Only 10 percent of the United States Postal Service’s new fleet of mail trucks will be battery-powered despite President Biden’s desire to convert the entire government fleet, USPS head Louis DeJoy revealed in Congressional testimony on Wednesday. The other 90 percent will be gas-powered, though the trucks — which are being built by defense contractor Oshkosh — are supposedly designed to be converted into electric vehicles down the road.
When DeJoy was asked why it wasn’t the other way around, he said he was willing to talk to the Biden administration but that the USPS doesn’t “have the 3 or 4 extra billion [dollars] in our plan right now that it would take to do it.” The USPS mail vehicles make up about a third of the entire government fleet. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The USPS announced the new-generation mail truck on Tuesday following a yearslong bidding process. It’s paying Oshkosh nearly $500 million to get the vehicles into production by 2023, and the defense contractor is promising to build anywhere between 50,000 and 165,000 of them over the next ten years. They will replace the current mail trucks that have been in service for more than two decades, which were built by defense contractor Grumman.
Many of those mail trucks — known as “long life vehicles” or LLVs — are well past their expiration dates and some have even caught fire, which is not only dangerous but has also cost the USPS a lot in repairs and upkeep. Additionally, they’re not equipped with modern amenities like airbags or air conditioning. The new trucks offer those, plus better ergonomics and new safety features.
Both the USPS and Oshkosh said the deal was for a mix of gas and electric versions of the new vehicle, and that they would be “fuel-efficient” and “low-emission.” But they initially declined to specify what that mix would be or how they defined those terms.
“The [new vehicles] are expected to be more environmentally friendly than the current LLVs due to fewer trips required and better emission controls. These controls will decrease emissions and help improve air quality when compared to the vehicles they are intended to replace,” the USPS told The Verge. “The flexible platform will allow the Postal Service to purchase the [new vehicles] with powertrains that maximize fuel efficiency, reduce operational costs and allow the incorporation of emerging technologies in the future when they become mature and offer operational savings.”
Multiple bidding companies proposed all-electric or hybrid options during the six-year search for a new truck, which was fraught with problems and delays. Only one of those companies was still in the running during the final phase, though: commercial EV startup Workhorse. After years of struggling to generate revenue, many industry analysts and experts thought the USPS contract was Workhorse’s best shot at survival. But some thought Workhorse had a decent chance considering it was the only one pitching an EV in the final stage and because electric vehicles make a lot of sense in short-range delivery settings.
Workhorse said Wednesday that it has requested “additional information from the USPS” about the decision and that it “intends to explore all avenues that are available to non-awarded finalists in a government bidding process.”
Some environmental groups took aim at DeJoy after the announcement of the new truck. The USPS chief has been under pressure to resign for months following accusations that he was deliberately hampering the Postal Service’s ability to properly function during last year’s election, which saw a record number of people vote by mail.
“From undermining our democracy to delaying climate action, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continues to fail the United States Postal Service and the American public,” Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement. “The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration’s goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the US government’s vehicles.”
But while DeJoy may make a good scapegoat, it’s not clear that politics were at the heart of the decision to go with Oshkosh. The Trump administration certainly spent four years exhibiting a disdain for clean air policies. But it was also quite chummy with the people behind Workhorse. Trump himself cheered on the sale of the former General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio to Lordstown Motors, which is essentially a spinoff of Workhorse. Former Vice President Pence attended the unveiling of Lordstown Motors’ electric pickup truck (which is based on an original Workhorse design). And the Department of Energy started doing due diligence on Lordstown Motors for a possible Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan while Trump was still in office, despite the fact that the ATVM program has been otherwise dormant for nearly a decade.