Home » A Detroit Startup Wants To Turn GM’s Electric BrightDrop Vans Into 250-Mile Campers

A Detroit Startup Wants To Turn GM’s Electric BrightDrop Vans Into 250-Mile Campers

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One of the biggest struggles with electrifying RVs right now is just the fact that existing designs don’t have great range. Ford E-Transit van builds like the Winnebago ERV2 have an unimpressive range of just 108, barely enough to get you anywhere in any sort of timely manner. Grounded, the Detroit startup with an electric van that’s cheaper than the competition, also fell into this hole with its launch product, the E-Transit-based G1. Now, Grounded has unveiled the next evolution of its camper van design. The Grounded G2 promises 250 miles of range thanks to being built out of GM’s great BrightDrop commercial vans.

While electrification is spreading across the automotive and motorcycle industries, we’ve yet to really see a viable electric RV. There appear to be a number of problems for manufacturers to overcome, such as the fact that RVs tend to be large, blocky, and heavy, all not great traits for an EV. Potential solutions are on the horizon, such as Harbinger’s deal with Thor Industries and its custom chassis. For the companies focused on Class B camper vans, a limiting factor can be the donor vehicle. The Ford E-Transit has been chosen by big names like Winnebago and startup companies alike. However, with 108 miles on tap, you really aren’t going to take one of these campers across the country. Well, you could, but it would take forever.

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That brings us to Grounded.

2024 Grounded G2 Brightdrop Zevo

Back in March, I wrote about its launch vehicle, the G1 camper van. Grounded boasts countless interior configurations and a fully operational all-electric camper van for pricing cheaper than the ICE establishment. While I feel Grounded’s quality may leave some to be desired, I love the idea of an EV camper that’s cheaper than an ICE. Still, it’s hard to get around the 108-mile range limitation. Back in March, Grounded’s CEO Sam Shapiro told me that its G2, which will still be a van, was going to have a range of around 250 miles. At the time, I didn’t know how Grounded planned to achieve that. The company does not change the underlying platform, so it’s stuck with whatever it gets from an automaker.

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Apparently, I did not consider the idea that Grounded could just turn a delivery van into a camper. Grounded is not the first company to target GM’s BrightDrop vans for camper conversions, but it is the latest.

GM’s Delivery Future

Thomas Hundal

BrightDrop is a subsidiary of General Motors that was founded in 2021. The company exists as the General’s answer to the burgeoning market of electric commercial vehicles. BrightDrop’s target is last-mile delivery, or the types of step vans you see dropping packages off at your door or at a business.

Along with automated warehouse carts, BrightDrop also sells a pair of step vans built on GM’s Ultium platform and built at the CAMI plant that used to build such vehicles as the Geo Metro. Currently, the vans are being trialed with a little bit of everyone from DHL and FedEx to Ryder and even Purolator.

Thomas Hundal

Our Thomas got to review one, and he mentioned that the vans have a cargo area featuring a genuine walk-in height and a whole 615 cu.-ft of volume in the larger model. The BrightDrop vans also feature GM’s current tech suite of driver assistance features and as a bonus, the interiors of the vans weren’t creaky or misaligned. I highly recommend giving his review a read, but his driving notes paint a great picture:

You might expect maneuvering more than 24 feet of step van to be intimidating, like navigating the Suez Canal knowing full well what the internet will do if you cock things up. However, this enormous package hauler is friendlier than a labradoodle, and easier to drive than most full-size pickup trucks. How did GM manage that?

Let’s start with visibility. The view out of the front is truly panoramic thanks to an enormous windshield and useful A-pillar windows, while the microwave-sized mirrors feature convex elements to show you exactly where your rear wheels are. Even without resorting to the 360-degree camera system, drivers will know exactly where their wheels are at all times.

Thomas Hundal

Add in light steering, a relatively tight turning circle, and impeccably smooth one-pedal driving, and you get a formula that makes driving a breeze. Next to the BrightDrop Zevo 600, even a Chevrolet Tahoe feels cumbersome and unrefined, to say nothing of the litany of combustion-powered step vans currently in use. I’m not suggesting you toss the keys to someone on their learner’s permit, but this thing’s as stress-free as a motorized apartment building gets. Dare I say, it might be my favorite EV I’ve ever driven since it’s a comprehensive leap forward over its combustion-powered predecessors with no desirable traits lost in the switch to electric power. Imagine jumping out of an oxcart and into the USS Enterprise. That’s how different the BrightDrop Zevo 600 feels.

Thomas also compliments the vehicle’s quiet cabin and comfortable ride quality thanks to its independent front suspension plus solid rear axle with composite leaf spring. In other words, it’s a delivery van, but don’t expect the experience of driving a GMC Savana or a U-Haul truck, here.

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Grounded’s BrightDrop Camper Is Actually Modular

Brightvan

 

For its next-generation camper van, Grounded has chosen the BrightDrop Zevo 600 as its base vehicle. Under the body sits an AWD electric van boasting GM’s Ultium platform, featuring a 165-kWh battery pack and two motors adding up to 300 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. The Zevo 600 is powered by 20 Ultium modules and Grounded says that even kitted out as an RV you should get 250 miles of range out of it. That’s more than double what you get in the G1, so that’s great news!

Inside of the 24-foot step van is the latest version of Grounded’s custom modular interior. Grounded’s approach to the G2 appears to be similar to that of other companies trying out a modular concept, where you place interior modules out onto tracks.

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The original G1 didn’t have an interior you could build out or change yourself. When you buy a Grounded G1, the company takes you through a camper builder tool where you use the company’s interior pieces to configure perhaps countless layouts. Building the interior like Lego allows Grounded to crank out custom vans within days. Unfortunately, if you ever decide to change your layout, you have to take the G1 back to Grounded to have the pieces changed. So, I think “modular-ish” is the best way to describe the G1.

The G2 changes that and the CEO of Grounded Sam Shapiro says Grounded G2 owners will benefit from a truly modular interior:

“The G2 is radically different from any other offering on the market,” said Grounded CEO Sam Shapiro. “It’s a profound step toward a future of fully electrified motorhomes, and makes sustainable travel truly achievable. We’ve designed the G2 to be as flexible as possible, and our truly modular interior delivers on the promise of a continually upgradable RV interior. Over time, as your life changes and your use cases change, the vehicle can change with you. Customers can replace the modules themselves by removing some fasteners, taking out one module, and inserting a new one.”

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The change here appears to be the fact that interior pieces are more flexible and now attach to mounting rails, allowing the end user to change their camper without having to take it back to Grounded. The company also says the Grounded G2 features interior components made of KoskiDecor Eco Transparent, a plywood from Koskisen. This material is a Finnish Baltic birch with translucent melamine coating on each side. This protects the wood underneath while giving customers a choice of 11 different colors.

Koskidecor Eco Transparent Pääku

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Improvements aren’t just limited to the modular interior, either. The launch G1 vans carry 5 kWh house batteries, which are a third of the size of the battery found in the Winnebago eRV2. For the BrightDrop-based G2, Grounded is doubling the house battery to 10 kWh. That’s still smaller than the competition, but a notable improvement. Grounded does say that the house battery size is customizable, so it may be possible to get an even bigger battery.

Other bits about the new G2 carry over from the G1. That includes the inclusion of a dry flush toilet, an outdoor shower, and 640 watts of solar. Also like the G1, the G2’s electronics and appliances can be controlled by a phone app.

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In terms of charging, you’re looking at a 120-kW peak DC fast charging rate. That’s good enough for roughly 170 miles of range per hour. You can also charge the camper at home from a 240-volt outlet, which will net you a peak of 11.5-kW. One feature I like about Grounded’s vans is the fact that the house battery and traction battery are connected, so one can pass a charge to the other.

No Longer Cheaper Than The Competition

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So, the big question you probably have is what did going to the BrightDrop Zevo 600 and giving buyers are truly modular interior do to the price? The Grounded G2 lands for $195,000. Grounded says it’s taking orders right now. The ordering process starts with a refundable $100 deposit. Then you get to design the initial interior for your van. Grounded says deliveries start this month.

Back at the Detroit Auto Show, I got to tour the G1 and was a little disappointed. Aside from the 108-mile range, it was a bummer that changing the interior couldn’t be done by the end-user and the quality left some to be desired. With the G2, Grounded is fixing a lot of this.

You can now go 250 miles, you can change your own interior, and at least in photos, the change in how the interior is made is good as well. But, $195,000 is not a small price to pay to have a cool camper. Grounded may no longer have a price advantage, but it looks like the startup succeeded in making a cozy unit.

(Images: Grounded, unless otherwise noted.)

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Knowonelse
Knowonelse
8 months ago

They need PHEV vehicle of this scale for camping, and in particular boondocking.

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
8 months ago

Shitting into a bag for two hundred thousand dollars. wow

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
8 months ago
Reply to  LuzifersLicht

I already shit in a bag for free!

Gee See
Gee See
8 months ago

With the Ultium batteries in short supply is this a vapor ware type deal? Sounds like a crowdsource type pipe dream.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
8 months ago

Can someone please explain to me why the hell these things have separate house batteries??

Gee See
Gee See
8 months ago

Probably GM etc don’t let them access the tech / code

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
8 months ago

200 grand….my first house….4 bedroom colonial on 2 acres…cost me 50 grand. The world has truly passed me by.

Rexracer
Rexracer
8 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

Your parents paying 3-5k for a house would say the same.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
8 months ago

Is 250 miles enough range for an RV?

I say no, but then my use case for something of this size might be unusual. Another commenter mentioned 250 miles is enough to go from Chicago to the Dells, which isn’t a bad benchmark. But what about Chicago to Green Bay for a Bears-Packers game? Yep, only 200 miles. Or Chicago to Detroit for a game against the Lions? Nope, 280 miles and not enough range.

We need a new unit of measure for RV range. Maybe the New York City to Buffalo unit of measure (~400 miles), which is the approximate the range of ICE Sprinters, Transits and Promasters on a full tank of fuel.

250/400 = .625 NYCs-Buffalo. Go back to the drawing board, Grounded.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
8 months ago

Um, you don’t have to be able to make a drive in a single stretch. I’ve been trying to explain this to a coworker, but it just requires a minor change in mindset. You’re saving a significant amount in fuel, so having to make an extra stop is not a huge sacrifice. You drive 2 hours, and then make a quick stop to charge, 5-20 minutes.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
8 months ago

I’m not anti-EV. In an area with many charging stations, 250 miles of summertime range might be reasonable.

I stumbled in explaining that for my use case 250 miles is not sufficient because we use our RV in all four seasons and in rural areas where charging stations are rare.

V10omous
V10omous
8 months ago

Are there chargers in existence anywhere that can fill a 165 kW battery in 5-20 minutes???

Last edited 8 months ago by V10omous
Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
8 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Assuming a 150kW charger, 15 minutes would add about 60 miles of range. This isn’t a terrible assumption because with such a big battery at a lower SoC you should get close to the maximum. At a 350kW charger, 15 minutes should give you around 120 miles of added range. Notwithstanding broken chargers of course.

Put into my real world experience, I usually end up just stopping a bit longer to get a bit more charge. 30 minutes doesn’t feel like much time at all as long as you plan something productive to do. When we take road trips in our EV, we wait to get provisions once we are on the road. So we plan a stop at a fast charger that’s at a Target or grocery store a couple of hours into the trip. In this hypothetical trip from Chicago to Detroit, you stop at the 350kW EA charger at the Sam’s Club in Kalamazoo, get your provisions for the stay in Detroit, and come back out to 80% SoC. Especially in a camper van it’s even easier to combine charging with productive activities. Stop at a charger for lunch or dinner and prep and eat your meal while you charge.

Never underestimate the citation
Never underestimate the citation
8 months ago

You see! With this RV you don’t have to go watch the Lions. EV wins again

Millermatic
Millermatic
8 months ago

$195,000??? HAHAAAHAAAHAAHA…

No.

BrightDrop 600 = $85,000.

Ikea interior = $110,000? Who are they kidding?

Last edited 8 months ago by Millermatic
Jim Stock
Jim Stock
8 months ago

The price, again, is the problem.
250 miles will get you from Chicago to the Wisconsin Dells. RVs in campgrounds have ample charging opportunities but 5 hr days are short. I am glad they are being built and I am pro ev. The crazy prices of EVs are not cool.

Citrus
Citrus
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

To be fair though the price of all recreational vehicles is absurd.

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
8 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

And the build quality is appalling as Mercedes has outlined in numerous columns.

Citrus
Citrus
8 months ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

The build quality of this also looks very not great. That’s some student shelving-level materials.

Pedro
Pedro
8 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

That’s top quality baltic birch.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
8 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

for sure!! my buddies who have overlanding tear drops have noticed that even those have more than doubled in price recently.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago

There is a very close to zero % chance that GM is ok with them doing this to a Brightdrop vehicle, specifically.

This company needs to give up. There is nothing clever or groundbreaking that they are doing. They didn’t make the EV, they just threw some cabinets in it, etc..

Just another money grab to be another camper van “builder”

Last edited 8 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
8 months ago

Why would GM be unhappy about this?

Citrus
Citrus
8 months ago

What does it matter what GM thinks? Grounded is buying the vans, GM’s work is done. There aren’t any contract stipulations surrounding what a buyer can do with the product, and commercial vehicles are typically modified anyway. Hell GM might even be happy since Grounded is proving their use case.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
8 months ago
Reply to  Citrus

Apparently in this guy’s head, GM is not ok with sales; totally not ok.

GM: “Damn! We sold another one!”

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
8 months ago

I’m confused. Are you suggesting other business are in operation for reasons other than making money?

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago

The reason why I think that GM might be unhappy is due to how this upfit integrates with their design. It’s not like this is a Chevy Express cutaway that’s been around since the 1990s…

I’m talking about from a weight/balance perspective vs GAWRs/GVWR, and how do the house electronics integrate with the LV system (since GM won’t let them have HV access) things like that. Keep in mind this is a single rear wheel vehicle with a huge/heavy battery pack with a Class 2 GVWR… before anything is put in that cargo area.

GM likes for upfitters to go through their SVM approval (Ford has QVM)… I doubt that this is SVM….that’s why I think GM might not be happy about it. But as stated above, they can’t really do anything about it unless they can prove that the upfit caused a warranty issue. Does GM even have an upfitter guide for this platform yet? They do that on their other commercial vehicles.

I just think this company, and lots of other van upfitters, are claiming to make big technological strides when they don’t have an ounce of IP and they are (as i said) just throwing cabinetry, etc.. in a van and acting like they are Tesla or something… and trying to charge crazy prices for it.

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
8 months ago

It’s not really the case anymore the manufacturers want high levels of control over the way upfitters use their vehicles. You can now email Ford and Ram and get factory accurate CAD files for their vans and other vehicles (ask me how I know). They recognize that they aftermarket landscape has changed and that it’s absolutely a bad business decision to put roadblocks up to the most innovative players. Trust me when I tell you that GM 100% wants people doing cool things with their vehicles – especially those vehicles for which much of the market is still skeptical.

V10omous
V10omous
8 months ago

The Grounded G2 lands for $195,000. Grounded says it’s taking orders right now. The ordering process starts with a refundable $100 deposit.

This is deeply unserious and has no function other than to juice reservation numbers to deceive/impress shareholders.

Putting 0.05% of the purchase price down (refundable too, lol) proves basically nothing. It’s the equivalent of putting 50 cents down on an iPhone or $20 down on a mainstream car.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
8 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Couldn’t agree more

DadBod
DadBod
8 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Even if they are serious about selling these, which I doubt, how is the business even sustainable? How many 200K units do they have to sell per year, year over year, to survive?

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
8 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

I don’t think we’d all be surprised how many people are into this. $200k just isn’t that much relative to the costs of current van builds – many of which break $250k.

DadBod
DadBod
8 months ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

Yeah but it seems like the audience for these would be exhausted fairly quickly, unless I am hopelessly naive about how much money is flying around in this market. To me, a camper van is a pretty niche product.

DadBod
DadBod
8 months ago

Thanks. Indeed I am naive.

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