GM’s BrightDrop brings on Walmart as new EV customer as FedEx ups existing order

General Motors’ commercial electric vehicle unit BrightDrop has scored Walmart as a customer with a reservation of 5,000 e-delivery vans to help the retail giant reach a zero-emissions logistics fleet by 2040, the company said on Wednesday at CES.

In addition, existing customer FedEx has reserved priority production for 2,000 vans over the next few years, upping its initial order of 500 EVs, which was announced at CES last year.

Walmart expects to receive a combination of EV600s, which are currently in production, and smaller EV410s, which will be available in late 2023, by next year. The vehicles will add to the company’s fleet of InHome delivery service vehicles, which the retailer announced would be expanding from around 6 million households today to 30 million U.S. homes by the end of 2022, as well as bolster its broader last-mile delivery network. Walmart will also deploy BrightDrop EVs for its GoLocal white-label delivery service geared toward third parties.

Walmart joins the lineup of big-name customers like Merchants Fleet and Verizon that are backing BrightDrop to help electrify their delivery fleets. In total, BrightDrop has upwards of 25,000 reservations, which doesn’t include the as-yet-unknown number of vehicles Verizon has ordered. FedEx, which received the first five of its order in Inglewood, California, last month, is considering adding 20,000 more EVs to its order in the coming years, pending a definitive purchase agreement.

As many companies look toward decarbonizing their transport to reach emissions goals, BrightDrop’s demand will only increase, but will it be able to scale from essentially zero to tens of thousands over the next couple of years?

“One of the unique things about how we’ve set up BrightDrop is that we’re marrying the best of both worlds where we set it up to run like a technology startup,” Travis Katz, president and CEO of BrightDrop, told TechCrunch. “We can move with speed, agility, and really focus on innovation and rapid cycles, but we’re marrying that setup with the manufacturing might of General Motors, and General Motors is just this amazing company when it comes to manufacturing at scale. When we open the doors next year at our Canadian factory, we will start producing these vehicles in large numbers and grow very quickly to meet the demand, and the demand for these vehicles is incredible.”

BrightDrop’s batteries will come from GM’s Ultium plant in Lordstown, Ohio, but the company aims to produce its vehicles at scale at a manufacturing plant in Ontario, Canada, which will begin production in the fourth quarter of the year. Until then, the company is relying on a low-volume production facility in Michigan run by one of its robotics suppliers, Kuka AG, so that it can go to market now.

“For FedEx specifically, the first vehicles were delivered last month [and] they are on the road delivering packages, and that first order of 500 we will be delivering to FedEx on a rolling basis,” Katz said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We’re going to be sending more and more out to FedEx starting now, so you should expect to start to see those on the road, and if you live in the Los Angeles area to start having packages delivered to you with zero emissions in the months to come.”

FedEx also shared plans to expand its testing of BrightDrops EP1 electrified container to 10 markets this year. The companies just completed a second pilot program in New York City, which has already allowed the shipping and delivery company to increase package deliveries by 15% per hour, remove one on-road vehicle from its delivery route and cut curbside dwell time in half, according to BrightDrop. The first pilot, announced in January 2021, took place in Toronto and saw a 25% increase in package deliveries per day.

“By 2025, we’re planning for 50% of all FedEx Express global pickup and delivery vehicle purchases to be electric, rising to 100% of all new purchases by 2030,” FedEx Express regional president of the Americas and EVP Richard Smith said Tuesday. “We employ what we call a Goldilocks strategy for vehicle sizing, that small, medium and large vehicles with specific operational uses for each. BrightDrop’s current commercial EV portfolio with the EV410s and the EV600 can cover the small and medium-sized needs for FedEx. This means about two-thirds of the total pickup and delivery EV demand … could be sourced from BrightDrop, and we hope that they are, because the vehicles are tremendous. We’ve also talked to BrightDrop about the remaining one-third, which would require a larger vehicle with cargo space in excess of 1,000 cubic feet, and we’re hoping to work with them on that, as well.”

While FedEx’s new vehicles will hit the streets of LA first, Walmart’s will depend on where the company wants to start testing EVs and deployment, and where it’s already got charging infrastructure set up, Katz said. The retail company has also partnered with another GM subsidiary, autonomous vehicle company Cruise, to begin testing grocery delivery in Arizona.

“I think you can imagine when you have two companies with the same parent that overlap in these spaces, it unlocks a lot of potential and a lot of possibility,” said Katz. “And so I think, hopefully, we’ll have more to share about that in the future.”

Read more about CES 2022 on TechCrunch

Rivian expands into fleet business beyond its ‘exclusive’ Amazon deal

Electric vehicle startup Rivian is expanding a fleet business that appeared to be exclusively tied to Amazon.

The company, which Amazon holds a 20% stake in, will start taking orders for its electric delivery vans in 2022 with plans to delivery them to customers by early 2023, according to a new section of Rivian’s website.

Rivian has been working to fulfill a contract to produce 100,000 electric vehicle delivery vans for Amazon through 2024. (Rivian has said it plans to deliver the first 10 of Amazon’s order by the end of this year.) That deal appeared exclusive, according to information contained in the S-1 document announcing its plans to go public. However, this new information that shows Rivian is selling to other fleet customers prior to 2024, suggests that its contract with Amazon has some wiggle room.

Neither Amazon nor Rivian could be reached to clarify the terms of the exclusivity.

The new section of the site, which went live Friday and was tweeted out by a few Rivian employees, says customers will be able to use Rivian’s online fleet configurator to plan and place fleet orders beginning early next year. Deliveries wouldn’t begin until the following year.

The company said it will also sell fleet versions of its R1T electric pickup and R1S electric SUV, which widens the customer base beyond the consumer adventurer that Rivian has been targeting. This move potentially puts Rivian in more direct competition with a variant of Ford’s all-electric pickup truck, which is being directly marketed to commercial customers.

The updated website outlines several other products related to the fleet business, including a management platform called FleetOS and charging infrastructure.

Rivian, and Amazon, stand to gain from casting a wider commercial net.

“The success of our business depends on attracting and retaining a large number of customers,” reads Rivian’s S-1 filing. “If we are unable to do so, we will not be able to achieve profitability.”

However, there are risks and unknowns to how many other customers Rivian, which is just starting production of its R1T can even take on.

Rivian’s factory in Normal, Illinois has current capacity to produce up to 150,000 vehicles annually — about 65,000 of which would be for the R1 pickup and SUV and 85,000 for the commercial delivery vans called RCV.

That doesn’t mean Rivian will hit that capacity overnight. Rivian has said in an amendment to its S-1 that based on its current production forecast, it expects to fill a preorder backlog of about 55,400 R1 vehicles by the end of 2023. 

Rivian’s push into the fleet business comes just days before it makes its debut as a publicly traded company. Rivian’s valuation at IPO is expected to be as high as $65 billion, but some investors have had their doubts. A report from New Constructs, an investment research software company, released just a few days before Rivian updated its website, finds that Rivian’s stock is overvalued and urges investors not to buy when the company goes public this week.

“Rivian has yet to manufacture a meaningful number of vehicles and competes with well-capitalized electric vehicle upstarts as well as incumbents like General Motors (GM) and BMW, which both have decades of experience and multi-billion dollar plans to expand EV production,” the report reads.

Despite this, many investors are bullish on the startup and its future. This latest update could sway previously skeptical investors that Rivian has more flexibility and power than previously thought.