18 Oct 22

Brad Bell, BrightDrop: Paving the future of logistics with EVs

The goal of BrightDrop, the electric commercial vehicle division of General Motors, is to reduce costs, maximize productivity, improve safety, and to reduce carbon footprint of companies by building smarter, greener and more efficient solutions for delivery.

Earlier this month, I was sitting in one of their delivery vans talking to BrightDrop Head of Sales Brad Bell and these are the excerpts of our conversation. 

What is the vehicle we are sitting in right now?

Bell: You are sitting in the Zevo 600 electric-powered delivery van. It is a 600-cubic-foot vehicle which is 24-feet long, nine-feet tall, and seven-feet wide, and has an estimated range of 250 miles on a single charge. It will be available in the United States and Canada starting in January 2023.

Photo: Global Fleet Editor Daniel Bland and Brad Bell (copyright: Global Fleet - Daniel Bland)

So, it’s a 2023 model?

Bell: Yes, 2023. We will have the 2024 model of the Zevo 600 available in July 2023. The Zevo 400 (EV 410), which is a 400-cubic-foot step van will be available in the US and Canada starting in 4Q23. It is the same as the Zevo 600 except that it is smaller. Its approximately four feet shorter and it fits into a standard parking spot.  These are the two vans we have announced to date.

And what is the main competitive advantage you have? 

Bell: The main advantage we have, and it was a conscious decision, is vehicle range. The Zevo 600 range of some 250 miles is the highest in the industry.  It gives our fleet customers a lot of flexibility on how to deploy the asset, meaning vehicle usage and types of routes to run. Being able to run the routes they need is absolutely key to alleviating range anxiety.  For the size of this vehicle, its pretty decent. 

Another thing to point out is operating cost. Considering the current fuel prices for an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle today, we can say that our operating cost is approximately $12,000 less per year. This is considering energy costs as well as maintenance. Both are significantly less in an EV compared to ICE vehicles.

However, the initial price of an EV is more than an ICE vehicle so have you calculated ROI?

Bell: We have but it really depends on the cost of the ICE vehicle a customer is converting from. In the end, when fuel costs settle in, we can say in general that customers are going to see a payback in 2-3 years.

What about customizing or to say upfitting. Does BrightDrop do that?

Bell: We don't do any upfitting to our vehicles, but there are a lot of companies out there that specifically focus on this service. After a customer places an order with one of our certified dealers, we specify a vendor and ship the vehicle to the upfitter to install shelves or whatever is needed. It is then delivered to the customer.

So, the 2023 models will not be ready until January, but you have already sold quite a few vans right?

Bell: Absolutely, as you know, our relationship with FedEx has been very public. They purchased several 2022 models of the Zevo 600 and currently have a fleet of 150 vans delivering packages in California. FedEx has publicly stated that they intend to purchase more.

Meanwhile, we are in the process of putting together deals with new customers. Remember, however, that we don’t take orders directly as they are all done through dealers. To facilitate, we are working hand-in-hand with customers so that we can secure their place in line for next year’s production. When they go to the dealer to place the order, we want to make sure the assets will be available for them to buy.

Zevo 600 on display at Merchants Fleet Summit 2022, New Hampshire (copyright: Global Fleet - Daniel Bland)

And who are some of your other customers?

Bell: Besides a deal with Walmart which was announce in 2000, Merchants Fleet has publicly stated that it intends to buy at least 18,000 vans over the next five years. Hertz also made an announcement that it intends to buy 175,000 General Motors vehicles over the next five years, meaning various GM EVs as well as Zevo models.

EVs are going to be a very big market. Expansion into regions beyond North America is certainly possible but our focus is more specifically in the US and Canada right now. 

Is there anything besides EVs we should look out for in the future? 

Bell: As companies try to optimize the movement of goods, one thing to keep an eye on besides EVs is micro-mobility. For us, that means focusing on the last 100 feet or so of delivery by way of our Trace family of products [electric-propelled delivery carts].

The Trace cart works with our electrified delivery cards deemed the EBT card. It is used by foot couriers making deliveries to high rise apartment buildings and mall-based settings. The courier walks with a secured locker which enables them to make deliveries on foot as opposed to just having a vehicle.

A lot of cities – more so in Europe - are starting to restrict areas of the city from vehicles because of congestion so the Trace car is the perfect platform for deliveries. We see the micro-mobility segment incrementally growing in the future and we intend to be a part of it. 

To benchmark your global fleet strategy by understanding how companies and their fleet decision makers are interpreting trends such as cost savings, electrification, and connected technology, download your free copy of the Global Fleet Survey 2022 e-book

Top Photo: Brad Bell (handout)

Authored by: Daniel Bland