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Electric First-To-Last-Mile Ecosystems Is A New GM Focus

There haven’t been a lot of electric first-to-last mile ecosystems in place, but GM hopes to change that with its new business.

We’ve been writing about electric last mile mobility for a while here at CleanTechnica — we’ve looked at CityFreighter, Rad Power Bikes for pizza delivery, Lightning Systems, even electric scooters. But there haven’t been a lot of electric first-to-last mile ecosystems in place.

General Motors (GM) hopes to change that with its new business.

BrightDrop will offer an ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software, and support services to empower delivery and logistics companies to deliver goods and services more efficiently. BrightDrop is the result of research, listening to challenges faced by delivery customers, and leveraging the company’s knowledge base. GM’s stated goal is to develop real-life solutions to help businesses lower costs, maximize productivity, improve employee safety and freight security, and support overall sustainability efforts.

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


Image provided courtesy of GM Corporate Newsroom

What is First-to-Last Mile Transit? Why GM?

First-to-last-mile transit morphed from telecommunication to logistics companies like FedEx, UPS, and Amazon, and describes the process from beginning to end point deliveries. These trips are complex chains to optimize and hope to lower the cost of shipping a parcel from from origin to delivery destination.

The first mile — the initial leg of the journey that an item will make in the individual company’s supply chain — involves transportation of manufactured goods from a supplier’s warehouse to the retailer’s distribution center.

A middle mile step often follows, in which items are taken from the distribution center and sent to individual store locations. During first mile and middle mile deliveries, the inventory is often moved in batches. An entire crate, pallet, or master carton of items will be transferred from location to location. (Note: It can be argued that Tesla skips the middle mile step and has first mile deliveries sent straight to the consumer.)

The last mile is the journey from a retail store or shipping warehouse to the end customer’s home.

“BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” said Mary Barra, GM chair 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.”

From a growth strategy standpoint, this first-to-last-mile new business will unlock areas of business-to-business (B2B), expansion of the Ultium platform, and software and service opportunities. An EP1 pilot program has already been completed in partnership with FedEx Express. During the pilot, FedEx Express couriers were able to effectively and safely handle 25% more packages per day with the EP1s.

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% 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 offers 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 utilize the mobile application for a variety of tasks.

The EP1 is scheduled to be available in early 2021, and its electric light commercial vehicle, the EV600, will be on roads in late 2021. The first-to-last-mile network will allow customers to connect with BrightDrop through an independent sales and service network, leveraging a newly established BrightDrop dealer network to support vehicle sales and service.

The EP1: A Propulsion-Assisted, Electric Pallet

BrightDrop’s first product to market, the EP1, will be a propulsion-assisted, electric pallet developed to easily move goods over short distances – for example, from the delivery vehicle to the customer’s front door. The EP1 is designed to reduce package touch points, overall operational costs, and physical strain on the labor force.

The BrightDrop mobile asset management platform provides insights to an EP1, including its real-time location, battery status, remote commands to lock and unlock, and over-the-air updates of connected features.

EP1 features and benefits include:

  • Built-in electric hub motors with adjustable speed up to 3 mph depending on operator’s walking pace
  • Maneuverable in tight spaces
  • Carries and secures approximately 23 total cubic feet of cargo
  • Payload capacity of 200 pounds
  • Adjustable shelving organizes contents
  • Lockable cabinet doors allow for secure, remote access to contents

The EV600: First-To-Last-Mile Benefits to Fleet Operators

BrightDrop’s next first-to-last-mile product to market will be the EV600 — an electric light commercial vehicle purpose-built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. It will combine zero-emissions driving with a range of advanced safety and convenience features more common in consumer electric vehicles.

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. BrightDrop expects to make the EV600s available to more customers to order starting in early 2022.

EV600 features and benefits include:

  • Powered by the Ultium battery system, the BrightDrop EV600 is targeted to have an estimated range of up to 250 miles on a full charge and will have segment leading safety features.
  • The BrightDrop EV600 is an electric light commercial vehicle purpose-built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges.
  • Powered by the Ultium battery system, the EV600 is targeted to have 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.Over 600 cubic feet of cargo area.
  • Available at a GVWR of less than 10,000 pounds.

Standard safety features include:

  • Front and Rear Park Assist
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Forward Collision Alert
  • Following Distance Indicator
  • Front Pedestrian Braking
  • Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning
  • IntelliBeam automatic high beams
  • HD Rear Vision Camera

Additional available safety and driver assistance features include:

  • Rear Cross Traffic Braking
  • Blind Zone Steering Assist
  • Reverse Automatic Braking
  • HD Surround Vision
  • Rear Pedestrian Alert
  • Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Cargo area security system with motion sensors to help keep cargo secure
  • A 13.4-inch-diagonal, full-color infotainment screen
  • Front sliding pocket doors
  • Wide cabin walkways
  • A large auto-open cargo bulkhead door
  • Software-enabled services

Final Thoughts

FedEx Express is slated to be the first customer of the EV600, receiving its 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 FedEx Express deliveries, while reducing our environmental impact and protecting the well-being of our couriers.”

This new GM First-to-last-mile business will initially serve customers in the US and Canada. It will have a customer support team to assist with 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.

BrightDrop was born out of GM’s Global Innovation organization and joins the lineup of other recently launched Global Innovation startups, such as OnStar Insurance, OnStar Guardian, and GM Defense.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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