BrightDrop's launch is part of a broader zero-emissions goal by GM. The automaker has said its entire lineup will be electric by 2035.
Katz, 49, spoke with Staff Reporter Hannah Lutz about the benefits of an electric fleet, software capability within BrightDrop and GM's choice to make BrightDrop a separate brand. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: WHY DID GM CHOOSE TO LAUNCH BRIGHTDROP AS AN INDEPENDENT BRAND?
A: The way that we're building products is different. The kinds of products we're developing is different. We're looking at it from a more holistic point of view of, "How do we really help delivery customers lower costs, maximize productivity, improve employee safety, as well as support their overall efforts around sustainability?"
It really requires a different way of thinking.
Q: YOU'VE ANNOUNCED TWO MAJOR CUSTOMERS ALREADY: 500 VAN ORDERS FOR FEDEX EXPRESS AND 12,600 ORDERS FOR MERCHANTS FLEET, WHICH HAS CLIENTS SUCH AS UPS AND TERMINIX. WHY DO YOU THINK THESE COMPANIES ARE EAGER TO SIGN ON?
A: We have a number of other customers who have expressed interest as well. I think the reason why is we spent a lot of time purpose-building a vehicle that was really targeting the last-mile delivery customers. The EV600 has a range of 250 miles … to really make sure that your drivers never get to be stranded without a battery.
We also built them with GM's Ultium battery, which enables us to do a lower cabin floor. It's easier for a driver to get in and out. It has a lower step. It's better ergonomically, which is super important when a driver is getting in and out 150 times a day.
We've also reached a tipping point where the total cost of ownership for these vans is lower than it is for an internal combustion engine van.
Q: WHAT MAKES AN EV600 LESS EXPENSIVE THAN A TRADITIONAL FLEET VAN?
A: The maintenance costs for electric vehicles are less than ICE vehicles, and it's much less expensive to charge up an electric vehicle than to fill it up with diesel. There's also more efficient use of energy. You have things like regenerative braking. So per trip, every time you're sitting on the brake, it's actually recharging as opposed to losing that energy as heat.
Q: HOW CAN YOU SHOW CUSTOMERS THAT SWITCHING THEIR FLEETS TO ELECTRIC IS WORTHWHILE?
A: We are providing a whole suite of services to help fleets with making the transition to an all-electric future. We can do everything from modeling your total cost of ownership to helping you plan and model for your charging needs. We've gone through and assessed a number of partners who we can help to connect businesses with to establish their own charging.
We have support for everything from spare parts and maintenance. Part of what we're trying to do is also make this an easy transition. Electrification is new for a lot of people and understanding how this is going to work. We're there to help customers make that transition seamlessly and make it a no-brainer.