Why the most exciting auto news from CES 2022 had nothing to do with flying cars


The software-defined car is just one element in the new partnerships that are opening up the electric era in all forms of transportation.

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GM CEO Mary Barra annnounced new partnerships with delivery companies, locomotive manufacturers and tech companies during her CES 2022 keynote as she explained the carmaker is now a EV platform company.

Image: TechRepublic

Everyone knew that GM CEO Mary Barra was going to unveil the new electric Silverado truck during her CES 2022 keynote on Wednesday. She did just that about halfway through her remarks.

Before the shiny blue truck joined her on stage, she shared the really exciting news about GM’s electric vehicle work. The cool concept car and the inevitable flying car didn’t show up until the very end of her presentation. These traditional CES centerpieces seemed almost like an afterthought given the breadth and depth of GM’s progress toward becoming an electric vehicle innovator.

Barra used her time on the main stage to show how the company–and by association the larger industry–is not just talking about going electric but taking actual steps to do so. She and her GM colleagues showed that the slogan, “moving from an automaker to platform innovator” was not just marketing speak shined up for the year’s biggest tech show. 

Here’s how Barra backed up that claim:

  • Walmart has ordered 5,000 electric delivery trucks from GM’s BrightDrop.
  • FedEx expanded its order from 500 to 2,000 BrightDrop electric trucks.
  • GM is working with aircraft, boating and railroad companies to expand green technology.
  • Cruise self-driving cars are taking employees around San Francisco.
  • The company is investing in charging infrastructure in North America.

Barra said GM’s electric mission includes “developing products other companies will use to help them meet their own sustainability goals.”

The company’s Ultium platform is the key to this transition because it allows for scale and flexibility, she said. This design platform is one part of the company’s transition from building software-enabled cars to software-defined cars.

SEE: CES 2022 show-goers soak up new tech while navigating COVID-19 risk

During the live stream of the speech, a few commenters assessed the news as “too little too late.” Even that usually appropriate criticism doesn’t really stand up. FedEx pledged to buy 500 BrightDrop EVs last year at the tech show, and the first few arrived at the end of December. BrightDrop CEO Travis Katz said the EV600 was the fastest vehicle to market in GM’s history. 

Familiar pledges like “carbon neutral by 2040” are vague and hard to understand. Explaining the strategic and tactical steps required to meet those promises show what it will take to get there. GM and its transportation partners and tech collaborators are doing just that.

Why we need electric FedEx trucks

Decarbonizing ecommerce sounds boring, but it’s incredibly important. The transportation industry contributes about 29% of all the emissions in the U.S., which is the largest source, according to the EPA. Pitney Bowes expects companies to ship 266 billion parcels by 2026. In the U.S., people sent 55 million packages a day in 2020 which is a 37% increase from the previous year. Research from the World Economic Forum shows that delivery vehicles will increase 36% over the next 10 years, which means carbon dioxide emissions from this traffic would go up 32%. 

Richa Sahay, an author of the analysis who leads supply chain and transport work at the World Economic Forum, told Scientific American that 100% of delivery fleets should be electric.

This is why the BrightDrop news is so important. FedEx is also using BrightDrop’s EP1, an electric container that FedEx drivers use to take deliveries from the truck to a customer’s door CEO Richard W. Smith spoke during the GM keynote and said that these containers have increased efficiency by 15%, cut curbside dwell time in half and eased the physical strain on drivers.

Walmart has ordered 5,000 BrightDrop electric delivery vans, a mix of EV600s and EV410s, a smaller vehicle that will be available next year. Walmart also announced that these vehicles will be part of the company’s plan to expand its home delivery service from 6 million households to 30 million by the end of the year. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company will hire 3,000 employees–not contractors–to expand this service. The BrightDrop EVs will hit the road in 2023 and support in-home delivery and Walmart’s broader last-mile delivery initiatives.

“This includes deploying BrightDrop electric vans to enable low emission deliveries for other retailers and brands via WalMart Go Local, our delivery as a service business,” he said. 

Walmart invested in GM’s electric, autonomous driving company Cruze in 2021. Since then the retailer has made 2,700 deliveries to Walmart customers in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“These EV and AD programs support Walmart’s goal of operating a 100% zero emissions logistics fleet by 2040 which is part of our plan to become a regenerative company,” he said. 

Also, GM will be the first company to use Qualcomm Technologies’ Snapdragon Ride Platform for advanced driver assistance technology. Co-developed by GM and Qualcomm for Ultra Cruise, the new compute architecture will have the processing capability of several hundred personal computers, but is only about the size of two laptops placed on top of one another.

Building EV infrastructure and awareness

Barr also mentioned the most boring but most important EV ecosystem element of all: charging stations. She said that GM is investing $750 million over the next five years. to expand access to EV charging in the U.S. and Canada. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon also said during his remarks that his company will add more than 1,396 EV charging stations at stores and clubs across 41 states.

Enterprise CEO Chrissy Taylor also joined the presentation to explain how her company is supporting EV adoption. The company will add the new Chevy Silverado EV to its rental fleet once the truck is on the market in 2023.

“Many of our renters use our vehicles for an extended test drive, and our customers are telling us they love trucks,” Taylor said. “This is an opportunity to use the Silverado EV to push awareness and brand recognition throughout the industry.”

GM will launch the work truck model in the spring of 2023. The fully loaded model will come out in the fall.

This news doesn’t have the wow-factor of BMW’s car that changes colors—although it looks like your choices are white, black or gray. But in this case, the boring stuff is the important stuff. Electric vehicles–of all types–will not reach critical mass if the only options on the market are for people interested in a Tesla or Prius.

The Silverado EV RST First Edition is right up there with Tesla when it comes to the price tag at $105,000 but the base model is more affordable at $39,900, and Barra said an electric Equinox SUV will go on sale in 2023 for $30,000. Nevertheless, reservations for the electric truck sold out in 12 minutes when Chevrolet began taking $100 deposits for the vehicle on Wednesday.

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