GM surprises at CES 2021

General Motors has just announced a new "integrated ecosystem" called BrightDrop. It includes an electric pallet called the EP1, the EV600 delivery van, and the services and software to help them guide goods from the first mile to the last.

The reveal of this suite of products was unexpected – advance word only talked about a delivery van – but the really big surprise is the speed with which the automaker will bring BrightDrop to the streets. Using its Ultium flexible architecture and batteries, and partnering with FedEX, GM says the EV600 will be dropping off parcels quickly and quietly before the end of this year.

Indeed, if it manages to make it into the FedEx fleet before the GMC Hummer EV reaches dealers, it may well be the first Ultium-based vehicle to roll down our roads. And, when it does arrive, its EP1 sidekick will already be in action. GM says the electric pallet will be available early 2021 – that's soon!

The EV600 should offer a range of around 250 miles on a full charge and be able to re-energize its Ultium pack at a speed of 170 miles an hour from a 120 kW DC fast-charge station. It has an AC charger as well. Boasting over 600 cubic feet of cargo capacity. It will have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of under 10,000 pounds.

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Building a vehicle like this from the ground up is a great opportunity to add safety and convenience to a familiar-looking package. The EV600 will have a host of these features, including  parking assist, automatic emergency braking (AEB), forward collision alert, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic braking, and HD surround vision. 

As well, it will accommodate drivers with a 13.4-inch infotainment screen, sliding doors, and a auto-open cargo bulkhead door. FedEx won't be the sole buyer of these vehicles, of course, just the first. Other customers will be able to order the new delivery vehicle in early 2022.

The EP1 is an interesting vehicle in its own right. The electric pallet relies on in-wheel motors to move as much as 23 cubic-feet of cargo (up to 200 pounds), at speeds of up to 3 miles per hour. We won't be racing these, obviously, but with adjustable internal shelving and lockable doors, we may see these bringing needed supplies to our homes or businesses from its mother vehicle parked at the curb.

Gallery: BrightDrop Ecosystem

If you're wondering if this pallet concept will work in the real world, rest easy. The EP1 has already completed a pilot program with FedEx Express and operators were said to increase the number of packages they handled per day by 25 percent. That's a significant improvement in productivity. 

The software component offers a host of information to help customers manage the business of delivering the goods. Cloud-based, it can let operators know, among other things, the location and status of its EP1 pallets, as well as the EV600 vans.

This appears to be just the beginning of GM's BrightDrop products and features. The company says it is already looking into several other vehicles, including a "medium-distance solution that transports several EP1s" along with a "rapid-load" delivery vehicle.

There have been a few other companies looking at this important part of the market, most notably the delivery van Rivian is building, initially, for Amazon. The EV600, however, will be in production at a scale smaller outfits won't be able to match. And, it's yet another vehicle that increases the scale of production of the Ultium components and batteries, which will help GM do what all going concerns need to do: provide products while making a profit.