General Motors is starting a new vehicle brand to sell electric delivery vans in the United States and Canada beginning in 2021.
Called BrightDrop, the new brand has been working with FedEx to test the new delivery system, and FedEx Express will be its first customer. In addition to the vans, BrightDrop will also offer a motorized electric pallet, controlled by a courier, that will carry packages from the trucks to front doors.
The electric motorized pallets, called the EP1, will be delivered to FedEx early this year and the first 500 vans, called the EV600, will be be delivered late this year, GM said. The automaker expects to start delivering vans to customers other than FedEx early in 2022.
Other companies have expressed interest in the products, said Pamela Fletcher, GM's vice president for global innovation, but the company isn't identifying any potential customers yet.
GM's BrightDrop joins a number of startups getting into the electric delivery van business. Rivian, best known for its upcoming electric pickup and SUV models, is also working on delivery vans for Amazon, a major investor. Canoo, a company that unveiled a self driving electric concept vehicle in 2019, more recently announced plans for its own delivery van. UK startup Arrival, which has received funding from Hyundai, is also testing electric delivery vans.
"Although it's an ambitious goal to launch its own commercial delivery platform, it's fortuitous timing for GM to do so considering the e-commerce boom that the industry has seen over the last 10 months," said Jessica Caldwell, an auto industry analyst with Edmunds.
Demand for last-mile deliveries is expected to grow by 78 percent by 2030, GM said in a statement, citing a World Economic Forum Study.
GM plans to set up a new separate dealer network for BrightDrop. The company did not share information about the cost of either vehicle or how that dealer network will be set up.
The BrightDrop EV600 will be able to drive up to 250 miles on a full charge, according to GM. With fast charging, it can take on up to 170 miles worth of power in an hour, according to GM.
The EP1 motorized pallet, which FedEx has been testing, is something like a rolling locker. With a top speed of 3 miles an hour, it has electric motors to help them move as they are pulled along a sidewalk or up a walkway to a house. One EP1 can carry up to 200 pounds, or 23 cubic feet of cargo. During a pilot program, FedEx Express couriers were able to handle 25% more packages using the EP1, according to GM.
The EP1 can work with any van, GM said. BrightDrop will help customers modify other vans in their fleets to work with the EP1, GM said, and customers can use a standard cargo lift gate to get the EP1 in and out. GM also showed an animation on its CES website of a concept van with openings in the side and a built-in lift to more quickly load multiple EP1s.
BrightDrop is also working on a "medium distance" delivery vehicle that can carry multiple EP1s around large enclosed areas such as campuses or large warehouses.
As with many electric vehicles, the van and the EP1 will provide provide real-time information about their location and state of charge.