BrightDrop, Cruise near commercial launches

General Motors plans to expand its electrification initiatives beyond passenger vehicles with BrightDrop, a new business selling battery-powered delivery vehicles, and Cruise, the automaker’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary.

GM estimates the annual market opportunity for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the U.S. will exceed $850 billion by 2025. Demand for urban delivery to fulfill e-commerce orders is expected to grow 78 percent by 2030, GM has said, citing the World Economic Forum. The boost in demand is expected to increase the number of delivery vehicles by 36 percent in the 100 largest cities worldwide in that time frame.

BrightDrop EV600: BrightDrop will launch the EV600 delivery van this year. It initially will be built by a supplier in the Detroit area, but in 2022, production will move to GM’s assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. GM plans to spend $787 million to retool the plant as part of a labor contract reached with the Unifor union in Canada. FedEx will be the first customer for the EV600. BrightDrop also will build 12,6000 EV600 vans for Merchants Fleet, starting in 2023.

BrightDrop ESR1: GM is expected to build a commercial van smaller than the EV600 in Ingersoll starting in 2023. Forecasters expect the ESR1 to be similar in size to the Chevrolet Express.

Cruise Origin: Production of the Origin is slated to start at Factory Zero in Detroit in late 2022. GM developed the Origin with Honda as a self-driving ride-hailing and delivery van. It has two benches that face each other and no steering wheel, pedals or space for an operator. The doors slide open, and the entry is low to the ground and three times larger than that of the average car to make room for passengers or cargo to get in and out.

Powder blue Tesla taxis are coming to New York

Revel believes it can make New York City an offer it can’t refuse.
 
The electric vehicle company will privately build the car-charging stations the city needs to support a future where EVs replace gas-powered vehicles. What the company wants in exchange is access to the city streets for its for-hire vehicles — in other words, an exemption from the current cap.

“The only way we are going to scale our fleet is by building that infrastructure,” Revel CEO Frank Reig said.

The Brooklyn company announced Monday that it’s delving into the city’s hired hack business with 50 powder-blue Teslas with the permission of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. To increase its fleet beyond this pilot, it might seek that permission again and again.

Revel’s application had first been rejected in a bid by the city to keep the growing number of cars from ride-sharing apps out of New York’s worsening gridlock

The for-hire car service universe has become more crowded since Uber and Lyft came on the scene. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio capped the number of for-hire vehicles on city streets in 2018. That lasted through 2020. Now, the TLC decides every six months if any additional for-hire licenses should be issued. 

The pause on licenses had a loophole: electric for-hire vehicles were exempt. 

So in February, Revel decided to apply for licenses for its electric vehicles — custom blue Teslas. “We didn’t know if they’d approve them,” Reig said.
 
They did not. In June, the TLC voted 5 to 1 that the cap should indeed apply to EVs. Reig wrote a letter to the agency protesting the retroactive restriction, arguing that there had been no new analysis or deliberation that would explain their rejection.
 
As for what has changed since June to get the TLC to allow Revel’s cars on the road, Reig would say only that Revel worked together with the city to allay its concerns around the number of vehicles on  gridlocked roads and to underscore a commitment to building charging hubs around the city. The city will next review the cap in August.

By then, Revel’s Teslas will be on the road. It has a fleet of 50, of which 15 have approved licenses, according to the TLC. They will pick up passengers below 42nd Street in Manhattan and plan to expand from there.
 
Revel started similarly small when it launched a handful of its electric mopeds in Brooklyn in 2018.
 
“You have to start in a smaller geographic area where you know there is demand,” Reig said. In three years, the company has put 3,000 mopeds, plus several hundred e-bikes, on the street.
 
But growing the car fleet is likely to be more challenging, since the city is not yet equipped to charge loads of EVs, neither in terms of the amount of energy required nor with respect to where so much charging would actually take place. There are around 1.5 million cars registered to city residents, which does not account for commuters and all taxis.
 
“We are an aging city,” said Thomas Abdallah, professor in the sustainability management program at Columbia University. “It’s not as easy as just building on top of what we have. There needs to be an engineering master plan.”

Other obstacles include the limited amount of electricity that comes from the power plants upstate, which would need to ramp up. He thought it might take decades for a robust charging infrastructure to arrive, though allowed that an ambitious private company like Revel could push forward the timeline.
 
Revel is in the process of building out more electric charging hubs that will be used by its fleet and available to the public by the end of 2022, Reig said, though he would not say where or how many. It does have an agreement with its leasing partner to come by a total of 1,000 Teslas in the future, if both the partner and Revel wanted to expand, according to Reig’s letter to the Commission.

“Right now, the only way we can grow the fleet is through the regulatory system that the Taxi and Limousine Commission has set up,” Reig said. He hopes they will be convinced by the progress made so far on creating that electric infrastructure.

In June Revel opened the first station, what it calls a ‘Superhub,’ in Brooklyn — it is the largest publicly available charging station in the country, according to Reig. At the filling station, which is on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and South Williamsburg, any car can pay to plug into the fast-charging hookups, where a recharge takes 20 minutes for a 100-mile fill-up, according to the company.

Revel also operates several warehouses around the city where 300 employees swap moped batteries and perform other maintenance. In Red Hook, near the Tesla dealership, it has a new space for fleet maintenance and autobody repairs
 
The last time that Revel announced a funding round was its Series A in 2019 when it brought in $27.6 million. Reig said that the cost of the fleet included hiring 150 drivers, who will be employees, not gig workers, with a base wage of $15 an hour plus tips, financing 50 Teslas, and building the charging stations, which cost millions of dollars each.

Cara Eisenpress is a reporter for Crain’s New York Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.

Some dealers question Stellantis’ 2030 U.S. EV sales goal

Maine auto dealer Adam Lee believes the rapid adoption of cellphones occurred because they filled a void for consumers.

Stellantis is hoping for a similarly robust buy-in from customers to help meet its goal of having electrified vehicles account for more than 40 percent of U.S. sales by 2030.

But Lee doesn’t see the same need for plug-in vehicles as there was for phones, so he’s skeptical that the automaker can hit its target.

“We didn’t realize how convenient it would be to have a phone, which is like your computer in your pocket,” Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls group, told Automotive News. “Well, we have cars. It’s not like we don’t have cars and suddenly they invented the electric car.”

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said the global response to EVs will be influenced by regulations and that public opinion could shift as people become more sensitive to climate change and how to fix it. Tavares said training dealerships on how to sell electric vehicles in the years ahead will be important to the automaker reaching its EV sales target, but retailers such as Lee aren’t sure they can get there.

Lee, who has two Stellantis stores, believes in the technology and has been a Tesla owner for seven years. Long term, he said, people will see the benefits of battery-electric vehicles, in particular, because of lower operating costs. No engine means no oil changes or other related upkeep, and electricity generally is less expensive than gasoline.

He just doesn’t think the market is ready to tip as heavily toward electrification as Stellantis is aiming for. It’s a steep slope, he said, made more difficult by the fact that the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is known for its Jeep crossovers and Ram trucks, not low-emissions vehicles.

Scott Ritter, general manager of Planet Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Miami, shared Lee’s skepticism.

“It is not realistic,” Ritter said. “Obviously, there is a lot of attention on the subject and all of the OEMs want to seem on board and proactive, but EVs have their own practical and environmental challenges.”

Stellantis said it plans to invest more than $35 billion through 2025 in electrification and software to help reach its goal. The company plans to have four EV platforms that support driving ranges from 300 to 500 miles.

Tavares said Jeep will lead the company’s EV charge in the U.S.

The Wrangler 4xe is selling quickly, only lasting on dealership lots for about five days on average. Jeep said dealers have placed enough orders to fill the entire model year’s production.

The model soon will be joined by a plug-in variant of the redesigned Grand Cherokee, and the brand is promising zero-emission 4xe variants in every utility-vehicle segment by 2025.

Although Lee isn’t convinced Stellantis can hit its mark, he’s happy to see the company and other automakers set bold agendas.

“I’m glad to see all the manufacturers have these incredibly ambitious objectives,” Lee said. “I think almost every one of them is really aspirational. In most cases, I think it’s wishful thinking. That’s OK. Sometimes what’s necessary for progress is to do a little wishful thinking, and sometimes that comes through.”

Doug Wilson, who owns Collierville Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Tennessee, doesn’t think Stellantis is overreaching with its U.S. EV goal.

The probability of success boils down to affordability and performance, he said, calling the Wrangler 4xe “hot as a pistol” because of its capability. And he expects the electric Ram 1500 to be a worthy addition as long as it fits into the lifestyle of truck owners who often haul heavy loads and tow boats and campers.

He’s confident the country’s network of charging stations will continue to develop as Stellantis launches more electrified models.

“There’s a very small portion of the people that are so concerned about global warming that they are going to change their own habits, and change their own mode of transportation,” Wilson said.

“For the vast majority of people, it’s going to come down to economics. If it’s more economical to operate a vehicle that’s electrically powered, versus ICE-powered, then they’ll instinctively go for that,” he added. “Ten or 15 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Chevy would be selling a four-cylinder full-size truck, but they are, and the customer doesn’t really care as long as it performs and does what it’s supposed to do.”

Steve Wolf, dealer principal at Helfman Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Houston, believes Stellantis’ EV goal actually “might be a little conservative.” He wasn’t sure how consumers would respond to the Wrangler 4xe, but it turned out to be fun to drive and is selling well, he said.

Wolf converted some loyal customers to the Wrangler 4xe when their Grand Cherokee lease was up. The couple was thinking about buying another Wrangler but wanted to explore electrified options. They didn’t seem to be aware of the 4xe, so Wolf encouraged them to check it out. They ordered one and now love it, he said.

Wolf expects electrified vehicle technology to continue making gains over the next decade and said cost of ownership will be significantly reduced by 2030.

“Where were we nine years ago with electric cars? Look at the progress all the manufacturers — look what Ford’s done, look what Audi’s done, look what Chevrolet and GM [have] done, especially with Hummer coming,” Wolf said.

“The ship is sailing, and it’s coming, so be prepared, and you better have that competitive technology, you better have the range and the safety and you better have it well thought out because it’s going to be a battle, but it’s going to be fun.”

Rivian electric van spotted in Detroit delivering Amazon packages

Add Detroit to the cities where Amazon is testing its new battery-powered electric delivery van designed and built by Rivian.

Last week in Royal Oak, a suburb north of the Detroit city limits, an Amazon driver in a hand-built Rivian van, accompanied by a Rivian engineer, was delivering packages. It’s one of three vans currently being tested in the Detroit area.

Amazon plans to test the vans in 16 cities ahead of the official rollout, which starts next year with a production run of 10,000 vehicles. The vans have been spotted in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Tulsa, Okla.

The Rivian engineer accompanying the Amazon driver said the vans undergoing testing in the Detroit area were assembled at Rivian’s Plymouth, Mich., engineering and design center. The van looked production ready, with no obvious prototype or unfinished parts.

Amazon has invested more than $700 million in Rivian and plans to purchase 100,000 electric vans from the company by 2030.

While van deliveries appear to be on schedule, Rivian’s R1T electric pickup is late, frustrating customers who expected them to arrive late last year. The latest news from Rivian is that the first R1Ts will arrive in September.

Deliveries via robots expected to soar post-pandemic

With the rise in online shopping and the desire for contactless delivery sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, demand is growing for low-speed automated delivery vehicles to deliver packages or food to your doorstep.

In a new report, Guidehouse Insights says it expects the increase in demand for robot deliveries to continue post-COVID-19. The research company defines low-speed automated delivery vehicles, or ADVs, as those that carry payloads of less than 250 kilograms (551 pounds) and travel on roads or sidewalks at speeds of less than 30 mph.

The report says global deliveries by these automated vehicles are projected to grow from fewer than 7 million this year to more than 51 billion by 2030, an annual growth rate of 170 percent.

The vehicles fall into two categories: One is robotic delivery vehicles, or RDVs, which can travel on city streets, typically at a top speed of about 15 mph. The three-wheeled REV-1 from Refraction AI falls into that category, as does the R2 by Nuro, which partnered with Domino’s to deliver pizzas in Houston in April.

At the smaller end of the ADV spectrum are sidewalk delivery bots from providers such as Kiwibot and Yandex, a Russian company that has used Ann Arbor, Mich. — home to the University of Michigan — as a test bed. Yandex this month announced it was joining Grubhub’s campus-delivery program, which covers more than 250 colleges in the U.S.

Sidewalk delivery bots often resemble rolling coolers, have about a cubic foot of cargo capacity and move at a walking pace. These little robots may win in the cuteness department, but Guidehouse says robotic delivery vehicles — with their extra space, lower operating costs and ability to operate on the road — are expected to surpass their sidewalk-strolling cousins by the middle of the decade and become the preferred delivery robot.

According to Guidehouse, deliveries made by robots are projected to become a “prominent feature” in key global markets starting around 2027 or 2028. Deliveries have begun to emerge in North America, China, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, with robots that have a high Level 4 automated-driving capability.

China is expected to become the leading market for these delivery bots because of the size and growth of its parcel- and food-delivery markets and the nation’s strong demand for same-day deliveries.

The report names some key industry players that have been involved in robotic delivery ventures, ranging from FedEx, which announced in 2019 that it had developed a self-driving “SameDay Bot,” to Panasonic, which late last year said it was field-testing a low-speed robot delivery service in Fujisawa City, Japan.

“Low-speed ADVs have attracted the interest of major online retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba as a unique solution to the increasing need for short, on-demand deliveries,” said Sagie Evbenata, a Guidehouse senior research analyst. “Furthermore, as lightweight zero-emissions vehicles, low-speed ADVs can provide significant environmental benefits.”

Car-sharing firm Getaround to pay D.C. $950K for operating without a license

WASHINGTON — Getaround Inc. will pay $950,000 to Washington, D.C., and revise its business practices after allegedly misrepresenting the benefits and nature of its car sharing services and failed to pay city sales taxes, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said Friday.

The San Francisco-based company had operated without a license in DC, Racine said in a statement, adding Getaround will pay restitution to car owners who experienced theft or damage to vehicles listed on the platform.

Customers can use Getaround to rent vehicles by the hour or day from individual owners who make vehicles available through the Getaround platform. Getaround did not immediately comment.

Car-sharing services in Washington are subject to a 10.25 percent sales tax.

“Gig economy companies must abide by the same rules as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. They must provide clear and accurate information to consumers, especially about the safety of their services, and they must pay their fair share of taxes like everyone else does,” Racine said.

Racine’s office began investigating Getaround in early 2020 after it received reports of an increase in auto thefts of cars listed on the Getaround platform.

Racine said the settlement resolves allegations Getaround misled consumers “by using phony owner profiles for fleet cars actually owned by Getaround.”

Getaround also agreed to “maintain written policies to ensure timely investigation and resolution of user complaints regarding damage or theft to vehicles on the Getaround platform.”

In October, Getaround raised $140 million in additional venture capital funding. The company has raised a total of nearly $600 million since it was founded more than ten years ago and in previous rounds was valued at more than $1.5 billion.

Getaround operates in over 100 U.S. cities and more than 850 cities worldwide.