How GM Plans to Grow the Electric Fleet Ecosystem

Ed Pepper, GM’s head of US fleet, Michelle Calloway, director of Onstar Business Solutions, and Steve Horniak, chief revenue officer of BrightDrop, delivered the opening keynote at the 2022 Fleet Forward conference.

Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

General Motors U.S. Vice President of Fleet Ed Pepper had a message to open the 2022 Fleet Forward conference Nov. 9: Some analysts expect a 25% lower range for electric vehicle adoption in the U.S. by 2030, he said. At GM, “we think it will be significantly higher than that. We think it’s going to be at least 50% by 2030.”

It set the stage for an opening keynote dialogue with Peper, OnStar Business Solutions Director Michelle Calloway and BrightDrop Chief Revenue Officer Steve Horniak — and gave attendees in Santa Clara a better sense of the size and complexity of the electrification evolution.

Discusses how a new electric ecosystem is developing to meet this goal, how GM is facilitating electrification with services beyond the car, and how fleets play an integral role.

Pepper breaks down aspects of GM’s $35 billion investment in EVs through 2025: On the vehicle side, development relies on the Ultium platform, GM’s modular EV propulsion architecture that includes batteries, drive units, power electronics and motors that are reconfigurable in a range of ways. Model types range from small crossovers to delivery vans. GM plans to increase capacity to more than 1 million EVs in North America by 2025.

In 2020, Pepper said GM is starting to break down barriers to EV adoption in areas like charging. The result is a $750 million investment in charging infrastructure, including a partnership with EVGo to build 3,250 DC fast chargers and a deal with Pilot Flying J to build a coast-to-coast network of 2,000 interstate fast chargers. In the main market. GM’s more than 4,000 dealers will each receive up to 10 chargers to install in their respective communities (90% of all Americans live within 10 miles of a GM dealership).

“We are building a comprehensive charging solution from network creation to digital integration,” Pepper said. “All of our fleet use cases have GM managed solutions.”

This holistic ecosystem of connected products and services is now part of the recently announced GM Energy, a new business unit that provides connected energy management solutions for home and commercial applications as well as integration of third-party charging networks for public charging.

Pepper said fleets will be able to consult with GM Energy on micro-grid applications for energy storage and off-grid charging. The unit can help fleets customize charging schedules as well as set utility demand charges and peak prices. In addition, OnStar Business Solutions will work with fleets to create bundled cost estimates for vehicles, infrastructure and smart charging.

“We’re building an electric future now,” Pepper said, before moving on to a discussion with Calloway and Horniak. “There is urgency. Don’t wait to get started. If you haven’t already, you need to start now, and I know many of you already have.”

Connected, protected, informed

Calloway emphasized the connectivity element of the EV ecosystem.

Where OnStar has traditionally been seen as a retail play, OnStar Business Solutions will provide new offerings for commercial customers in the EV world for products such as fleet management software, API and data services, and Wi-Fi hotspots with mobile offices. With OnStar, fleets can understand vehicle battery range and route to chargers. “We’re helping our customers stay secure, connected and informed,” he said.

Beyond these services, fleets can use OnStar’s connected vehicle data to match EV specs to the right use cases and understand optimal cycling points when remarketing. On the safety front, fleets can also take advantage of OnStar’s in-cab driver coaching, especially for drivers who are unfamiliar with how EVs work.

Regarding charging, Calloway addressed how OnStar can separate vehicle charging at home from the home’s utility bill, allowing fleet drivers to pay only for vehicle charging. “This is where the car can be that source of truth,” he said.

GM has invested $750 million in charging infrastructure across the country, thanks to partnerships with EVgo and Pilot, building a network of fast chargers in major U.S. markets and interstates.  - Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS 3Digital
GM has invested $750 million in charging infrastructure across the country, thanks to partnerships with EVgo and Pilot, building a network of fast chargers in major U.S. markets and interstates.

Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

For public charging, the integration of third-party networks that Peper mentions is tied to a single account. The account is charged when the car is plugged in.

As utilities’ rate structure fluctuates hourly, smart charging at depots is essential. Remote management through OnStar can reduce peak demand charges and ensure vehicles are ready to go the next day, Calloway said.

Delivery Review

Hornyak noted that the BrightDrop electric van was first seen publicly at the 2021 Fleet Forward conference. That unveiling coincides with an acceleration of development at GM’s commercial EV subsidiary. These include BrightDrop’s initial deployment at FedEx, new customer integrations with Walmart, Verizon, and Merchants Fleet, and the lead to the just-opened factory in Ontario, Canada that will manufacture BrightDrop’s vans.

Hornyak said e-commerce is a major driver of commercial vehicle electrification, especially as delivery cycles for retail orders have shortened over the past few years. Consumers were satisfied with waiting a week for an item to be delivered; That time frame has shrunk to one day.

“It’s a click and now-it’s-society,” he said, which puts more pressure on the entire supply chain and removes efficiency from last-mile delivery systems.

As early EV adopters, retailers like Walmart are building their own electric fleets so they can vertically integrate and address these inefficiencies. Over time, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of electric delivery vans is expected to pencil out, and for last-mile deliveries, another benefit is the removal of tailpipe emissions from the neighborhood.

Avoid Curbageddon

The continued growth of e-commerce is forcing a restructuring of delivery logistics, especially in dense urban areas. Hornyak coined a new buzzword, “curbageddon,” which speaks to the challenge of managing the limited curb space used by all types of delivery fleets and the public.

That curb space is a revenue generator for cities like New York that account for tens of millions of dollars in parking fines, Hornack said. It’s part of the city’s budget, and for fleets, it’s the cost of doing business.

BrightDrop is attacking this with a micro-mobility or “micro-containerization” approach. BrightDrop’s electric vans — or any type of delivery vehicle — can deploy Trace, BrightDrop’s electric-powered delivery cart.

Pre-loaded and with a securitized chain of command, the Trace can be used in many more ways than a rolling pallet cart. Electric propulsion opens up a wider delivery area on foot for “runners” who can be gig workers, while drivers can maneuver vehicles in between.

Hornyak said initial field tests showed runners were 25% more efficient in route deliveries and fleets, with a 50% reduction in idle time. Analyzing preliminary data on driving electric vans, Hornyak says fleets can expect savings of $7,500 to $15,000 per unit per year in operating costs based on fuel and energy costs and reduced maintenance costs.

Another cost savings to consider is around insurance, as advanced safety features once found in luxury cars find their way into commercial vehicles and help reduce the frequency and severity of crashes. When engaging with fleet customers, Hornyak says they will “take every single safety measure you can put in this vehicle, because we want to take care of our drivers and that helps with employee retention and satisfaction.”

Big picture, Horniak says that combining EVs with the redesign of delivery logistics could reduce the number of vehicles needed and lower the cost of each unit of delivery.

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