The World Economic Forum estimates that demand for urban last-mile delivery, fueled by e-commerce, will grow by 78% by 2030, leading to a 36% increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities—further exacerbating urban congestion.
At the same time, this increase in demand is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emissions to rise by nearly one-third. The pandemic has only accelerated demand, as e-commerce has become a lifeline to goods and services that many people are no longer willing or able to access in person.
Logistics companies, which manage fleets of many thousands of vehicles, are on the front lines of these challenges, rising to meet demand while addressing the associated increases in emissions and congestion. GM’s Global Innovation organization approached this situation through the lens of our zero-zero-zero vision, imagining what it would take to transform delivery and logistics for an all-electric future. Our solution: BrightDrop, an ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software and services to empower companies to move goods more efficiently. BrightDrop is designed to help businesses lower costs, maximize productivity, improve employee safety and freight security, and operate more sustainably with products that work together intelligently and with zero emissions.
The first products in the BrightDrop range include the BrightDrop EP1, an electric-propelled pallet that helps reduce the time and physical effort required for couriers to get goods from the delivery van to the front door. The pallets are designed for optimal loading into delivery vehicles and can be tethered together for larger drops, helping to reduce errors, secure packages, reduce the strain on drivers and enable more efficient delivery. Made available in early 2021, EP1 pallets travel in the EV600—an electric light commercial vehicle built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. It will combine zero-emissions driving, powered by the Ultium Platform, with a range of advanced safety and convenience features. Supporting these products will be a suite of fleet management tools that enable owners to monitor battery life, vehicle location and more.
One of BrightDrop’s first customers is FedEx Express, which has already conducted a pilot using the EP1. During the pilot, FedEx Express couriers handled 25% more packages per day than they could without EP1s, and reported that the pallets were easy to maneuver and reduced physical strain. BrightDrop and FedEx Express are continuing to pilot EP1 technology, and will begin receiving EV600 vehicles later in 2021.
Addressing Congestion Through Public Policy
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, total delays and costs associated with congestion across the United States have grown in recent decades. Studies focused on specific states or regions identify similar trends. For example, in Massachusetts, automobile commute times increased about 10% between 2008 and 2017. In California, state data show that the number of hours vehicles spent traveling below 35 miles per hour on state highways more than doubled over the same time period. This has cost the economy as much as $1 trillion annually in lost productivity due to traffic slowdowns of workers and goods.
GM is optimistic about the ability of innovations in connectivity—most notably vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication—and autonomous vehicle technology to optimize traffic flows and reduce accidents, both potential contributors to easing congestion. As noted elsewhere in this report, GM is hard at work developing and commercializing the technology to enable these advances. At the same time, GM recognizes the potential contributions of policy-driven approaches to meeting congestion challenges. Many cities and states are already exploring these policies, finding that there could be a variety of ways to improve mobility for their residents. For example, cities across the U.S. are supporting new mobility options to ease gridlock on streets and highways. Shared-mobility platforms, such as carsharing and ridehailing; and micromobility solutions like e-bikes, and thoughtfully designed last-mile urban delivery solutions, can complement legacy transit systems to relieve streets and highways of vehicles and give people choices for travel that better fit their trip types and needs.
Ultimately, transit services, intelligent curb management and well-developed bike lanes and sidewalks, as well as developing forward-looking regulatory structures that support shared and micromobility operators can be part of an all-of-the-above strategy that complements driving, eases the introduction of new technologies and services, and facilitates less congested travel across all modes. That is why GM has advocated for regulatory frameworks that support carsharing, e-bike and new urban delivery ventures, and why we see value in investments in broader transit and transportation infrastructure.
Some cities are also beginning to explore policies that manage transportation demand, including congestion pricing—charging a flat or variable fee to vehicles that drive in a specific area or zone. Evidence from early-adopter cities around the world suggests that congestion pricing can be effective in reducing traffic volumes and delays and increasing average travel speeds. Other options, such as telecommuting incentives, may prove effective and align with the mass shift to remote work that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a comprehensive approach that includes new technologies, demand management through pricing and incentives—when strategically and thoughtfully implemented—could play a valuable role in mitigating congestion in urban areas.
GM has a well-established track record of engagement with innovative city and mobility initiatives, from the Smart Cities Challenge in Columbus, Ohio, to targeted carsharing partnerships in underserved neighborhoods in Detroit. As cities continue to explore ways to tackle congestion in their communities, GM looks forward to building on this foundation through partnerships and constructive dialogue with stakeholders, pilot projects and other efforts that seek to leverage public policy to realize our vision of a future in which people can enjoy the freedom, convenience and comfort of vehicle use in cities free of congestion.
This sets the stage for deploying connected vehicle technology to improve safety and relieve congestion by one day allowing vehicles to communicate with one another and the infrastructure. Equally important, this has provided us with an understanding and appreciation that offering a vehicle with the latest technology is only meaningful when it is seamlessly integrated, as well as consistent and relevant to our customers.