Letter Carriers Critique 5 Vehicles Considered For Next Mail Truck

April 10, 2018 by Ryan ZumMallen, @Zoomy575M

The U.S. Postal Service is about to decide what vehicle will become the nation’s next mail truck. Will it be the one that letter carriers want?

As the Postal Service puts the five prototype models it is considering through extensive testing this year, letter carriers shared with Trucks.com the demands they face every day and evaluated the vehicles under consideration.

The changing dynamic of the job requires a vehicle with a far more modern design than the aging Grumman Long Life Vehicle that has served as the standard delivery truck since 1987, current and retired carriers told Trucks.com.

Delivery today is all about packages from Amazon.com and other e-commerce retailers. First class mail —  letters and bills — are a shrinking segment of the business, replaced by email and online payments. That requires changes to the design of the trucks, especially the interior space.

The current truck has poor insulation, leaking vents and a small cargo area that is not tall enough to stand inside, said Kathy Denman, a letter carrier from Connersville, Ind.

“The main thing for me is having heat, defrost and good visibility,” Denman said. “And you have to be able to walk around in there.”

The five entries hoping to win the competition include:

It’s a big contract, potentially worth more than $6 billion for an order that could reach 180,000 trucks. The Postal Service is expected to make its decision later this year.

The USPS launched testing last fall. But the service has been silent on what it has learned and declined a request to brief Trucks.com on the competition.

But letter carriers have opinions about the vehicles under consideration and how a new truck should be configured. Much of what they have learned comes from a series of photographs of the prototypes captured by Trucks.com.

  • Indian manufacturer Mahindra's mail truck prototype. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Mahindra mail truck prototype. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Mahindra mail truck prototype. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Mahindra mail truck interior.  (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Mahindra mail truck interior. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Mail truck prototype by South Bend, Indiana manufacturer AM General, which also manufactured the civilian Hummer H1. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • AM General mail truck prototype. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • AM General prototype. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • AM General prototype interior. (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)
  • Workhorse's prototype electric U.S. Postal Service mail truck. (Photo: Trucks.com)
  • Workhorse's prototype electric U.S. Postal Service mail truck. (Photo: Trucks.com)
  • Workhorse's prototype electric U.S. Postal Service mail truck. (Photo: Trucks.com)

Letter carriers said they want the new truck to offer air conditioning, improved visibility, a hybrid or electric powertrain option and built-in shelves to organize parcels in the rear storage area.

A new mail truck is essential, Denman said.

The current vehicle is particularly bad in difficult weather conditions, she said.

For example, Denman sealed a gap in the upper corner of her truck using foam rubber tubes to prevent rainwater and snow from collecting inside overnight. Other carriers rig handmade ducts to cool off the cab in the summer, when temperatures in the truck can reach 125 degrees.

Some carriers said they were pleased with the finalists.

“The main thing I’m seeing in these vehicles is the bigger cab,” said Patrick Baker, a carrier of 18 years in Jefferson City, Mo. “They’ve addressed the idea that parcels are the way of the future for the Postal Service.”

Baker said that he delivered an average of 18 packages per day in 2011. Thanks to a 2013 deal in which the USPS agreed to deliver Amazon.com orders, he now handles 70 packages on a typical day.

The current “vehicles weren’t designed for that,” he said. “Since there’s no real shelves, everything moves.”

The Postal Service has taken measures to address such concerns, according to documents created for potential contract bidders. There are a set of specific requirements for the new mail trucks in the Postal Service’s Request for Proposal, issued when it launched the competition in 2015.

For instance, the trucks must have a “universal mounting system” to attach shelves or a rolling cart.

Sliding doors are also required on both sides of the truck so that carriers do not have to access the cargo space from the rear while exposed to in traffic. Carriers must be able to move from the cabin to the cargo space without exiting the vehicle.

While some carriers expressed the need for more space, that can be a slippery slope, said Travis Chiple, a carrier in Oklahoma City.

“We have to maneuver around parked vehicles, trash cans and we make a lot of three-point turns in cul-de-sacs,” Chiple said. “So bigger isn’t the key.”

He called the prototypes “bulky” and said the current vehicle is the ideal size for a mail truck.

The Postal Service documents require bidders to produce two versions of their prototype. One is a “Small Vehicle” with 121 square feet of total mail volume. The other is a “Standard Vehicle” with a capacity of 155 square feet.

Each supplier was required to deliver six working vehicles to the USPS. The mail trucks are required to have two-wheel drive with an option for four-wheel drive.

The trucks are currently undergoing a 26-week test period with letter carriers in real-world environments. Each entry will also be subjected to a “24,000 Mile Durability Test” at a dedicated facility with a variety of pavement types, including potholes and cobblestone roads. They are also undergoing tests in cities where letter carriers contend with heavy snow, rain and heat.

The USPS has asked for powertrains designed with an expected life of at least 12 years. The trucks themselves are expected to last at least 20 years.

Both active and retired carriers voiced their support for a fuel-efficient choice. Depending on the route, carriers described the current truck reaching up to 18 mpg in a typical day or dropping as low as 5-6 mpg.

The trucks must have a minimum 1,500-pound payload capacity, optional air conditioning and a “weather-tight body.”

They won’t win any races. The USPS stipulates the new truck must accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 35 seconds. However, the Postal Service will test each entry with “figure eight high lateral movements” to ensure handling and maneuverability.

Without knowing exact dimensions and other details of the vehicles, carriers said they will reserve judgement until more information is revealed.

But based on what is presently known, Denman said the Oshkosh entry suits her best because of its ground clearance and cargo space. It also has an array of cameras that appear to improve outward visibility, said John Ortmann, a retired carrier in St. Louis, Mo.

“We had more accidents because of the sight problems than anything else,” Ortmann said.

Knial Williams, a retired station manager in Bentonville, Ark., liked the Oshkosh for its space as well. He also singled out the Workhorse/Hackney entry for its electric capability.

Baker agreed. He made the Workhorse/Hackney his top choice, largely for its regenerative braking that could recharge the battery and increase all-electric range along its route. The Postal Service advised bidders to prepare vehicles to handle a minimum 600 stops per day.

In the end, carriers will adapt to whichever mail truck is chosen by the Postal Service, said Bill Smith, a retired carrier in Terre Haute, Ind.

But he cautioned that one size does not fit all.

“What works for one carrier in Washington, D.C., or New York City will not necessarily work in Covington, Ind.,” Smith said.

16 Responses

  1. Eric

    Everytime I read an article about the new delivery vehicle all I see is letter carrier. No indication of is it a city carrier or rural carrier. Required to have 2 wheel drive with an “option” for 4 wheel drive? Seriously?
    If there is not a RURAL carrier on the design team all vehicles should not be considered.
    RURAL carriers get more packages than letter carriers do.
    RURAL carriers are in the delivery vehicle for HOURS whereas letter carriers park and walk.
    How many letter carriers deliver 250 or more packages a day during the holidays?
    How many miles does a letter carrier drive a day? How many of those miles are miles and miles of dirt roads?
    The next time you do an article on the new delivery vehicle PLEASE talk to both rural and city carriers. Each has different needs when it comes to the new delivery vehicle.

    Reply
    • Ryan ZumMallen
      Ryan ZumMallen

      Hi Eric, thank you for the comment. We spoke with both city and rural carriers, and some with mixed routes. We understand there are different demands for every carrier and the article reflects a range of needs from all over the country, some of whom were not named but whose opinions informed the piece.

      Reply
    • Robert F Byrd

      I read some time back that USPS had placed an order with Dodge for so many thousand new Dodges, what happened?

      Reply
      • EE

        Usps currently has both a Dodge “Tradesman” van used primarily on walking or “park and loop” routes and a larger commercial type Dodge Promaster van in the fleet. Nationwide I’m sure they number several thousands.

    • Mike

      Not all city carriers do park & loop, and at least in my office they drive Ram Promaster vans. There are mounted city carrier routes that are 6 or more hours in an LLV with just as many packages as you have. We may not drive as many miles because the stops are closer together but it also means we don’t get any speed up to blow the hot air out for a few seconds between stops.

      Reply
    • Keith

      Seriously? All rural carriers do is drive up to the house and honk the horn. Id like to see a rural out walking a loop out in the ghetto during the summer.

      Reply
  2. Melissa

    They really need to step up the process. The mail trucks down here in Florida are constantly breaking down because they are so old. Not to mention how hot it gets in the truck. And lack of space inside the truck is not adequate enough especially around Christmas time. They are having to go out twice just to get all the parcels delivered. New tricks are a long time coming

    Reply
  3. Brenda James

    We need chairs that turn around easy to get to the back, enough headspace to stand up, easy closing doors and windows, air conditioning, hand brake that is easy to pull, and a truck that shuts off when you lift off the seat. Air bags too. Rear camera’s and a radio a bonus.

    Reply
  4. Denise

    We need better seats in the vehicle! That actually allow us to adjust to each delivery person. I think the seat should turn also, to allow us to reach better in back of truck. I have had 2 back surgeries(last fusion w/cage) & 2 neck surgeries( c2-c7 fused!) from delivering mail for 23 years . I know sitting with your neck bent down looking at your lap AND watching mirrors constantly… cant be good for posture!!! Bouncing up & down off sides of roads is horrible on the back or any other body parts! We need more circulation in those hot boxes…its like our health dont matter!

    Reply
  5. NORMAN LEE

    I can live with a new vehicle that is similar to my LLV which I’ve driven for 18 years. Give me built in shelves, better gas mileage,
    more power to get up steep hills and ability to maneuver in narrow streets and I can live with most anything else. It would help if the vehicle did not repeat the negatives of the FFV which has a number of blind spots and no place to place my immediate area parcels and whenever I drive these vehicles, am constantly jamming my elbow in the tight spots. I need room to stretch my arms and legs for I have to work out of this vehicle.

    Reply
  6. Dan

    My wife just got a full route and there are zero llv’s for her rural route. So now we have to buy a LHD vehicle or do a conversion of your current car. Any way we can get a new prototype up in Michigan.

    Reply
  7. Jon Z

    I am a rural carrier veteran of 18 years, from east-central Illinois. Based strictly off of the photos I have seen from this website, my vote would have to go to Mahindra’s entry. But… as other have said, just about anything has to be an improvement from the Grumman LLV. I think the improved fuel economy alone will save the USPS millions in the long run.

    Reply
  8. Grace

    Am general or Mahindra whatever they choose they need to put two shelves in the back in each side so that makes more room

    Reply
  9. brian Hunter

    I prefer the Workhorse prototype over the rest, after reading all the information pertaining to each vehicle it stands out as the most sensible considering price, durability, functionality & servicing… in addition to that, VT Hackney/Workhorse being American based companies is a plus in my eyes. Workhorse is developing this new mail truck specifically for its purpose, whereas the other competitors are simply modifying vehicles to fit the bill… quality creation compared to affordable adaptation… hmmm

    Reply

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