FedEx Express is slated to be the first customer of the BrightDrop EV600 electric delivery truck due to be on the roads later this year / © General Motors/AFP
General Motors unveiled plans Tuesday to build electric vans under the new BrightDrop brand, in a move aimed at creating a new ecosystem for delivery of goods.
"BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services," said GM chairman and chief executive Mary Barra as she unveiled the new brand at the virtual Consumer Electronics Show.
GM is partnering with delivery giant Fedex to test the new vehicles and offer what Barra called a "one-stop-shop solution."
The move comes with GM and other automakers racing to keep pace with electric carmaker Tesla's dizzying growth, and as Amazon is set to launch its own electric delivery vans from the startup Rivian.
GM said the new brand aims to offer "an integrated ecosystem of electric products, software and services."
The new business unit will offer a platform for transport from warehouses to retailers as well as for home deliveries, according to the US auto giant, aiming for a piece of what it sees as an $850 billion market for parcel, food delivery and other logistics, fueled by surging online commerce.
Its "electric pallet" called the BrightDrop EP1 will be available in early 2021 and will be a propulsion-assisted system to move goods over short distances such as from a vehicle to the customer's front door.
"Don't be surprised to see couriers leading EP1s down our sidewalks in the next few months," Barra said in her streamed presentation.
The first electric van called the EV600 will be on roads in late 2021, GM said.
"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," Barra said.
GM is launching a new BrightDrop brand for electric vans in a move the auto giant hopes will reshape the delivery ecosystem / © AFP/File
GM also unveiled a new fast-charging system for the vehicles to be known as the Ultium platform.
The EV600 is targeted to have an estimated range of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles) on a full charge.
- FedEx partner -
GM said it has been testing the pallets with FedEx Express and found that couriers were able to boost their deliveries by 25 percent while reducing physical strain.
FedEx also will be the first customer for the EV600 vehicles to be delivered later this year.
"Our need for reliable, sustainable transportation has never been more important," said Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional president of the Americas.
GM has been ramping up efforts to shift to electric vehicles, and on Tuesday offered a preview of its Cadillac EV to be called Celestiq and a new version of its Bolt EV.
"All of this advanced technology puts GM in an incredible position to help accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles," Barra said.
GM separately unveiled its concept for an autonomous air taxi at the 2021 electronics show.
The US auto giant offered few details, releasing only a video of the Cadillac brand electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) on its digital exhibit page.
Several aeronautics firms and startups have shown similar flying cars in recent years, although there are no apparent plans for any immediate commercialization.
Jessica Caldwell of the auto research firm Edmunds said GM is making strides in its electric program.
GM offered a preview of the Cadillac CELESTIQ electric vehicle at the CES / © Cadillac/General Motors/AFP
"GM has made it clear that it's thinking beyond just making cars," Caldwell said.
"And although it's an ambitious goal to launch its own commercial delivery platform, it's fortuitous timing for GM to do so considering the e-commerce boom that the industry has seen over the last 10 months."
The news came as the big electronics show opened its first all-digital event which was forced online due to the pandemic.
CES this year includes some 1,800 exhibitors, less than half the number from last year, and dozens of online conferences and presentations.