The U.S. Postal Service’s multibillion-dollar program to create a new fleet of advanced design mail trucks remains in the prototype testing stage, even though the agency had expected to have a decision by now.
The Postal Service once said that it would announce a winner in the competition as soon as last month, but officials now tell Trucks.com that the vehicles are still being evaluated.
Five companies remain in the running to win all or part of the business to design and manufacture up to 180,000 new right-hand drive delivery vehicles for the independent agency. The contract could be worth up to $6.3 billion by some estimates, with the work spread over five or more years. Electric vehicles and hybrids are part of the prototype mix.
The acquisition process was launched in January 2015. Street testing began in fall 2017. Early estimates by the agency called for a final contract award in 2018, with deployment of the production vehicles in the summer of 2019. That timeframe is now in question.
“Given the early phase of the program — prototype testing phase — the Postal Service has not yet finalized a timeline to release a solicitation to procure purpose-built delivery vehicles,” said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Kim Frum in an email to Trucks.com.
Other factors also may be contributing to the wait to replace the agency’s aging fleet of mail trucks, including potential political headwinds.
Calls to privatize the service continue. And in April, President Trump, who has expressed sharp disapproval of the Postal Service and at least one of its customers, Amazon, issued an executive order to set up a task force to recommend how to reform the agency. The report was due in August. It has not yet been made public.
It is uncertain whether the Postal Service would announce a major next step in its plan to replace its entire fleet of daily mail trucks before the report is released publicly. That release is now likely to happen after the midterm elections, according to Government Executive.
At least two of the companies that have submitted prototypes in the contest are U.S. arms of overseas companies — India-based Mahindra and Turkish-owned Karsan. That also could prove to be a sticking point in the acquisition process under the new administration and its America first view. Given the Trump administration’s preference for U.S. manufacturers, it’s likely the agency might opt for a full American design, said Jeffrey Osborne, a Cowen & Co. automotive analyst.
Also, it’s not clear that the Trump administration would back cleaner fuel technologies for some or all of the entire fleet of daily mail trucks. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to ease fuel economy and emissions regulations for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. Half of the next-generation delivery vehicle prototypes, as requested by the Postal Service, feature hybrid or alternative fuel capabilities.
The Karsan truck, which would be built with its U.S. partner, Morgan Olson of Sturgis, Mich., is fully electric, not a plug-in hybrid as previously thought, according to someone with knowledge of the program who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the competition.
A battery-electric truck prototype from VT Hackney Inc. of Washington, N.C., and its partner, Workhorse Group, also is in the running. VT Hackney is part of the Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd. group of companies.
South Bend, Ind., manufacturer AM General, which also makes the Hummer military vehicle, submitted an internal-combustion engine truck with start-stop technology for improved fuel efficiency.
Oshkosh Corp., based in Oshkosh, Wis., is working with Ford Motor Co. to modify a gasoline Ford Transit Cargo van for the Postal Service.
Each company’s prototypes included different sizes and interior configurations. None of the potential prime contractor companies would comment publicly about the status of the acquisition program.
In a January 2018 post by Christopher Jackson, city delivery director of the National Association of Letter Carriers AFL-CIO, on the organization’s website, Jackson wrote about another possible factor contributing to the delay. Jackson reported a temporary suspension of delivery vehicle testing in November 2017. It is unclear how long the break for prototype modifications lasted before testing resumed, but testing was in place again by early this year.
The current crop of 163,000 daily mail trucks began service between 1987 and 2001. The Postal Service wants to replace many of the Grumman Long-Life Vehicles, which are operating beyond their expected life. Its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle program is intended to deliver safer and more ergonomic mail trucks, with modern technology such as back-up cameras. The agency said it was looking to reduce emissions and improve operational savings, which could come in lower fuel and maintenance costs.
“This testing will provide the Postal Service with valuable information to consider with other factors (i.e. technical features, carrier feedback, durability and total cost of ownership) in order to make an informed decision about the future of our vehicle fleet,” Frum told Trucks.com.
The agency also wants the new trucks designed to handle the growth in box and package delivery driven by the boom in e-commerce, which now accounts for about 30 percent of Postal Service deliveries.
Meanwhile, Frum said the Postal Service used many types of delivery vehicles, in addition to its fleet of aging mail trucks and that it was actively adding vehicles to meet delivery needs.
For example, the agency recently purchased 8,000 commercially available ProMaster vans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
“These extended capacity delivery vans will replace existing delivery vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life, as well as provide the Postal Service with additional vehicles needed due to delivery route growth,” Frum said.
“We are currently in the process of purchasing and deploying other commercially available cargo vans, mixed delivery trucks and service vehicles to support different elements of delivery operations and maintenance activities,” Frum said.
The agency continues to struggle with falling revenue even as it plans to boost capital spending by an average of 70 percent a year over the next decade, including an average of $821 million a year for the next-generation delivery vehicle program, according to a June 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office.
“Continuing financial losses and business uncertainties create challenges in its ability to undertake the capital spending needs it has identified,” the report said.
For now, the outcome of prototype testing for the next generation of custom-designed mail trucks remains wait and see.