GM’s electric van gambit

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

With the announcement that it will build electric commercial vehicles in Ingersoll, Ontario, at its CAMI plant, GM is committing to a future that sees the continuing rise of e-commerce combined with a heightened emphasis on emissions-free transportation. The approximately $1 billion investment will support GM’s plan to deliver the new BrightDrop EV600 in late 2021. CAMI will become the first large-scale auto plant converted to produce electric delivery vehicles in Canada.

Read more from our February 2021 print edition.

GM is basing its commitment to the last-mile EV segment on estimates that, by 2025, the combined market opportunity for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the U.S. will be over US$850 billion. Demand for urban last-mile delivery, fueled by e-commerce, is expected to grow 78 percent by 2030, leading to a 36 percent increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities, according to the World Economic Forum. At the same time, this increase in demand is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emissions to rise by nearly a third.

The car maker’s new business, BrightDrop, is making what GM calls a delivery “eco-system” that meshes last-mile over-the-road transportation with modular carriers for parcel deliveries.

Electric pallet

BrightDrop’s first product to market, the EP1, will be a propulsion-assisted, electric pallet developed to move goods over short distances – for example, from the order picking floor to the delivery vehicle and from the delivery vehicle to the customer’s front door. Available in early 2021, the EP1 is intended to help reduce touch points, costs and physical strain on delivery drivers.

The self-propelled pallet will mean less reliance on equipment such as pallet jacks and forktrucks. It will have built-in electric hub motors and will be able to travel at speeds up to five kilometres per hour depending on the operator’s walking pace. Able to carry up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) and 651 litres (23 cubic feet) of cargo, the EP1 will have adjustable shelving and locking cabinet doors, to turn it into a pickup locker for lastmile deliveries.

Pilot project

A pilot program with FedEx Express saw drivers able to safely handle 25 percent more packages per day when using the EP1s. The couriers shared feedback that the EP1s were easy to maneuver and reduced physical strain.

BrightDrop and FedEx Express have another pilot scheduled to take place in one of the biggest urban centres of the U.S. this quarter. FedEx Express is also slated to be the first customer of the EV600, receiving the vehicles later this year.

“Our need for reliable, sustainable transportation has never been more important,” said Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional president of the Americas and executive vice-president of global support. “BrightDrop is a perfect example of the innovations we are adopting to transform our company as time-definite express transportation continues to grow. With this new suite of products, we will help improve the safety, security and timeliness of deliveries, while reducing our environmental impact and protecting the well-being of our couriers.”

The EP1 and EV600 will initially be available only in Canada and the U.S. Once they are launched GM says it will be working on expanding the BrightDrop portfolio. A number of concepts are being explored, such as a medium-distance solution that transports multiple EP1s, and a rapid-load delivery vehicle concept.