Ford Motor Co., long the segment’s most dominant automaker in North America, said last year that it would build an electric commercial van that will go on sale this year. GM also faces competition from startups including Michigan-based EV automaker Rivian.
GM currently offers the gasoline-powered Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans, which have not been redesigned since they were introduced in 1995. The automaker is banking on its new electric van to stand out in what it expects will be a growing segment.
GM expects the market for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the United States to exceed US $850 billion ($1.08 trillion) by 2025, with the number of delivery vehicles in the world’s 100 largest cities growing by 36 per cent by the end of the decade. GM plans to launch BrightDrop in the United States and Canada.
VANS MAKE IDEAL EVs
The automaker thinks the market for electric commercial vans will grow exponentially in that period.
Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive, said EVs are well-suited to the commercial space, since range anxiety is largely a nonfactor with short drives, and the cost of maintenance, theoretically, is lower than that of gasoline-powered vans.
Cox Automotive is an investor in Rivian.
“There’s a lot of volume [in fleet], and it’s quite predictable volume,” Krebs said. “With EVs, you can make a big dent in emissions by going to EVs in a fleet. You also have more control, you know where they’re going and you can plan the infrastructure around charging them.”
Offering services alongside the van — such as the electric pallet, called the EP1, and fleet-management software and services —gives GM an advantage among competitors that offer vehicles only, Krebs said. Additionally, the automaker has a large dealer network in the United States and Canada that can make servicing the vans easier than vehicles purchased from smaller competitors, she said.
GM’s first BrightDrop van customer is FedEx, which has ordered 500 EV600s. Assembly of those vehicles will begin in November at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont. Production for other customers will begin in 2022.
UNIFOR ON BOARD
The scope of GM’s plans for BrightDrop was one of the reasons that Unifor decided to negotiate with the automaker eight months before the prior collective agreement for 1,900 CAMI workers was set to expire in September, said union President Jerry Dias. Unifor, like GM, believes e-commerce will continue to grow globally in the coming years, even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and health restrictions are lifted.