to customers—GM has no desire to operate its own fleet.

Fletcher would not say if the vans will be built at GM’s Hamtramck plant that is designated an electric-vehicle-only facility. Hamtramck will make the 2022 GMC Hummer EV full-size electric pickup truck, as well as the Cruise Origin, a self-driving ride-sharing pod. Cruise has said it will also make a commercial version of the Origin for delivering packages. Like the vehicles to be assembled in Hamtramck, the EV600 uses GM’s Ultium electric vehicle platform and battery management system.

BrightDrop will launch first in the United States and then Canada. The company will take orders from other customers (beyond FedEx) starting in 2022 and Fletcher said the brand already has a number of letters of intent from interested parties.

EP1 Electric Pallet Does Legwork

To get the parcels to and from the van, GM has created an electric pallet it calls EP1 that will be available early this year. The BrightDrop EP1 looks like a big rolling suitcase that stands almost as tall as the person loading it. The rolling cabinet opens up to reveal adjustable shelves for parcels, offering 23 cubic feet of cargo space that can handle a payload of 200 pounds. The EP1 has a built-in electric hub motor, which allows it to travel as fast as 3 mph.

GM had a pilot project with FedEx to test the EP1 and will soon start another pilot project with FedEx in a major city. FedEx said the electric pallets used in the pilot project allowed them to handle 25 percent more packages per day.

To service customers, BrightDrop will have an independent sales and service network. And the lineup will expand. BrightDrop is working on a rapid-load delivery vehicle as well as a medium-distance hauler to transport multiple EP1s.

GM estimates that the delivery and logistics market in the U.S. will exceed $850 billion by 2025. The World Economic Forum expects demand for last-mile delivery to grow by 78 percent by 2030, which will create a 36 percent increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities.

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