Electric Delivery: A Clever Approach to Logistics

This van is compact, capable and electric. And it has a hell of a price-point

This is nothing if not clever.

Even were it not for COVID-19, the success of e-commerce was driving all manner of commercial delivery vehicles into neighborhoods across the U.S. The pandemic has only accelerated that growth, and suddenly even businesses that never imagined that they’d be in the delivery business (e.g., restaurants that aren’t based on pizza) suddenly are if they want to stay in business.

One of the characteristics of electric vehicles is that because they have fewer parts than a vehicle with a combustion engine, there are fewer things that could break. In addition to which, there are fluids, like oil, that need to be changed.

Companies that have fleets of vehicles (even if that fleet consists of, well, one), know that maintenance is both costly and time consuming.

So that’s on the good side of the ledger for an electric delivery vehicle.

So James Taylor, who is the founder and CEO of Electric Last Mile Solutions (and a man who has run operations with names that you might be more familiar with, like Cadillac and Hummer), says that a right-sized delivery vehicle that happens to be electric can be a cost-effective game-changer for many companies.

The vehicle that will be offered by Electric Last Mile Solutions (ELMS) is a Class 1 delivery van. It is based on a model that is on the road in China, the Sokon EC35. It has a cargo capacity of 170 cubic feet and a maximum payload of 2,403 pounds. It is compact, with a 120-inch wheelbase and a length, width and height of 177, 66 and 78 inches, respectively.

The ELMS Class 1 delivery vehicle. (Image: ELMS)

It has a 100 kW electric motor from JJE and a 42-kWh battery from CATL.

It has a range of 150 miles.

Back to that cost of equipment issue.

According to Taylor, the vehicle is going to be priced at about $32,500. When you take the $7,500 federal tax credit off of that, it is at $25,000, a price, he says, that someone can get a combustion-powered Class 1 van for. So because of the reduction in required maintenance and other factors, Taylor says the total cost of ownership is about 35% better than the traditional approach.

The vehicles will be produced in Mishawaka, Indiana, in the 675,000-square-foot factory that used to be the Hummer plant. It has the capacity to build over 100,000 vehicle per year, which is probably a good thing for Taylor because he says that they have more than 30,000 reservations for the vehicle.

The bodies-in-white will be delivered to the plant so there is no stamping, welding or painting involved. It will be all about assembly.

Because there is a vast array of requirements in the commercial space, Taylor says upfitters will actually work within the Mishawaka plant so customers will get their van from the factory.

It is very clever.

Taylor talks about what ELMS is doing on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Christie Schweinsberg of Wards Intelligence and me.

In addition, McElroy, Schweinsberg and I discuss a variety of other subjects including the need for better and more extensive EV charging infrastructure, the introduction of the Chevrolet Bolt EUV, Jaguar Land Rover’s plans to go electric, Ford of Europe’s electrification plans, and a whole lot more.

All of which you can see right here.

How the 2021 Ford Raptor Came to Be the Beast It Is

One can only wonder how much sand the engineering team had to wash out of their clothes. . .

Although the official name is the “2021 F-150 Raptor,” now in its third generation, the vehicle is more commonly known as, well, “the Raptor.” While it is certainly based on the F-150, it is an extreme execution of a vehicle that is engineered to do the sorts of things that even outlier owners of conventional F-150s would never even think of.

Sketches that led to a Raptor. (Image: Ford)

Notes Tony Greco, Ford Program Manager, F-150 Raptor, “It has never been as differentiated from the F-150” as it is now.

While the team behind the development of the conventional F-150 spent a lot of time with contractors and serious DIY homeowners, and while members of that team certainly own and use trucks on a daily basis, Greco says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” “I work with a lot of passionate off-road guys.”

So it is not entirely surprising when Greco is asked to list the top things that he says differentiate the Raptor from other vehicles, he lists:

  1. The suspension
  2. The enhanced steel frame
  3. The 37-inch tires
  4. Fox—the supplier of the internal bypass shocks with SOA electronic control technology, the largest shocks (3.1-inch diameter) ever offered on a Raptor—becoming more than a supplier, working with the team like a partner

You may notice from the list that there is a lot about the suspension, which is what Greco says they spent a lot of time concentrating on. For example, he said that when they were looking at the rear suspension, they went through the considerable parts bins at Ford—including Ford Performance, the real home of the vehicle—and didn’t find what they were looking for. So they developed a five-link suspension with extra-long trailing arms—the better to deal with the toughest terrain.

Then there are those 37-inch tires, which required frame modifications for accommodation. Why not even larger? Simply because they wanted to make sure that a full-size spare tire could be handled under the vehicle, not put in the bed, which would take away from the ability to haul stuff. Remember—while this truck can do Baja, it can also carry things on that weekend Home Depot run.

Greco also notes that the design of the Raptor pushes things to an extreme that speaks to the capability of the truck.

While there is another truck that has come on the scene of late that challenges the Raptor—the Ram 1500 TRX—Greco says with the Raptor, which debuted in MY 2010, they created a segment and are not giving it up—to anyone. He also says that the team knew what they wanted to achieve when they started on the 2021 vehicle, and kept to it, regardless of the introduction of the new competitor.

Greco talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer (and truck guy) Mark Williams, and me on the show.

In addition McElroy, Williams and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including the MY 2022 Nissan Frontier (the third generation of that midsize pickup); the acceptance of the truck community of new vehicles coming from new companies that happen to have electric motors; the California DMV automated vehicle disengagement performance in 2020 by GM Cruise and Waymo; and a whole lot more.

Watch this edition of “Autoline After Hours” right here.

The Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing & CT5-V Blackwing: Yes, “Cadillac”

If when you think “Cadillac” you think of something big and lush and lumbering like the Escalade (no offense to the SUV, but it is 211 inches long and weighs up to 6,015 pounds, a.k.a., three tons), then the 2022 V-Series Blackwing vehicles are going to absolutely upend that notion: The CT5-V Blackwing is powered by a hand-built (think about that for a moment) 668-hp. 6.2-liter supercharged V8 mated to a six-speed manual TREMEC transmission; the sedan has a top speed of over 200 mph.

Then there’s the CT4-V Blackwing, which is smaller, a subcompact, and is certainly no slouch, as it is fitted with a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 such that it has an estimated top speed of 189 mph. Equipped with the optional 10-speed automatic (which is also available for the other car), it has an estimated 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.

2022 CT4-V Blackwing (left) and CT5-V Blackwing (right): engineered to perform. (Image: Cadillac)

Of course, when you go fast you also need to, well, stop, so there are serious Brembos deployed, with the CT5-V Blackwing featuring the largest factory-installed brakes in Cadillac history: 15.67 x 1.42-inch front rotors and 14.7 x 1.1-inch rear rotors. (There is also a lightweight carbon-ceramic brake package available, which is helpful in track situations, in particular, as it reduces unsprung mass by 53 pounds and rotating mass by 62 pounds.)

At this point you might be wondering why these vehicles are being named with their full names. That’s because you can go to a Cadillac dealership and buy a CT4 or a CT5. Or you can buy a CT4-V or a CT5-V.

The Blackwing execution is a whole different thing.

And so to that end, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Tony Roma, chief engineer of Cadillac V-Series Blackwing, provides a deep dive into the features that they’ve brought to the vehicles in order to make them track-capable vehicles straight out of the dealer’s showroom.

Roma talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and me.

Roma says that their objective was to make a vehicle that is “light, nimble and precise.”

Which is arguably what some people might not think about when it comes to Cadillacs.

Then McElroy, Paukert and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including Cadillac’s electric future (Roma is also the chief engineer for the forthcoming, ultra-luxury Celestiq electric vehicle), the agreement between Google and Ford and the whole issue of data monetization, January sales and a whole lot more.

And you can see it all here.–gsv

Does Tueor Technologies Have a Better Idea for Vehicle Control Systems?

Although one of the claimed benefits of the Digital Current System (DCS) developed by Tueor Technologies is that it is “hack-proof,” what is possibly more compelling is that according to Dan Greene, chief operations officer for the company, is that it eliminates from 80 to 90% of the wiring needed for a vehicle’s electrical control system.

Just one loop of coaxial cable. It carries power. It carries data. It combines grounding and feedback.

There is a master control node running the system. There are sensor nodes, switching nodes and slave nodes. Each of the nodes has a varying level of intelligence, from obtaining information to essentially doing a single task, such as locking and unlocking a door.

Tueor’s simple, safe system. (Image: Tueor Technology)

Should the cable break, the DCS keeps working, Greene says.

The unhackability is predicated on the fact that it is a closed system and should there be an update necessary—over-the-air or otherwise—it cannot be loaded into a vehicle system unless there is explicit permission given by the owner. And to prevent something non-desirable from piggybacking onto a valid update, Greene says a check-sum system can be setup so if something is supposed to be X and it is seen to be X + 1, then it will not be permitted to load into the system.

According to Greene, Tueor began its work on the system to address the ability to hack medical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps. Then they moved on to satellites. Then to military vehicles, working with AM General on the Stryker armored vehicle.

Auto application?

Not yet.

Seems that OEMs and suppliers are not engaging with the Tueor team.

Greene and his colleague John Dinkel talk about the DCS on “Autoline After Hours” to “Autoline’s” John McElroy; Henry Payne, auto critic for the Detroit News; and me.

Then John, Henry and I discuss a number of subjects, with a particular focus on electric vehicles, as Henry is an enthusiastic owner of a Tesla Model 3 and as on the day of the show GM’s Mary Barra announced that the corporation plans to be carbon-neutral in both its operations and products by 2040. Part of that undertaking includes “an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035,” which means an increase in the number of vehicles it puts on the road that don’t have internal combustion engines but possibly frunks under the hoods.

We talk about innovation and corporate cultures. And a whole lot more.

All of which can be seen right here.

Gentex: Mirrors and Much, Much More

That rear-view mirror you have in your vehicle? It was probably made by Gentex Corp., a company on the west side of Michigan that completely dominates the market

And if you have a Homelink button that is fitted within the housing of that mirror (or elsewhere, for that matter), know that Homelink is a Gentex development.

If you’ve been in a Cadillac CT6 and saw that the rear-view mirror was not just a reflective surface but through activation was transformed into a video monitor showing what is behind the car even if there happens to be members of an NBA team sitting in the backseat and consequently obstructing the view, know that that was a Gentex development.

Gentex mirror that is both a typical reflective type as well as a video screen fed by a back-mounted camera. (Image: Gentex)

The company, which started out as a provider of smoke detectors, has become an instrumental part of safe vehicle operation (if you’ve ever tried to drive without your mirrors, you know that it is a dodgy situation—at best).

One of the things that’s interesting about Gentex is that while it has expertise in glass processing (no surpsie), it has extended its range to accommodate capabilities in electronics and microelectronics, software, chemistry, sensors and more.

This, explains Neil Boehm, chief technology officer, is driving the company to develop things that go well beyond what might be expected.

For example, imagine when there are shared autonomous vehicles. Nowadays, although there is a reduced number of people who smoke (and even vaping has taken a bit of a downward turn), let’s say that there is someone in an AV—one that you might be the next in line to get—who lights up a stogie. Boehm says that they’ve taken their knowhow in the smoke detector arena and have developed a system that can be embedded in the HVAC system: Smoke is detected and—remember, there’s that electronics capability (that goes well beyond Homelink)–a message is automatically sent to the AV service provider, which then knows it may have to bring that vehicle back to the depot. And another message—possibility along with the notification of a fine—can be sent to the phone of the cigar smoker.

Boehm talks about these and other developments (e.g., electrochromatic windows; V2I toll and gas pump paying technology; nanofibers that can detect explosives [think of an AV being used as a mobile bomb—an unfortunate thing to have to consider]) on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke, editor-in-chief at SAE International, and me. Gentex is obviously a company that is leveraging its people’s imaginations as well as the developed technologies.

McElroy, Brooke and I also talk about an array of other subjects, including Microsoft’s partnership with General Motors on the Cruise AV program, whether Apple is going to get into the automobile business and what company might manufacture the vehicle, and the implications of the microchip shortage on the auto industry, which has led to the stoppage of production at plants the world over, and something that may have implications going forward for the auto industry.

And you can see the show here. —gsv

Sandy Munro on Tesla, Three-Wheelers and Flying Vehicles

From a functional and executional standpoint, there is probably no one who is more well versed in Tesla than Sandy Munro, who established the lean design, engineering and manufacturing consultancy, Munro & Associates in 1988. The teardowns and analyses that he and his colleagues have performed on Tesla models have become the stuff of grist for the never-stopping mill that is a phenomenon since the vehicles started rolling out of the Fremont, California factory. Has there been an auto company’s products that has garnered more attention? It seems unlikely.

Obviously, once a vehicle has been completely disassembled and assessed, it isn’t the sort of thing in which it is possible to take for a ride.

Arcimoto three-wheeler. (Image: Arcimoto)

So on this edition of “Autolline After Hours” Munro talks about how he has acquired another Model 3. . .and this time he and company president Cory Steuben are going to take it on a road trip, where they will make a determination of everything from how the battery works in the winter of the upper Midwest to the heat of the southwest to how hands-off the Tesla FSD (full-self driving computer system) actually is.

In addition to which, Munro talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy, “Autoline’s” West Coast correspondent Chase Drum and me about what he sees as what is likely to become a growing automotive trend: three-wheel vehicles, like the products developed by Aptera Motors and Arcimoto. Munro explains that these electric vehicles are highly efficient and enjoyable to drive.

What’s more, a couple days before the show GM’s Mary Barra, in a presentation for CES, revealed a concept, the Cadillac Halo, an electric powered, four-rotor VTOL craft. Munro, who has also done extensive work on aircraft, thinks that there is likely to be a proliferation of personal aircraft for commuting.

While this might seem to be something that will be happening in the Jetson’s future, Munro anticipates such transformations in transportation in a matter of years—a few, not many.

And about that Tesla test drive: Munro says that he’ll also take the opportunity to. . .eat a lot of hamburgers.

And you can see it—the show, not the burgers—here.–gsv

Jeff Stout of Yanfeng: The Inside Story

“Exterior design gets them in the vehicle. Interior design keeps them there.”

That may be an old truism, but it is likely accurate.

Consider—what if you’re in the market for a new car and see something that really looks awesome. You know that you’d be proud each and every time you walk up to it in your driveway. You know that you’d be proud to have it in your driveway so your neighbors can see what incredible taste you have.

So you open the door, climb inside, get behind the wheel and—meh.

Nothing special. Maybe underwhelming.

So you figure that this may not be the best choice. After all, while you’re going to see the outside of the vehicle for a minute or two as you approach it, you’re going to be looking at—and using—what’s on the inside for hours on end.

Interiors matter.

A whole lot.

And as the transportation industry moves toward a state where there may be less ownership and increased use of ride hailing, what is going to make the most difference between using Service L and Service U may be the interior execution and amenities.

Yanfeng is a global supplier, with more than 240 branches and some 64,000 employees networked around the world. It specializes in interiors, seating, cockpit electronics, passive safety and more.

Yanfeng XiM 20 concept model: determining the elements of the interior moving forward. (Image: Yanfeng)

Jeff Stout leads global research into technology and mobility for Yanfeng. (To the point of the wide span of the company’s operations, he has an office in Holland, Michigan.)

One of the areas that he and his colleagues are most interested in is what electrification and automation are going to mean vis-à-vis automotive interior development.

For example, in an EV, where there is certainly a consideration when it comes to using stored energy, they are looking at improved thermal management approaches, such as using large interior surfaces—from door trim panels to headliners—as heat sources rather than relying on the blower of a conventional HVAC system.

When it comes to autonomous driving, there are a range of considerations, from monitoring driver awareness for Levels 2 and 3, to how do you assure that the interior of a vehicle is sanitized in shared vehicles so that people are willing to climb in one that someone has climbed out of. (In this case, one of the answers is UV light.)

Stout talks about these and other topics on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Pete Bigelow of Automotive News and me.

It is an hour-long, wide ranging discussion that goes from the inside of vehicles to the market at large, to an analysis and assessment of what’s happening now and what could happen in the not-too-distant future.

And you can see it here. —gsv