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Friday, June 18, 2021
Home News Cars From the first to the last - General Motors' big, bright idea

From the first to the last – General Motors’ big, bright idea

General Motors chairman Mary Barra lays out why BrightDrop re-writes the first-to-last-mile delivery rule book

It’s been three years since General Motors took the stage of CES in Las Vegas to share its vision of a future with zero crashes zero emissions and zero congestion.
At the time, the ground-breaking Chevrolet Bolt, its first affordable long-range EV, had been launched but the US giant felt the car was only one step in a journey towards developing a broader range of vehicles.

Fast-forward to 2021 and its chairman Mary Barra stepped up again to open up on how the company will now move into the burgeoning B2B EV space with BrightDrop, an entirely new business which will offer an ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software and services to empower delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently.

The BrightDrop solutions are designed to help businesses lower costs, maximise productivity, improve employee safety and freight security, and support overall sustainability efforts, she says.

“BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” adds the 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.”

BrightDrop signals GM’s current confidence in its strategy to use the brainboxes of its Global Innovation organisation which has recently overseen the launch of several vertical startups, such as OnStar Insurance, OnStar Guardian and GM Defense. Last year, GM revealed an all-new modular platform powered by its Ultium batteries system intended to power electric vehicles in every segment “to meet the needs of every person”.

From a growth strategy standpoint, this new business will unlock areas of B2B, expansion of its Ultium platform and software and service opportunities, says Barra.

“For every face you see here at CES, there are thousands more quietly getting the job done in Detroit, Shanghai and around the world including 20,000 software electrical engineers on the front lines of technological change.

She continues: “And we’re hiring more three thousand new positions in our electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle programmes. Working on the cutting edge technology that is redefining mobility,” she explains.

“Our vision for the future is a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. The key to unlock that vision is electrification: starting with the advances in technology that are helping accelerate our vision and the GM ultim platform is the world’s first hyper skill electrical vehicle platform with the power to make almost any vehicle an electrical vehicle.

Barra adds: “This will be the best large format cells in the industry optimised to provide sufficient power for multiple vehicle designs.”

GM is manufacturing the cells in-house as part of a joint venture with LG and Barra explains that the cells will produce 60% more energy capacity than its existing electrical battery cells. She attributes the boost to the use if a flat rectangular pouch design that reduces the space between cells and can be stacked more efficiently into modules for higher energy density in a smaller space.

This will be the best large format cells in the industry optimised to provide sufficient power for multiple vehicle designs

GM is manufacturing the cells in-house as part of a joint venture with LG and Barra explains that the cells will produce 60% more energy capacity than its existing electrical battery cells. She attributes the boost to the use if a flat rectangular pouch design that reduces the space between cells and can be stacked more efficiently into modules for higher energy density in a smaller space.

“We can use 6, 8, 10 or double stack up to 24 modules in a single pad, depending on the power requirements of the vehicle. The end result of all these innovations is a battery that will produce up to 450 miles of range on a single charge.”
She adds that GM is combining the array with an incredibly flexible propulsion system called Autumn Drive which uses five interchangeable drive units to deliver front rear or all-wheel drive from a single system.

“We want to re-imagine the whole concept of vehicle ownership and driving and we’re calling that reimagined experience Ultifi,” she remarks. “Ultifi is a promise of a more personal EV experience, putting you in control the vehicle intelligence platform gives us the ability to deliver over-the-air updates to your vehicle. You should expect both ongoing free updates as well as opportunities to purchase premium content and feature upgrades.”

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra announces Friday, March 22, 2019, GM is investing $300 million in its Orion Township, Michigan, assembly plant to produce a new Chevrolet electric vehicle that will bring 400 new jobs to the plant. Also, the company’s commitment to invest a total of $1.8 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations, creating 700 new jobs and supporting 28,000 jobs across six states. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

At the centre of it all, says Barra, will be the all-new mobile app experiences: my Cadillac and my Chevrolet, mygmc, mybuick which are all coming in this Spring.

“These apps provide a remote control for your vehicle that will continually evolve and advance over time.”

Ultimately, Barra and GM strongly believe that as a new business BrightDrop can reimagine commercial delivery and logistics for an “all-electric future”. The intention is for Brightdrop to provide fleets with an ecosystem of smart connected products including electric vehicles and software enabled services; offering commercial delivery companies a platform for sustainable growth.

GM estimates that by 2025, the combined market opportunity for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the U.S. will be over $850 billion.

According to the World Economic Forum, demand for urban last-mile delivery, fueled by e-commerce, is expected to grow by 78% by 2030, leading to a 36 percent increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities. At the same time, this increase in demand is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emissions to rise by nearly one-third.

To help meet this surge in demand, while reducing the impact on the planet, BrightDrop is developing an integrated set of solutions to help improve almost every aspect of first-to-last-mile delivery. The BrightDrop ecosystem also includes an integrated, cloud-based software platform, which provides customers visibility and access to their BrightDrop products through both web and mobile interfaces. Built-in connectivity provides businesses with detailed data and insights that can help improve overall operations, including route efficiency, asset utilization and product upgrades. Drivers and couriers can utilise the mobile application for a variety of tasks.

Furthermore, BrightDrop’s mobile asset management ensures EP1 connectivity and provides customers real-time features, including location monitoring, battery status, remote commands to lock and unlock, and over-the-air updates of connected features.
In terms of fleet management, 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.

It was clear during CES that the EP1 and EV600 are only the beginning in terms of GM’s plans for the B2B sector and BrightDrop is set to continue to grow its product offerings over time to include a portfolio of integrated, zero-emissions products to help drive further efficiencies and address emerging customer needs. A number of concepts are being explored, such as a medium-distance solution that transports multiple EP1s, and a rapid load delivery vehicle concept.

BrightDrop is also being prepped for a full scale launch into the industry with ex-venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures executive Travis Katz joining as BrightDrop as president and CEO. In his previous role, Katz held the enviable role of entrepreneur-in-residence and has an extensive background as a technology leader, entrepreneur and investor. This, combined with his track record of scaling global businesses, will help BrightDrop further GM’s vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, says the company.

BrightDrop will initially serve customers in the US and Canada. It will have a customer support team to assist with every aspect of operating and servicing BrightDrop products, including supporting charging and infrastructure installation, advising on upfitting 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.

Customers will connect with BrightDrop through an independent sales and service network, leveraging a newly established BrightDrop dealer network to support vehicle sales and service.

In the immediate future, BrightDrop and FedEx are partnering to build on their initial EP1 pilot programme which proved FedEx Express couriers were able to effectively and safely handle 25 percent more packages per day with the pallets. The two firms said during CES that a second pilot has been scheduled to take place in one of the biggest urban centres of the U.S. in Q1 2021. FedEx Express is also slated to be the first customer of the EV600, receiving their vehicles later this year.

“Our need for reliable, sustainable transportation has never been more important,” says 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.”

Early customer interest in the EV600 has been strong, with the first vehicles to be delivered by the end of this year. BrightDrop expects to make the EV600s available to more customers to order starting in early 2022.

For full coverage of BrightDrop read the current issue of Truck & Fleet Middle East magazine.

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Stephen Whitehttps://truckandfleetme.com/
Stephen White was formerly editor of Big Project ME.
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