BrightDrop’s EV600 is ready to hit the road by the end of the year, followed by the smaller EV410 with manufacturing on both slated to begin in Ontario next year
It’s been nine months since General Motors’ newest tech startup, BrightDrop launched —and already the company is finished building its first electric commercial delivery van, the EV600. But with its first vehicles completed, the company is eager to move forward and deliver more.
“Are there more vans or vehicles coming in in the future? Yes — and more. We’re looking at the whole ecosystem of how can we make Brightdrop a solution for the future,” says Tushar Porwal, head of manufacturing at BrightDrop in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
General Motors recently recruited several new executives to BrightDrop’s leadership team who bring extensive experience in advanced autonomous technology, software and robotics.
Porwal said the company is not only focused on electric vehicles but has also designed the EP1 (Electric Pallet) — a battery-powered dolly that can be activated to move packages of up to 90 kgs around for couriers.
“What really separates BrightDrop is that we don’t just have the electric van and we don’t just have the e-pallet, but then we have the integration of all of those with our software platform,” says Porwal.
The company’s asset management software for the EP1 provides users location monitoring, battery status and remote commands to lock and unlock the e-pallet through a mobile app. The EV fleet management software includes real-time location tracking, battery and charging management, driver safety coaching, remote diagnostics and more.
Plans for a second van
General Motors has also introduced a second electric vehicle to its lineup: the EV410.
“We starting joking that the EV410 is everything you love about the EV600 just in a smaller package, [but] that’s probably the easiest way to explain it,” says Porwal.
The BrightDrop 410 will have many of the same equipment features as the EV600. Both include GM’s Ultium battery systems and software services. The vehicles have a range of up to 450km on a full charge. But as the name suggests, the EV410 has a smaller 400 cubic feet cargo area than its 600 cubic feet counterpart, with a shorter wheelbase to give it more maneuverability.
“If you think of a parking spot on the EV600, it’s a large van, you’re not going to fit that into a parking spot since it’s meant to carry larger deliveries and a lot more packages, but on the EV410 you can actually fit this into your traditional parking spot,” says Porwal.
The vehicle is meant for smaller and frequent payload deliveries or as a service vehicle for everything from online grocery delivery to telecom maintenance.
US telecom company Verizon is slated to be the EV410 first customer, but no further details of the order or the number of vehicles sold were announced, says a spokesperson for General Motors Canada in an email statement to Electric Autonomy.
From concept to commercialization
General Motors’ EV600 is the fastest production launch in its history. From kickoff to commercialization the vans were developed in 20 months and despite COVID-19, development for the EV600 started in early 2020. Traditionally development cycles take 50 months to complete.
“The things that teams did to drive the fast timing was working a lot virtually between the manufacturing and engineering teams to come up with designs, enable them, change them and collaborate on them virtually,” says Porwal.
The BrightDrop teams in Detroit set up a live stream of its manufacturing site so the teams in Canada could watch and help collaborate.
The engineers also made 3D mock-ups of parts so that they could change “parts on the fly” and made sure changes could be completed quickly by tracking issues online for team members working remotely to help fix them, explains Porwal.
The shipping company, FedEx placed the first order — 500 units of the EV600 vans — and deliveries are beginning later this year. Merchants Fleet, a national fleet management company based in New Hampshire has also ordered 12,600 of the EV600s.
As the demand for e-commerce deliveries grows by about 75 per cent in the next decade, said Porwal, several companies are concerned with their carbon emissions and are pledging to go carbon neutral by a certain date.
“Brightdrop fits their desires of where they want to go, but even with the desire for going carbon neutral, [companies are still] very financially motivated,” said Porwal.
By switching to an EV600 from a similar diesel-engine vehicle, companies will save US$7,000 a year in fuel and maintenance, GM estimates.
The vans are also “purpose-built”, said Porwal, based on consultations with and studies of delivery fleets to design a vehicle that would meet their needs and wants.
As a result, the Brightdrop vans include a step-in height and a wider door entrance to make it easier for employees to get inside the vehicles, as well as several safety measures.
Manufacturing in Canada
GM announced that its CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont. would be used to produce the EV600 — and now the EV410 — after the company agreed to invest $1 billion to convert the plant into Canada’s first large-scale auto plant for electric delivery vehicles in January 2021.
Work to convert the plant is still underway since the site is still building the Chevrolet Equinox — which is expected to be phased out by 2023.
Large scale-production of the EV600 is expected to begin at CAMI in November 2022. In the meantime, Brightdrop partnered with German parts supplier Kuka AG at its plant in Michigan to manufacture the initial low-volume production builds of the EV600.
“We knew we had to be very fast to market — we wanted to be very fast to market — and so by using an outside supplier, we were able to set up tooling there at a low-volume production facility. When we actually get to our final assembly line [at CAMI], we’ll be ready to go because we’ve already done our testing and processes,” said Porwal.
After several months of making the EV600, production for the EV410 is expected to begin in 2023 at the CAMI plant.