As the global semiconductor shortage and other supply chain challenges have ground new-vehicle manufacturing to a near-standstill for many automakers, General Motors has accomplished a feat that defies reality: It has brought a new vehicle to market in the quickest build completion in the company’s lengthy history.
GM’s BrightDrop business unit announced the first production builds of its all-electric EV600 cargo van. The initial units will be delivered to FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX), which plans to use the vehicles this holiday season.
“Getting our first electric vehicles on the streets in record time before another peak holiday shipping season is the best gift we could receive this year, especially when we consider the supply chain headwinds the world is facing right now,” said Travis Katz, BrightDrop president and CEO. “This is a strong statement to the market of how our unique operation’s setup, which marries the cutting-edge innovation, agility and focus of a technology startup with the scale and manufacturing might of a major automaker, can deliver real value to both customers and the planet.”
In a media conference call ahead of the official announcement Tuesday morning, Katz also announced BrightDrop would add a smaller electric vehicle — the EV410 — described as a midsize electric light commercial vehicle for smaller, more frequent trips. Verizon has signed on as the first customer for the EV410, which will enter production at BrightDrop’s CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Canada, in 2023.
“Mainstream EV adoption by businesses will require the largest fleet operators to work together with innovators like BrightDrop in the development of vehicles that meet the particular needs of our business. Adding the EV410 to our fleet is the latest step in our commitment to Verizon achieving net-zero operational emissions by 2035,” said Ken Jack, vice president of fleet operations for Verizon.
20 months from design to production
The EV600 went from initial design to production in just 20 months, marking the quickest build timeline for any GM-produced vehicle. Katz said this was in part due to the use of GM’s Ultium battery platform, which is designed to be flexible and scalable to various vehicle needs. BrightDrop also leveraged the virtual development process that GM (NYSE: GM) used to create its Hummer EV program.
Katz noted the typical build timeline is 50 months.
BrightDrop is partnering with an unnamed supplier partner in Michigan for the initial low-volume production of the EV600 until conversion of its CAMI plant is complete. Large-scale production in Canada is slated to begin in November 2022.
“We remain on track to deliver these vehicles at the end of the year, on time and in record time, and we’re doing this despite the fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic and despite all the challenges [the industry is facing],” Katz said.
Fleet managers can expect a $7,000 yearly savings when using the electric EV600 when compared to a similarly equipped diesel-powered vehicle, Katz added.
“As e-commerce demand continues to increase and the effects of climate change are felt like never before across the globe, it’s imperative that we move quickly to reduce harmful emissions. BrightDrop’s holistic delivery solutions are designed to help tackle these challenges head-on. We’re excited to get these world-class electric vehicles on the streets in record time,” he said.
The EV600 offers 600 cubic feet of storage space with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 10,000 pounds. It can be charged to a range of 170 miles in an hour with a 120-kilowatt fast-charging system. EV600 connectivity provides fleet operators remote access, real-time location, battery and charging management, driver safety coaching and incident recording, remote diagnostics, safety alerts and predictive maintenance insights, and over-the-air updates.
FedEx Express will take delivery of the first 500 vans and BrightDrop announced on Feb. 2 that Merchants Fleet, a fleet management company, had ordered 12,500 EV600s, with delivery beginning in early 2023.
A smaller van for smaller jobs
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, Katz said.
With a range of up to 250 miles, the EV410 includes many of the same safety and driver convenience features of its larger sibling, the EV600, including standard safety features 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 HD rear vision camera.
Driver convenience features include a low step-in height, front sliding pocket doors, wide cabin walkways and an available large auto-open cargo bulkhead door.
Katz declined to offer pricing for the EV410 or how many vehicles Verizon has committed to at this point.
EP1 electric pallet
Katz also gave an update on the BrightDrop’s electric pallet innovation (EP1). Designed to move goods over short distances, the EP1 uses an electric hub motor that can 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. The EV600 was designed to work in conjunction with the EP1.
In a pilot earlier this year, FedEx Express found the EP1 allowed the courier to handle 25% more packages in a day. The EP1 provides up to 23 cubic feet of space (approximately half a pallet of goods) and will be integrated with connected services BrightDrop is developing. Integrating data can allow those loading the EP1 to do so more efficiently, grouping packages together by address or street, eliminating time spent locating the right package at a stop.
Katz said the company remains “very, very bullish on the EP1 as a big driver of growth,” and work to bring a commercial version to market continues.