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Meet the chief engineer behind BrightDrop, GM's newest brand

Kalea Hall, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

WARREN, Michigan — From the moment she started her career at General Motors Co., Kathy Gillespie never feared the unknown.

Instead, she sought it out. She wanted the difficult engineering jobs on systems covering the vehicle. She wanted to lead whatever programs came as an opportunity, from performance to electric vehicles. And top on her list: She wanted to be a chief engineer.

A year ago, she achieved that title for GM’s BrightDrop electric delivery vans. She’s now overseeing the launch of the Zevo 600 and Zevo 400 at the CAMI plant in Ontario. Gillespie, who’s never shied away from tough jobs, is up for the task of ramping up to an annual capacity of 30,000 BrightDrop vans this year. GM intends to reach 50,000-unit capacity by 2025.

It’s a heavy lift given the eyes on BrightDrop, GM’s newest brand that's poised to bring the automaker new customers and more revenue from the commercial vehicle space — a new target for automakers going electric. The Zevo electric delivery vans, part of a growing segment, are expected to bring in $1 billion in revenue in 2023 and $10 billion by 2030. GM expects BrightDrop to approach 20% profit margins by the end of the decade.

“I believe that their revenue target is very optimistic … but I believe that BrightDrop and the van fleet industry will be a significant piece of fleets and fleet growth moving forward," said Warren Browne, an auto supplier consultant and former GM executive who spent 40 years working for the automaker. "It's just the most logical."

BrightDrop says it already has more than 25,000 reservations and letters of intent for the Zevo 600 or 400. Its customers include FedEx Corp., Walmart Inc., Hertz Global Holdings Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Merchants Fleet and DHL Express Canada.


The pressure to hit the goals GM has established for BrightDrop is high, but Gillespie has a calm demeanor about it: “We're going to deliver,” she said in an interview last week. “Absolutely, we're delivering.”

Born to be an engineer

Gillespie is Michigan-born and raised, with a dad who worked for GM in finance and often brought home vehicles for the family to try out. The Corvette was her favorite.

“I was the girl that liked cars,” she said. “And I like to drive fun cars.”


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