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Canada's first large electric vehicle plant opened on Dec. 5 in Ingersoll, Ont.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

The first electric delivery trucks began rolling off production lines in early December as General Motor Co. GM-N officially opened Canada’s first large-scale electric vehicle plant Monday in Ingersoll, Ont.

BrightDrop, GM’s new commercial electric delivery-vehicle business, also announced DHL Express Canada will be the first customer outside the United States for the BrighDrop Zevo 600 van. While the number of units DHL is buying was not disclosed, BrightDrop chief commercial officer Steven Hornyak said the company has orders and commitments for “north of 25,000″ vans. Buyers include Walmart, Hertz, FedEx and Verizon.

The 2-million-square-foot CAMI Assembly Plant was retooled over seven months to go from making Chevrolet Equinox SUVs to delivery trucks. Equinox production stopped in April and production on the vans began in November. BrightDrop expects to produce 50,000 Zevo vans annually by 2025.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the opening is a “made in Ontario” success story and shows the province is on the path to being a global vehicle manufacturing powerhouse once again. The plant was built with a $1-billion investment from GM and $259-million each from the provincial and federal government.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford sits behind the wheel of ZEVO 600 during the opening of automaker General Motors (GM) Brightdrop unit's CAMI EV Assembly, Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos OsorioCARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

“Electric-vehicle manufacturing in Canada is no longer something that’s happening in the future. It’s here and it’s now. That’s good for Canada, and good for the planet,” said GM Canada president Marissa West.

The van, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2021, is being pitched to the last-mile delivery sector, a greenfield market for GM, Hornyak said in an interview. The decision to make vans was a strategic one because every other EV category would be cannibalizing market share from an existing traditional gas-powered vehicle.

BrightDrop launched in 2021 and is forecast to reap its first $1-billion in sales next year, said chief executive officer Travis Katz.

GM has committed to create the capacity to produce a million EVs in North America by the end of 2025. As part of that commitment, Hornyak said the CAMI plant will allow it to meet the 25,000 orders it has many times over. “BrightDrop is now in a position to produce electric vehicles in volume to fight climate change at scale,” he said.

An assembly robot operates on the line at automaker General Motors (GM) Brightdrop unit's CAMI EV Assembly, Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos OsorioCARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

BrightDrop is offering the Zevo 600 van (to be followed by a smaller Zevo 400 next year) along with a fleet management software package and a smart, electrified cart that can be deployed from the vans in congested areas.

According to GM president Mark Reuss, who spoke at the opening, the advantages of the BrightDrop “ecosystem” are not limited to zero tailpipe emissions. The EVs also help to reduce urban congestion and reduce fuel costs for fleets. In an average year the EV can reduce fuel expenses by US$12,000, the company claims.

The electrified cart, called Trace, was designed by GM’s development lab in Ontario, and tested in Toronto. Initial trials demonstrated they can increase last-mile delivery efficiency by 25 per cent, Reuss said.

Scaled production is expected to begin with Zevo 600 models in January 2023 and Zevo 400 models in late 2023. BrightDrop has already delivered 150 vehicles to FedEx in the U.S., marking one of the largest deployments of commercial electric delivery vans to date.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was joined by Ford and Ontario’s economic development minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits behind the wheel of ZEVO 600 during the opening of automaker General Motors (GM) Brightdrop unit's CAMI EV Assembly, Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos OsorioCARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

With files from Reuters