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In January of this year, General Motors (GM) partnered to launch BrightDrop, an ecosystem of logistics electric vans, electric delivery pallets and cloud-based connected software for first and last-mile deliveries.

Auto Futures talks with CEO and President, Travis Katz, who details how BrightDrop plans to electrify vehicles and make last and first-mile deliveries more efficient.

Katz is no stranger to new companies focused on data. He was co-founder and CEO of (formerly Gogobot) an online travel company acquired by CTrip (now Group) in 2017. He decided to lead BrightDrop because he wanted to make an impact.

“I’m a software entrepreneur by trade. I gravitate towards things like big data and machine learning and optimization problems. I’ve always been fascinated by how you can leverage data to solve problems,” says Katz.

“After selling my last company, I took some time off to travel with my family. However, as a parent, I am passionate about doing something to reduce the impacts of climate change to ensure we provide our children with a brighter future. I was interested in applying the knowledge and skills I developed in the high tech world to make an impact. When GM reached out with this opportunity, it was a nice combination of my skills and passion.”

Brightdrop Ceo And President Travis Katz

BrightDrop A Start-up Supported by GM Expertise

GM and partners backed BrightDrop for manufacturing and finance. However, BrightDrop is a separate company and more like a start-up.

“Like GM, we are a values-driven company that believes in an all-electric future. We know it’s going to take more than electrifying consumer vehicles to get there. What’s unique about BrightDrop is that we are set up as a separate business. It gives us the ability to move at startup speed—while we are tapping into the deep expertise and scale in electrification and manufacturing of General Motors. This expertise will allow us to quickly scale production and move down the cost curve while delivering high-quality products that will keep drivers on the road,” says Katz.

Global e-commerce is soaring as consumers want – and expect – their packages faster than ever before. This growth is not only leading to dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions but is also increasing congestion and creating safety hazards. BrightDrop solutions are designed to meet these challenges head-on, says Katz.

The EV600 light commercial vehicles are all-electric, eliminating tailpipe emissions. The EP1 electrically-propelled containers streamline delivery to help reduce congestion. Plus, the whole idea behind BrightDrop is that it goes beyond the vehicle, says Katz.

“It’s about how we create a holistic set of solutions that ultimately delivers better cities long-term. As cities become increasingly congested with the rise in e-commerce, it’s really the perfect optimization challenge. What sets BrightDrop apart is its one-stop-shop ecosystem. End-to-end, BrightDrop can help with virtually every aspect of a delivery fleets’ needs. We don’t just make one product or just fleet management software. We have developed an integrated ecosystem of products and services that can help improve almost every aspect of first to last-mile delivery,” says Katz.

He explains BrightDrop is focused on reshaping cities through smarter and more efficient ways to deliver goods and services. BrightDrop is doing it through its ecosystem of all-electric first-to-last-mile solutions. The solution includes electric delivery vans, electrically-propelled containers and connected cloud-based software. It will help enable delivery and logistics companies to move everything more efficiently. And reduce harmful emissions in cities and congestion.

“If you look at the cost of delivering a package today-only 15% of that cost is related to the vehicle. The other 85% — that is the opportunity we are targeting with the broader ecosystem. For me, what that says is that the opportunity is massive in the same way that every other vertical is becoming data-driven,” says Katz.

“The last-mile is ripe for picking, so we think of it as the vehicles are the easy part to understand, but the real value unlock for a company is in everything else – and that’s where BrightDrop’s holistic ecosystem approach differentiates itself,” says Katz

BrightDrop provides EV600 Vans, EP1 propelled e-pallets, fleet management software and support services such as parts. The EV600 is based on the GM’s Ultium battery platform with 600 cubic feet of cargo space that can hold 2,200 lbs of cargo.

Its newest vehicle, the EV410. boasts more than 400 cubic feet of cargo area, a wheelbase of just over 150 inches, and length of under 20 feet.

Verizon, one of the largest fleet operators in the U.S., is the first customer slated to integrate the EV410 into its field maintenance and service fleet.


Moving Heavier Loads and Reducing Physical Strain

BrightDrop features are the result of extensive research and real-world testing and learning done with customers to understand the challenges delivery companies face daily. Early studies provided the company initial insights and design feedback to help shape products, Katz says.

The EP1 is an electrically-propelled and connected container developed to transport goods over short distances, such as from a truck to the delivery location. The EP1 design helps reduce package touchpoints, operational costs, and physical strain on workers.

“Our EP1 is designed to reduce the number of trips but is also propulsion-assisted which allows couriers to move heavier loads and help reduce physical strain on the labour force,” says Katz.

Tests showed the ability to deliver more packages and reduce strain.

“In our first pilot, FedEx Express couriers were able to safely and effectively handle 25% more packages per day with the EP1s. FedEx Express couriers also shared feedback that the EP1s were easy to manoeuvre and reduced physical strain,” says Katz.

Last month, GM announced a collaboration with the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab and several tech and delivery companies to launch one of the nation’s first zero operating-emissions, last-mile neighbourhood delivery hubs.

“This pilot is unique in that we are using it to test the feasibility of different use cases for our EP1s, including delivery of perishable goods and meal kits by integrating our EP1s with e-cargo bikes,” says Katz.

To keep cargo safe, the EP1 has gone through extensive durability testing both while in use by an operator and while in the back of a van. The EP1 includes lockable cabinet doors allowing for secure, remote access to contents, as well as adjustable shelving for the organization of contents, adds Katz.

Brightdrop Ev600 With Fedex Express Branding

The Software Backdrop for BrightDrop

BrightDrop data can be accessed through web and mobile interfaces. Connected data includes location monitoring, battery status and remote commands, like lock and unlock, says Katz.

He notes BrightDrop’s integrated software platform can provide customers greater operational visibility, control and insights for their vehicle fleets or EP1 mobile assets.

The benefits are even greater when the full range of vehicles and mobile assets are managed together on the platform – providing end-to-end visibility and efficiency.

Brightdrop Ep1

More Partners for BrightDrop FedEx and Merchants Fleet

Since the launch earlier this year, GM announced that FedEx Express is slated to receive the first 500 EV600s.

BrightDrop also announced that Merchants Fleet, the nation’s fastest-growing fleet management company, is slated to purchase 12,600 EV600s.

“I think our announcements with FedEx Express and Merchants Fleet signal the great interest we are receiving overall and the momentum we have had right out the gate,” says Katz.

“The opportunity is substantial. We previously announced that the first BrightDrop EV600s are scheduled to hit the road later this year, and we are on target to hit that milestone,” says Katz.

GM is investing over $800 Million to convert GM’s CAMI Assembly facility into Canada’s first large-scale commercial electric vehicle manufacturing plant and that the EV600 will be built there.

“My vision for BrightDrop is to be a leading provider of integrated, delivery solutions that will help drive efficiencies and sustainable growth for commercial customers. In addition to customer benefits, BrightDrop can also help create safer and less congested cities around us. And all of this will be achieved by our unique ecosystem approach,” says Katz.

He sees the company growing. “Overall, we believe the strong growth of e-commerce and delivery, and the benefits of electrification in terms of the total cost of ownership (TCO) and sustainability, are going to drive strong, sustainable growth for years.”

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