A generation of electrically powered, self-driving mail trucks will roll out of a suburban Detroit industrial park later this year. Their mission: revolutionize mail and package delivery.

About 2,000 of the boxy, shiny Quadrobot U1 four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer delivery vans will begin service with the Chinese postal service late this year delivering packages in cities along the populous South Coast.

The startup company aims to have another 30 in trial service delivering goods in downtown Detroit and suburban downtowns including Birmingham and Royal Oak, Mich. Quadrobot CEO and chairman Mike Wang outlined the plans during an interview in the building where the company he founded will begin assembling Quadrobots for U.S. service later this year.

A native of Hangzhou, China, Wang came to Detroit to study automotive design at the College for Creative Studies, one of the world’s top schools for auto and industrial design.

“I was skeptical at first, but I’m all in,” said John Manoogian, a longtime auto industry executive and adjunct professor of auto design at CCS. Manoogian met Wang as a CCS student. He’s now a Quadrobot investor and a board member. Quadrobot is based in the Detroit area and funded by investors in the United States and China.

“Mike showed me his prototype and I realized it was a totally unique vision,” Manoogian said. “The car business is undergoing dramatic change. This has the opportunity to make a big difference.”

Most of the U1’s engineering and all its design took place in southeast Michigan. The U1 has 35 kilowatts of power, about 47 horsepower.

That’s enough for a neighborhood delivery vehicle, but 350-kw power is in development for bigger vehicles that could go farther and faster. Wang worked with local engineers to develop the vehicles.

“Detroit has the best reputation in the world for automotive engineering and design,” said Wang, 32, who worked in design and brand strategy at Fiat Chrysler after graduating from CCS.

“We wanted the U1 to look like a Detroit vehicle,” Wang said. “There’s a lot of brand value in the city of Detroit.”

The U1 is what’s called a “last mile” vehicle, designed to handle delivery in neighborhoods and downtowns. The best comparison is the mail truck your postal carrier uses, but smaller, with electric power and varying amounts of self-driving ability. It’s not a substitute for highway and intercity delivery vehicles, but rather for delivery from local businesses – and in China, the local post office.

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