General Motors (GM) has announced a new business, BrightDrop, that could offer a significant step toward ending the years-long struggle to electrify fleet vehicles used by delivery and logistics companies. The company is poised to offer electric first-to-last mile products, software, and services aimed at businesses that want to lower costs, improve productivity, keep employees and cargo safe, and increase sustainability efforts.
GM says that BrightDrop is an integrated set of solutions to improve all aspects of first-to-last-mile delivery. A pilot program between BrightDrop and FedEx Express underscores how fleet-wide electrification might not be as far off as previously thought.
That’s quite a leap from about 18 months ago when fleet managers for Wal-Mart and UPS questioned if technology and electric infrastructure could reasonably power wide-ranging delivery and supply chains anytime soon. Their concerns included low refueling costs, vehicle longevity, and proven reliability for quick, continuous loading and unloading. Speakers commented on these and other concerns during the 2019 “Powering the People” event hosted by Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation.
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“BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” said Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO. “We are building on our significant expertise in electrification, mobility applications, telematics and fleet management, with a new one-stop-shop solution for commercial customers to move goods in a better, more sustainable way.”
During the pilot program, FedEx Express couriers effectively and safely handled 25 percent more packages per day with BrightDrop’s EP1, a propulsion-assisted electric pallet developed to move goods over short distances more efficiently. FedEx Express couriers shared feedback that the EP1s were easy to maneuver and reduced physical strain. GM and FedEx plan to launch a second pilot program in an unnamed U.S. urban center this quarter. Plus, FedEx is set to receive the first EV600 vehicles this year. They are electric light commercial vehicles suited for long-range delivery services.
The companies have not released other specifics about the vehicles, location, or delivery date as of this writing.
“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 FedEx Express deliveries while reducing our environmental impact and protecting the well-being of our couriers.”
It seems 2021 is an excellent time to launch such fleet vehicles. The combined market opportunity for parcel, food delivery, and reverse logistics in the U.S. will be over $850 billion by 2025, reported GM. The World Economic Forum projects that demand for urban last-mile delivery, fueled by e-commerce, is expected to grow by 78 percent by 2030, leading to a 36 percent increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities.
Barring new innovations or a different course of action, the Forum estimates that will lead to a 33 percent increase in delivery-related carbon fuel emissions.
The following is a rundown of GM’s description of each product:
The EP1electric pallet reduces package touchpoints, costs, and physical strain on delivery drivers. EP1 features and benefits include:
Payload capacity of 200 lbs.
Maneuverable in tight spaces.
Adjustable shelving organizes contents.
Carries and secures approximately 23 total cubic feet of cargo.
Lockable cabinet doors allow for secure, remote access to contents.
Electric motors with adjustable speed up to 3 mph depending on the operator’s walking pace.
Real-time features, including location monitoring, battery status, remote commands to lock and unlock, and over-the-air updates of connected features
GM plans to follow the EP1 with the EV600. The automaker notes its benefits include zero-emissions driving and consumer-electric vehicle style advanced safety and convenience features. GM estimates early 2022 availability. Services and features include:
Over 600 cubic feet of cargo area.
A 13.4-inch-diagonal, full-color infotainment screen.
Available at a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less than 10,000 lbs.
Ultium battery system has an estimated range of up to 250 miles on a full charge.
Peak charge rate of up to 170 miles of EV range per hour via 120kW DC fast charging.
Front sliding pocket doors, wide cabin walkways, and a sizeable auto-open cargo bulkhead door contribute to optimizing driver efficiency.
Connectivity allows fleet operators remote access, real-time location, battery and charging management, driver safety coaching and incident recording, remote diagnostics, safety alerts, predictive maintenance insights, and over-the-air updates.
Available features include Rear Cross-Traffic Braking, Blind Zone Steering Assist, Reverse Automatic Braking, HD Surround Vision, Rear Pedestrian Alert, and Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking.
BrightDrop is built on an integrated, cloud-based software platform. That allows customers visibility and access to their BrightDrop products through both web and mobile interfaces. Customers can access detailed data and insights that GM said will help improve overall operations, including route efficiency, asset utilization, and product upgrades.
GM plans to launch BrightDrop in the U.S. and Canada initially. A customer support team will assist with every aspect of operating and servicing BrightDrop products, including charging and infrastructure installation, advising on services, and retrofitting a current fleet vehicle to integrate with BrightDrop products. BrightDrop support services will also assist with maintenance needs, including securing parts and scheduling repairs.