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Gas prices are making decarbonization ‘more urgent,’ BrightDrop CEO says

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BrightDrop CEO & President Travis Katz joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the company’s partnership with FedEx, decarbonization, and the outlook for electric last-mile delivery.

Video Transcript


BRIAN CHEUNG: General Motors delivering. BrightDrop, the automaker's logistics-focused EV unit turning over the keys of 150 of its electric delivery vans to Fedex. The new vehicles are part of an effort to help decarbonize last mile logistics.

Here with more, Travis Katz BrightDrop's CEO and president. Travis, great to have you on the program. This is the first of 2,500 deliveries that are ordered from Fedex. Tell us about the significance of this. And where do you see the scale going from here knowing that, look, EVs are the future? It's here already.

TRAVIS KATZ: Right. Well, thanks for having me, Brian. So this is a significant milestone for us. And I think that the important message here is that BrightDrop is on the ground delivering for customers today. So just 17 months after we first announced this business, we have vehicles on the ground delivering packages.

If you live in Los Angeles and you're getting a Fedex delivery, you may well be getting delivery from a zero emissions vehicle, which is a really exciting moment. And so it's really the beginning of a sea change in last mile. And really looking to-- like you said at the beginning, our mission is to decarbonize last mile delivery. And what we're here to show is that it's happening today. This isn't just a pipe dream.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, and Travis, it's Akiko here. You made some big announcements early on. Fedex obviously being one of those names, Walmart another big name that you signed on. But that was before we saw this most recent surge in oil prices.

And I'm just curious what that interest has been like over the last several months. I mean, I'm imagining you're getting a lot of calls from companies who are saying, we've gotta find a solution down the line.

TRAVIS KATZ: Yeah, so what's really exciting about this moment-- we're seeing tons of demand for these vehicles. We already have 25,000 reservations locked in from some of the world's biggest customers, companies like Walmart and Fedex and Verizon. And as gas prices are rising, I think the urgency of making this transition away from fossil fuels is being felt even more strongly.

So most of the big customers out there today have pledges to get to zero emissions delivery by 2035 or 2040. But the high gas prices are making it more urgent. Even before this surge in gas prices, we were finding that the average customer would save about $7,000 per vehicle per year when they switched from a traditional internal combustion engine to a BrightDrop van. With the gas prices where they are, that number is obviously much higher. And so there's a lot of excitement.

BRIAN CHEUNG: And then Travis, I wanted to ask just about the state of EV production right now. We know that automakers across the board are continuing to hit supply chain snags. With respect to the vehicles that you're making, are you at the capacity you would like to have right now given that demand is obviously pretty robust for your vehicles?

TRAVIS KATZ: Yeah, so BrightDrop has been breaking records all the way along. So this was the fastest vehicle ever brought to market in GM's history. We launched the first vehicles on the road just 20 months after the vehicle was first conceived, which is record breaking. I'm not sure anyone's done that before.

We are right on target. We delivered our first vehicles to Fedex in December, exactly when we said we would. And we finished this 150 vehicle delivery right on time as well.

We are in the process right now in building up our full scale production facility in Ingersoll, Ontario. That is going to be opening in December of this year. And that's when you're going to start to see the volumes really take off. We're aiming to be delivering 50,000 vehicles per year out of that facility by mid-decade.

AKIKO FUJITA: So that 25,000 number you pointed to, Travis, in terms of orders you already have in, you can meet every single one of those without delays as of now?

TRAVIS KATZ: We believe we'll be able to deliver every one of those without delays.

AKIKO FUJITA: And how are you securing that supply chain? Obviously, you know, we're talking about-- you know, Brian was just referring to passenger vehicles, passenger EVs. We've heard about delays there, material costs, you know, labor costs--


AKIKO FUJITA: --all that. But we're still talking about sourcing materials, the same kind of materials, even if you're talking about the logistics side of things. How have you managed to have that supply in place?

TRAVIS KATZ: Yeah, so BrightDrop is set up a little bit uniquely, and with clear advantage over both traditional automakers and the startup EV companies. So we've really set up BrightDrop to run as a separate company, but backed by the might of General Motors. And while the supply chain challenges have been roiling the entire industry-- and I don't want to minimize that. It has been a lot of work.

General Motors as a company is one of the best supply chain companies in the world. They've been doing this for 115 years. And so they have deep expertise, deep relationships with suppliers. And a lot of the new-- the new startups that are coming into the market are trying to invent this from scratch. That's a very, very challenging place to be in.

So we've been, you know, investing very heavily as a company. And we feel quite confident in where we're going to be from a delivery perspective next year.

BRIAN CHEUNG: And then Travis, I want to ask about just kind of the things that make these cars and trucks unique from the standpoint that it's for last mile logistics. And that's a big part of it. It's not just the EV, it's having the infrastructure, the technology on board that can help companies like Fedex make sure that they're going on the right route, making sure they're right on time, and that the truck is well-equipped to handle all of those needs.

Our autos reporter, Pras Subramanian, had some video-- we were just showing it of him-- driving around in these things. I mean, I see the dashboard there. I imagine a lot of that is going to have to have software that helps Fedex get that done.

Tell us a little bit about how you also work on the logistics side, just to make sure that all of that is ready and prepped for these contracts.

TRAVIS KATZ: Yeah, great question, Brian. So-- and this is actually a really important differentiator. BrightDrop is not just an electric vehicle company. There's a lot of companies going out there saying they're going to make electric delivery vans. We are really a last mile logistics company.

So we've got a suite of products that include both the EVs, that you see here-- the Zevo 600 and the Zevo 400-- but we also have electric carts called the Trace e-cart that are electrically propelled and make it faster and easier for couriers to deliver these packages, particularly to high rise buildings and in dense urban areas. But we also have the suite of software.

My background is software. I spent about 20 years in Silicon Valley working on technology. And so what we're really looking to do is, how do you not only decarbonize last mile, but make it much more efficiently and make it much more efficient? And the reason that's important is we all know demand for e-commerce is exploding. So we're all ordering more and more things online.

And so this is driving a huge demand for last mile delivery. And companies are struggling to keep pace, just with the sheer volumes. And our cities are struggling to keep pace because as you throw more and more trucks into the cities, it's creating congestion and other-- and other challenges.

At BrightDrop, we're really looking holistically at this problem. We're using software and technology to help companies work not just harder, but smarter, and deliver packages with zero emissions, but also with less impact on the world around us. It's really exciting. We are hiring aggressively, so if you are passionate about this space, we'd love to talk to you.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. I believe the demand. I will tell you, even just-- you know, just in New York City, I mean, you see the traffic happening-- just deliveries.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Pras was having a little bit too much fun in those delivery vans, by the way.

AKIKO FUJITA: He was. Yes, yes. Pras was very excited when he got to drive that. Travis, it's good to have you on the show today. Travis Katz, BrightDrop CEO and president.