An approach to vehicle production at a fast rate: have someone else do it
By Gary S. Vasilash
General Motors is proud because in a rapidly changing industry, it shows that it can go fast.
“Getting our first electric vehicles on the streets in record time before another peak holiday shipping season is the best gift we could receive this year, especially when we consider the supply chain headwinds the world is facing right now,” said Travis Katz, BrightDrop president and CEO.
BrightDrop is the GM business that is developing products—such as electric delivery truck and associated material handling equipment—for companies like FedEx Express and Verizon.
The classification is “eLCV,” for “electric light delivery commercial vehicle.”
Katz is referring to the production of the EV600.
From concept to development in 20 months.
Speaking of the build speed, Katz continued, “This is a strong statement to the market of how our unique operations setup, which marries the cutting-edge innovation, agility and focus of a technology startup with the scale and manufacturing might of a major automaker, can deliver real value to both customers and the planet.”
An interesting aspect of this.
The early builds of the EV600 were done for General Motors by automation supplier Kuka AG.
Perhaps that is the “unique operations setup.”
To be fair, GM will be building the EV600, the EV410 and possibly other vehicles at its CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. The plant is currently being transformed for the production.
The first EV600 is expected to go off the line at CAMI in November 2022.
No, this is not predicated on some prognostication wrapped in a Tweet by Elon Musk, nor by the potential that Syd Mead fans may actually get their Cybertruck before the end of 2021.
No, this is not predicated on Joe Biden’s plan recommendation to transform the government’ fleet of ~650,000 vehicles from gasoline and diesel to electric as part of the “Buy American” initiative.
No, this is not even predicated on GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement last week that the vehicle manufacturer intends to become completely (i.e., product and process) carbon-neutral by 2040, including an “aspiration” to eliminate tailpipe emissions by 2035.
No, this is because of three other data points that all came out on the same day this week, all of which indicate that electric vehicles are taking on some significant substance.
BrightDrop Gets Second Order
BrightDrop, the company that GM recently established for business deliveries that is predicated on EVs and logistics software, has obtained an order for 12,600 BrightDrop EV600s, from Merchants Fleet, a company that describes itself as “the nation’s fastest growing fleet management company.” Deliveries of the EV600, a light commercial vehicle with some 600 cubic feet of cargo capacity and a range of up to 250 miles, are to start in 2023. The first customer for the trucks is FedEx. The importance of cargo vehicles for EVs can’t be overstated. Not only has Amazon invested a few hundred million in Rivian, but it has ordered 100,000 electric trucks, with deliveries starting later this year.
Edmunds Declares “Pivotal Year”
“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector. We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences.” That’s Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. While the projected growth of EV retail sales is still small—according to Edmunds, they were 1.9% in 2020 and are expected to reach just 2.5% of the market in 2021—the firm anticipates that the greater number of available products in 2021, 30 vehicles including 13 SUVs and six trucks, should start making a big difference.
EY Sees “Massive Evolution” in Transport
“Electrifying transport is critical for Europe to meet its tough emissions targets and create a decarbonized future. Transitioning fleet first will pave the way and generate new commercial opportunities, including vehicle-to-grid and electric vehicle charging solutions among others. In order to achieve this, a fleet-centric approach is needed across both government and industry, which aims to remove barriers in areas including common standards and investment,” says Serge Colle, EY Global Power & Utilities Leader. While he is specifically talking about Europe, where the CO2 emissions standards are demanding and becoming more so, the focus on fleets (think things like EV600) is key because as EY research indicates: “the lessons learned from accelerating fleet electrification such as the development of sustainable business models that support charging infrastructure investment and integration of smart charging capability, will enable the wider secondary and passenger vehicle market to transition quicker.” First the fleet. Then the driveway.–gsv
The Cadillac LYRIQ, which is to become available in the first half of 2022, certainly looks promising as an electric, luxury SUV, one that may help the brand, which, let’s face it, has been struggling in the market for the past few years—here’s something that is not well known: although Acura is generally considered to be having a tough time of it in the U.S. market, in 2020 it outsold Cadillac, 136,983 vehicles to 129,495 vehicles; Acura also outsold Cadillac in 2019.
The Cadillac CELESTIQ, an electric sedan that takes luxury to levels that Cadillac hasn’t had on offer for, arguably, ever, combining hand-crafted materials with technology, such as a four-quadrant glass roof that allows individual selection of the level of transparency, is another arrow in the quiver of a transforming brand. Although it is still a concept vehicle, it is unlikely that General Motors would draw as much attention to it as it has (it was part of Mary Barra’s CES 2021 keynote) were it—or something damn close to it—not going into production.
That said, even though General Motors is investing $27-billion in vehicle electrification and automation, the most important launch, revealed during Barra’s presentation, is of a vehicle that none of us will individually own:
The EV600, an all-electric, purpose-built light commercial vehicle.
The LYRIQ and the CELESTIQ may be sexy, but logistics is where it is at and will drive the proliferation of electric vehicles in a way that it will take the consumer market a long time to catch up to.
The owners of fleets of commercial vehicles—like FedEx, which GM worked with on the development of the EV600 (and the EP1, an electric rectangle on wheels that has a capacity of 200 pounds and a top speed of 3 mph)—do the math when it comes to vehicle acquisition. If it is going to be to their financial advantage to get EVs, then they’re not going to worry about things like available infrastructure, because they’ll build their own. They’re not going to have range anxiety, because they know precisely where their trucks are going and when.
(And it probably doesn’t hurt that it provides a green sheen to their brands by going EV.)
–Amazon, which owns a piece of it, is having Rivian build electric delivery vans that are to be on the road next year at a number of about 10,000, perhaps going to 100,000 by 2030.
–Ford has announced the 2022 E-Transit delivery van that is going to be available later this year, and emphasized the benefits of the electric propulsion system vs. its own internal combustion offerings (with the scheduled maintenance of the E-Transit being an estimated 40% less over eight years/100,000 miles).
–And there are start-ups like Arrival, which companies including Hyundai and UPS have invested in.
Sure, we pay attention to LYRIQs and CELESTIQs.
But consider this: in an industry that seems to be shedding operations, General Motors has established a new business, BrightDrop, that is dedicated to delivery, not only vehicles like the EV600 and EP1, but even logistical software services.
This is a non-trivial commitment—and likely to be a prosperous one, as Mary Barra and her colleagues know that commercial companies do the math and need a whole lot less persuading to go electric.–gsv