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How BrightDrop's last-mile solutions will do more than electrify

BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz tells us why his company's electrified products will do more than remove emissions from the age-old game of getting stuff where it's needed.

GM BrightDrop

BrightDrop is more than just another concept box on wheels.

GM

It's easy to dismiss BrightDrop as another player in the burgeoning, battery-powered delivery truck game. Canoo, Rivian, Arrival, Bollinger and dozens of others have shown off concepts capitalizing on the unique packaging advantages offered by electrification. Specifically, battery-powered rigs offer a wide, flat floor that's ideal for hauling all the Prime Day deliveries your itchy buyin' finger could ever dream of.

Amid that already crowded crop of mostly rendered panel vans, BrightDrop's EV600 doesn't really seem to stand out. Dig a little deeper, as I had the opportunity to do in a recent conversation with BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz, and the depth of the initiative begins to come through. This isn't a startup looking to just cut emissions. The goal here is to fundamentally change the game of last-mile delivery, and it starts with BrightDrop's other electrified offering, the EP1 electronic pallet. That, believe it or not, was designed for shorter deliveries.

"The backstory is the explosive growth of e-commerce," Katz told me. Online shopping was a 4 trillion dollar industry last year, already growing 33% over the year previous and expected to be double that by 2025. You know what that means: more boxes on more trucks headed to more destinations. This created what Katz called "negative externalities." That's a business-oriented euphemism for unpleasant urban realities like double-parked delivery trucks and idling vans in bike lanes. You know, typical annoying city stuff, set to be annoying unless something changes.

GM BrightDrop EP1

The EP1 is BrightDrop's first product, and it already promises massive time savings for delivery workers.

GM

The EP1 is the first start. Again, it doesn't look like much, just an electric, motorized locker capable of hauling a lot of boxes -- 250 pounds worth to be precise. This capacity, plus its self-propelled nature, will have a dramatic impact on idle times. "A traditional delivery guy driving through Manhattan may go back and forth to the van five or six times with the dolly to deliver to a single building," Kaz told me. With the EP1, that could be reduced to a single trip. According to Katz, early findings show a 25% boost in efficiency with the EP1. "Not small gains," Katz said, "game-changing gains."

The EP1 was of course designed to work seamlessly with the bigger EV600, an electric delivery vehicle that Katz says BrightDrop was able to develop so quickly thanks to its relationship with GM. "We're leveraging engineering work that's gone into other GM EVs," he said. Specifically he's referring to the GM's Ultium Drive platform.

Electrification naturally reduces emissions, but it can also be cheaper to run thanks to reduced fuel costs and maintenance. I asked Katz when a brand like FedEx, BrightDrop's first customer, will actually see a cost savings for something like this. According to Katz, the savings will be immediate: "These guys don't look at sticker price, they look at TCO. And we've already reached the crossing point." Estimates are a savings of $7,000 per year per truck vs. diesel. That's huge.

And there will be more savings, though they may be a bit harder to quantify. Again thanks to the GM relationship, BrightDrop is will festoon the EV600 with a full suite of active safety systems, all the latest and greatest ADAS features like automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and 360-degree cameras. Today, your average diesel delivery van doesn't have airbags.

The savings go deeper still: BrightDrop offers a comprehensive suite of fleet management services to not only manage and maintain a customer's vehicles, but also to optimize use. And what about those customers? As I mentioned above, FedEx was first to sign up. Merchants Fleet has also agreed to buy 12,600 EV600s, and Katz promises there are more announcements on that front to come. "The appetite for electrification in this space is very, very high," he told me, and it's easy to see why.

The electrified delivery van revolution has been just a few years away for about a decade now, but it does indeed seem closer today than ever before. Hopefully, the burgeoning war for the right to deliver your next online indulgence doesn't just mean more trucks wedged in more places on more streets.