While Rivian has won the race to bring the first mass-produced all-electric pickup to market, it has been beaten in the other competition involving electric vans.
The startup still hasn’t begun volume production of its Amazon-bound van, and neither have Ford and GM with their E-Transit and BrightDrop vans. But do you know which company started producing an all-electric van in the United States on September 20? An EV startup most people haven’t heard about called Electric Last Mile Solutions (ELMS).
According to Bloomberg, ELMS formed in August 2020 as a plan B for Chinese auto manufacturer Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, whose subsidiary SF Motors had bought AM General’s former Mishawaka plant in Indiana with plans to build an electric SUV called the SF5.
However, the SF5 never materialized as Jim Taylor, a 30-year GM veteran hired by the Chinese carmaker as SF Motors CEO, advised against that. He argued that launching an electric SUV brand in the US would be far more expensive than Sokon had anticipated, not to mention the brutal competition it would have to face.
So instead of launching an SUV, Sokon was persuaded to pivot to electric delivery vans, which it already was producing in Asia. However, the Chinese company did not want to spend more in the US, so Taylor started a new company to raise the funds to buy the Mishawaka plant, the very plant where he chose the equipment for Hummer H2 manufacturing back when he oversaw purchasing for GM trucks.
Gallery: Electric Last Mile Solutions Starts Assembling Electric Van In The US
Together with former Ford China chairman Jason Luo, Taylor founded Electric Last Mile Solutions in summer 2020 and secured initial funding through a merger with a SPAC called Forum Merger III. ELMS began trading on the Nasdaq at the end of June 2021 and made a $30 million down payment on the $145 million purchase of the Mishawaka plant. It immediately began outfitting it to assemble electric vans.
Fast forward to September 2021, and ELMS has started making the Urban Delivery, a bare-bones fully electric, light-duty vehicle with a relatively low range aimed at delivery workers, contractors and other commercial fleets.
The company has already secured a 1,000-vehicle order that it will have to build this year for Randy Marion Automotive Group, a collection of dealerships in North Carolina. Interestingly, the first few hundred vans in this order, the first of which have been delivered on September 29, do not meet full safety standards as they won’t be used on public roads but on campuses, airports and other closed spaces.
For now, the Urban Delivery vans arrive in Indiana from China as “pushers,” complete with chassis, frames, battery packs and wheels. At Mishawaka, workers add steering wheels and a few electronic components.
With its deeply unassuming vans, ELMS is hoping to get the attention of fleet managers by offering a 35% lower total cost of ownership (including fuel and maintenance) compared to similarly sized gas-powered vans. Its electric vans have a range of 100 to 120 miles (161–193 km), 171 cubic feet (4.84 cubic meters) of cargo space, and a cost of about $27,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Over time, ELMS plans to source more parts from US suppliers and do more assembly at the Mishawaka plant. By the end of 2024, the company expects to create up to 960 new jobs building 100,000 vehicles per year.