The US Postal Service burned down the Intertubes last spring after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced a new $6 billion contract that will equip the agency with a new generation of fossil fuel delivery trucks. Or not, as the case may be. A storm of protests from electric truck fans seems to have turned the tide in favor of electric vehicles, or maybe it was some flexibility built into the original contract. Either way, the stage is set for more USPS zero-emission vehicles to hit the road.
Where are all the electric trucks?
The US Postal Service fleet faces a long and difficult journey of fleet electrification due to the massive size of its fleet. The transition to zero-emission mobility has been made even more difficult by a unique financial burden imposed by Congress since 2006.
The agency’s 200,000 general delivery trucks could be the result of electrifying federal fleets, as many of them are 25 years old or older. However, the outlook for a quick transition to electric dimmed when former President Trump appointed DeJoy as postmaster general in 2020. DeJoy’s various activities at competing delivery companies seemed to indicate less interest than determined for the improvement of the postal service fleet or, for that matter, to improve anything else on the postal service.
With that in mind, electrification proponents were disappointed, but not surprised, last year when DeJoy awarded a new contract of 6 billion dollars over 10 years for a “next generation delivery vehicle” proposed to replace old gas burners with 165,000 new units, but failed to make electrification a primary goal.
“Vehicles will be equipped with either fuel-efficient internal combustion engines or battery-electric powertrains and can be retrofitted to keep pace with advances in electric vehicle technologies,” is the wording of the USPS announcement. , dated February 23, 2021.
That seemed to leave a lot of wiggle room for electric trucks, but a few months later the USPS submitted a draft Environmental Impact Statement stating a floor of only 10% electric trucksthe remaining 90% being dedicated to gas.
Here they are! Well, some of them…
Between last August and last week, Congress finally passed a postal reform bill which puts the agency on a more solid financial footing. Last we checked, the bill is still awaiting the president’s signature, but it appears the Postal Service is already anticipating that the reforms will smooth the way for more electric trucks than originally thought.
Last Thursday, USPS announced that it had placed an initial order of $2.98 billion of 50,000 next-generation delivery vehicles. The announcement begins with the statement that “[the] Postal Service is delivering on its promise to accelerate its electric vehicle strategy by increasing the quantity of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as our financial position improves and we refine our network and vehicle operations strategy.
That remains to be seen, but it looks like the Postal Service has already upped the ante in its electrification vision. According to the announcement, the USPS has reviewed its routes and determined that electric trucks will account for 10,019 of the 50,000 new vehicles.
By doing the math, it’s already more than 10%. The USPS also adds that “the flexibility of the NGDV program allows for future increases in the BEV mix if additional funding becomes available from internal or other sources, and if the BEV use case continues to improve.”
Will USPS get more electric trucks, or not?
20% is an improvement over 10%. Still, that’s nearly 40,000 new gasmobiles upfront in this first order, and DeJoy has made it clear that he’s more interested in getting the new vehicles into his hands as soon as possible, even if that means hanging on to Another 40,000 fossil fuel- powered trucks for another generation.
In the announcement, DeJoy reiterated points he has made in the past that existing vehicles pose driver safety risks that need to be replaced as soon as possible, that the initial cost of a vehicle battery-electric is superior to a comparable gasmobile, and that the increased cargo space in new vehicles will improve service whether they are zero emissions or not.
“The Postal Service generally receives no tax money for its operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations,” USPS also reminds us.
We know all of this, but we also know that the financials behind DeJoy’s claims are more than a little out of whack. As reported by our friends from The New York Times, the US Postal Service based its decision in favor of gasoline-powered mobiles on an estimated average of 29.9 miles per gallon for new vehicles. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its own figures and found only 14.7 mpg and only 8.6 mpg with AC.
The cost of gas is another factor. The USPS apparently based their cost estimate on $2.19 per gallon, which is odd considering gas costs on average over $4.00 per gallon at the pump. Even factoring in a wholesale discount, the $2.19 figure seems outdated.
The advantage of fleet electrification
Besides the cost of gasoline, the emphasis on gas mobiles is also out of step with the fleet electrification movementwhich grew in size as fleet managers become aware of the financial benefits of battery electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles cost less to maintain than comparable gasmobiles. They also offer fleet owners the opportunity to participate in demand-response electric vehicle charging programs, micro-grid formation, and other financial benefits of owning wheeled energy storage. .
Even the U.S. military is beginning to get a foothold in the fleet electrification movement, in part because of its interest in self-forming microgridsand partly on his interest in moving away from tank-based warfare to an emphasis on smaller, quieter, and more agile weapons combat and reconnaissance vehicles.
This brings us to the company that won the Postal Service contract, the well-known military contractor Defense of Oshkosh. The initial reaction from EV fans was a chorus of boos, as Oshkosh isn’t widely known as an EV manufacturer.
However, upon closer inspection, it turns out that the company has a track record of electrification. Oshkosh Defense is involved in the military’s slow march toward electrification, and parent company Oshkosh also Drill Volterra and other branches of electrification under its aegis. Pierce Volterra is known for working on task-specific electrification projects including fire trucks. Oshkosh Defense also explained that its rather clumsy design of the new USPS vehicles is intended to facilitate a gas-electric switch when the opportunity arises.
This opportunity may come sooner than DeJoy anticipated. Earlier this month, the USPS Inspector General released a white paper that supports the case for a Electrification of the Swiss Post fleetso stay tuned for more.
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Image: New general delivery truck for the US Postal Service courtesy of Oshkosh Defense.
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