Electric van maker BrightDrop said that FedEx Express and Walmart have placed orders for a total of 7,000 vehicles, with the FedEx order potentially expanding to include an additional 20,000 units pending the successful conclusion of ongoing negotiations.
The announcement was made Wednesday by General Motors CEO Mary Barra during her CES keynote address. BrightDrop is a GM (NYSE: GM) subsidiary. In a Tuesday press briefing prior to the announcement, FedEx’s Richard Smith, regional president of the Americas and executive vice president, told the media the package giant was also in discussions with BrightDrop on how to address the company’s larger-van package needs (above 1,000 cubic foot capacity).
“BrightDrop’s EV portfolio of the EV600 and EV410 covers our small and medium [needs],” Smith said, noting the two BrightDrop vehicles could potentially cover two-thirds of FedEx’s electric fleet of the future. “And we hope that they [do].”
BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz said there had been discussions with FedEx about larger vehicles.
“The biggest challenge around the larger size is battery mass and making sure the batteries needed to move that size payload doesn’t bring down cargo capacity. We are actively engaged at looking at this and are spending time with FedEx to see exactly what they need,” Katz said.
Smith said FedEx (NYSE: FDX) was working on a “long-term” agreement for up to an additional 20,000 units. The company is planning for a zero-emissions future with 50% of FedEx and FedEx Express vehicle purchases to be electric by 2025 and 100% electric by 2030.
“We were very excited about GM getting into this space in terms of its [vehicle history] … but also its footprint,” Smith said of the commitment to BrightDrop. “With the footprint they have, we feel very comfortable with their ability to provide us with a vehicle should one go down or to service a vehicle quickly.”
FedEx recently received the first of its initial 500-unit order from BrightDrop, which was officially announced at the 2021 CES event, and Katz said the company will continue delivering new vehicles to FedEx each week.
“We’re seeing a lot of momentum and excitement around these vehicles,” Katz said, mentioning previous orders from Merchants Fleet, which has reserved up to 18,500 BrightDrop vans, and Verizon.
FedEx also said it would expand its use of BrightDrop’s EP1 system to 10 markets in 2022. The EP1 is an electric pallet system that uses an electric hub motor to power the pallet at up to 3.1 mph. Built on four wheels and looking like a rolling box, the EP1 features adjustable shelving and can carry up to 200 pounds. It was designed to integrate with the EV600, although it can be used in other applications, such as a recent pilot program in Seattle, where it was transported using electric cargo bikes.
In a pilot of the EP1 in New York City, FedEx saw a 15% increase in packages delivered per hour and cut curbside dwell time in half, Smith said.
The EV410 is designed to handle smaller, more frequent jobs, such as grocery delivery or service jobs. It features 400 cubic feet of storage and a 150-inch wheelbase. At just under 20 feet in length, the vehicle fits in a standard parking spot. It has a range of up to 250 miles and includes many of the same standard safety features as the larger EV600, including front and rear park assist, automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, following distance indicator, front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, IntelliBeam automatic high beams, and high-definition rear-vision camera.
The EV600 is designed for deliveries and features an estimated range of up to 250 miles on a full charge. It was purpose-built for the delivery of goods and services with more than 600 cubic feet of cargo area.
Walmart to power delivery fleet with BrightDrop
Earlier in the day, Walmart announced it would hire 3,000 delivery drivers and use electric vans in a major expansion of its InHome Delivery service. The program, which offers deliveries inside garages, kitchens or even refrigerators, will expand from its current accessible market of about 6 million households to more than 30 million households by the end of the year. As part of that expansion, Walmart plans to add BrightDrop vans to that expansion effort.
“As important as it is that we save our customers time and money through convenient delivery options, it’s just as important that we focus on creating a more sustainable last-mile delivery fleet that avoids emissions,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile for Walmart U.S., said. “BrightDrop’s proven ability to bring a sustainable electric van to market makes them a great partner to support our growing InHome Delivery service, and we look forward to continue driving our goal of operating a 100% zero-emissions logistics fleet by 2040.”
Watch: Electrifying the last mile
Ward told the media Walmart would also deploy BrightDrop vans into its GoLocal fleet. GoLocal is Walmart’s white-label delivery service for third-party retailers and brands. The company will take delivery of 5,000 model year 2023 and 2024 vehicles.
“As you can imagine, delivery is a really important value proposition for our customers,” Ward said.
The announcement didn’t specify whether Walmart would receive the EV600, EV410 (available late 2023) or a mix of the two vehicles, but Ward said the vehicles would be deployed in 2023.
An autonomous future?
One question that was raised to Katz, Smith and Ward was whether BrightDrop’s GM backing could result in a fully autonomous electric van in the near future through a collaboration with another GM entity – Cruise Automation.
In an interview with FreightWaves at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in September 2021 in Long Beach, California, Katz said Cruise is starting in ride-share, but because of an investment from Walmart in the business, delivery is a potential option.
“Walmart is in the delivery business so you can imagine their ideas there, and we’re in the delivery business. So I think what we’ve really started to talk about with the Cruise guys is what does the future of delivery look like and what’s the rule for autonomy?” Katz said at the time.
On Tuesday, Katz was not ready to handicap the possibility but noted that “one of the advantages of BrightDrop being part of the broader GM family is we have [access] to companies like Cruise.”
Ward noted that Walmart is already working with Cruise on an autonomous delivery program in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has completed 2,400 deliveries with the Cruise AV platform to date.
Smith also wasn’t ready to discuss the potential of an autonomous FedEx-branded BrightDrop van but noted the package delivery company was working with Nuro to autonomous deliver packages in Texas and he is excited about the potential of an autonomous future.
“We’re doing a number of things in the autonomy space and paying attention to it,” he said.