Des Moines-based Dee Zee Inc. will experience “hockey stick” growth in production as it ramps up over the next year as a component supplier for BrightDrop, a commercial electrical vehicle delivery van maker. The company has contracts to supply FedEx and Walmart with new fleets of EV delivery vehicles.

Last week Dee Zee announced it was selected by BrightDrop to manufacture structural and exterior components for tens of thousands of Zevo electric delivery vans that will be built by BrightDrop, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors. As one of about 30 suppliers chosen by BrightDrop, Dee Zee has a 10-year contract to provide components for BrightDrop.

The manufacturing partnership is expected to result in more than 150 new manufacturing jobs in Central Iowa by next fall, along with a new 45,000 square-foot manufacturing facility already under construction at Dee Zee’s Pleasant Hill campus.

Founded in 1977, Dee Zee has a footprint of more than 1 million square feet of manufacturing, packaging, warehousing and shipping space across eight facilities in Greater Des Moines, with a current workforce of nearly 1,000 employees.

Dee Zee already produces well over $100 million annually in automotive aftermarket parts for GM, including millions of side steps for GM and other original equipment manufacturers. The company on Tuesday held an open house for the media to view one of the Zevo vans at its Pleasant Hill plant.

The new 45,000-square-foot plant that’s under construction (pictured above) will be dedicated to production of the structural components for the BrightDrop vans, along with the 80,000-square-foot existing tool and die facility adjacent to it, which is being converted for production of the BrightDrop components as well.

“It’s an exciting new opportunity for Dee Zee,” said Kelli Gallagher, the company’s president. “Dee Zee has historically always provided accessories, which we will continue to do, as well as aftermarket products. But getting into this new category [of structures for original equipment manufacturers] broadens the products that we can offer. Every vehicle requires structures; not every vehicle has outside accessories that can attach to a vehicle.”

Each of the Zevo EV vans rolling off of BrightDrop’s assembly lines in Canada will incorporate 36 structural aluminum assemblies made up of hundreds of individual parts made by Dee Zee, said Matt Guerdet, director of OEM sales for Dee Zee. (Photo of the interior of the van below)

“Over the years, we’ve had a great relationship [with GM],” he said. “We’ve provided millions and millions of side steps, and when I say millions, that’s not figurative — that’s literally millions of side steps — which a lot of people don’t realize come out of Des Moines. So it’s a relationship that we’ve built with them. They know that we build a very high-quality product; they know we’re very experienced using aluminum extrusions. And that’s what gave us this opportunity.”

Production of the Zevo components for BrightDrop will initially equip several hundred vans per month, Guerdet said. “Once we hit March or April, we’ll go to [equipping] 26,000 vehicles out of here, and by the summer [of 2023] they want 46,000 vehicles. And then by the fall, they want us to be able to provide up to 60,000 vehicle sets a year.”

In January, BrightDrop announced it had added Walmart to its customer roster, along with an expanded relationship with FedEx. Walmart signed an agreement to reserve 5,000 BrightDrop EV600 and smaller EV410 electric delivery vans to support the retail giant’s last-mile delivery network and goal of operating a zero-emissions logistics fleet by 2040.

FedEx has signed an agreement with BrightDrop reserving priority production for 2,000 electric delivery vans over the next few years.

Dee Zee’s component project, which has been under development for about the past three years, will increase the company’s headcount by about 15% initially, adding more than 150 employees to its current workforce of approximately 1,000.  

"By this fall, our target is to have 35 to 40 extra staff, and by this time next year, it’s over 150 staff, which is difficult in this marketplace right now,” Guerdet said. “But it’s very good for Central Iowa — it’s a lot of job opportunities. It’s very skilled workers that we need, with CNC mills, automation cells, things like that. And Dee Zee is a great place to work; I’ve been here over 30 years. So I think it’s a win for everybody.”

Guerdet said he believes the BrightDrop contract is just the beginning for new opportunities for Dee Zee in providing vehicle structural components.

“That’s our growth plan,” he said. “But we want to make sure that we can do this properly for profit and satisfy the customers’ needs before we step to that next level and look for more business. We firmly believe we can do this and we firmly believe that there's going to be more growth in this in the future.”

Contributed photos