Earlier today, Reuters reported that General Motors is working on an all-electric delivery van, similar to those used for last-mile deliveries by USPS, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and others. According to its sources, the gauntlet thrown by Tesla with its consumer offerings has spurred GM to focus on an EV van to satisfy commercial customers, even while the general public remains lukewarm.
A competitive electric delivery van design would pit GM against the likes of Ford and Rivian, the latter of which accepted a 100,000-vehicle order from Amazon last September. Replacing long-distance delivery vehicles (such as 18-wheelers) with their electric counterparts remains a distant prospect, since current battery tech can’t match combustion powerplants for range and time-efficiency; but local delivery trucks rarely need to travel more than 500 miles a day. Urban routes represent a fraction of that distance. The large, heavy-duty chassis such a truck requires to haul cargo also leaves plenty of room for battery storage when compared to a compact passenger-car application.
Last-mile deliveries—the final link in the chain of vehicles that brings a package to the customer’s doorstep—account for approximately half of the cost of a delivery due to traffic congestion and the relay-race nature of a dozen-or-more separate stops. Additionally, these last-leg segments contribute to urban pollution where an EV substitute would alleviate local smog production.
This move is also important for GM because it doesn’t produce a vehicle to compete in the compact, urban-focused van segment, dominated by Mercedes’ Sprinter, Ram’s ProMaster, and Ford’s Transit vans. While the body-on-frame stalwarts sold through GM’s fleet program still have a place in the world, many delivery companies have moved towards the low-floor, high-roof configuration of these more modern examples.
Reuters’ sources say that GM’s delivery van is codenamed BV1 and will use parts of the recently-revealed Ultium battery system developed jointly by GM and LG Chem. The Ultium system is the realization of generations of GM concepts that focused on a modular electric platform that could scale up or down depending on the intended vehicle. The BV1 is reportedly due to roll off GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck line in late 2021 but, of course, official sources deny direct involvement with the rumored program. GM ultimately told Reuters that it is “committed to an all-electric future and is implementing a multi-segment, scalable EV strategy to get there. At this time, we do not have any announcements to make regarding electric commercial vehicles.”