Postal Service Wrapping Up Testing of New Mail Truck Prototypes

February 04, 2019 by Cyndia Zwahlen

The U.S. Postal Service said it expects to wrap up mail truck prototype testing for its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle program in the coming months and then will seek bids for an estimated $6.3 billion contract to produce the new mail truck.

“Most likely early 2019,” said Kim Frum, a spokesperson for the federal agency, recently.

The Postal Service is testing 50 prototypes from five companies as it looks to replace its aging fleet of Grumman Long Life Vehicles, or LLVs. The old mail trucks lack modern safety features, have poor fuel economy and have been plagued by fires and increasingly expensive repairs. At least six burned up last month.

They were also built to handle mostly letters, not packages, which make up more of today’s mail volume.

A mix of powertrains

The prototypes include a mix of alternative fuel and hybrid technologies, including all-electric options.

Awarding a manufacturing contract for the 180,000 new mail trucks it wants would be the next step, if the agency follows its original plan. The contract is worth up to $6.3 billion over five years.

Prototype testing, which began 15 months ago, has been a mix of real-world road work and in-lab durability trials. It was expected to take six months, according to the original timeline the Postal Service published for the program.

Once testing is complete, the agency will determine when to release a request for proposal, or RFP, to actually manufacture the vehicles, Frum said.

Despite the delays and the agency’s target price of $25,000 to $35,000 per mail truck, the companies that survive the prototype stage are likely to bid on the production phase, according to one industry expert.

‘Huge showcase’

“This is a huge showcase for whoever gets it,” said Antti Lindstrom, the truck analyst at IHS Markit.

And the Postal Service may pick more than one team’s design, he said, so it has vehicles suited to the different weather and terrain conditions its daily-delivery drivers face.

There are still plenty of potential bumps before the new mail trucks hit the road, Lindstrom said. The Postal Service’s request for prototype proposals was issued in 2015, with designs approved in 2016. Since then, technology has changed rapidly, particularly for alternative fuel and electric powertrain options.

Political headwinds are also likely, he said. The “America first” mantra of the current administration may make it hard for the agency to choose a foreign automaker for the contract, even if the vehicles would be produced here.

And it’s no secret President Donald Trump already is unhappy with Postal Service finances and how the agency does business with commercial package shippers like Amazon.

Will agency proceed?

Then there’s the cost. It’s not clear the agency’s price range for the new mail trucks is still realistic. And it’s not clear if the Postal Service, which is in the red due in part to having to prepay employee pensions, will immediately go ahead with the multibillion-dollar, multiyear purchase.

In a November financial report, the agency did not appear to include money to pay for the production of new mail trucks in fiscal 2019, which ends Sept. 30. It projected capital spending commitments of $100 million for vehicles. That is less than the $400 million it listed for the prior year. But the agency did note in its report that the figure for this year could increase sharply if certain projects are approved by its Board of Governors.

“The FY 2019 Commitment Plan may have up to $4.5 billion in additional capital added based on additional individual project BOG approvals,” the agency said in its report. The board is scheduled to meet Friday, Feb. 8.

The five companies competing to win the prototype design phase are:

AM General prototype (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)

AM General LLC: a mail truck with an internal combustion engine with stop-start technology for improved fuel efficiency.

AM General is a defense and automotive company based in South Bend, Ind., known for its Humvee military trucks. Its prototypes will “seek to provide fuel efficiency and zero emission capability,” according to a September 2016 company press release.

AM General has not said it is working with a partner on the contract. But a previously unknown participant, London EV Co. USA, which has said it teamed with AM General on an electric option, has said it will withdraw after the testing phase. LEVC USA was previously known as Emerald Automotive, which was one of the 15 companies preapproved by the Postal Service to bid on the prototype contracts. AM General has not responded to requests for comment.

karsan usps truck

Karsan prototype (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)

Karsan Otomotiv/Morgan Olson: A fully electric mail truck.

Karsan, based in Turkey, specializes in contract-based production of light and heavy commercial vehicles. It has teamed with longtime postal service supplier Morgan Olson LLC of Sturgin, Mich., on mail truck prototypes.

Two years ago the companies announced a broad alliance. Morgan Olson, known for its aluminum commercial van bodies and step-vans, will provide assembly, production, sales and after-sales service for Karsan vehicles designed for the North American market. The deal could allow Karsan to produce Buy America-compliant vehicles.

Morgan Olson has a long history with the Postal Service. It was part of Grumman when that company won the Postal Service contract to build today’s boxy mail trucks. It built the bodies and did the final assembly with General Motors chassis and engines. Morgan Olson also won a large contract in 2015 to supply the Postal Service with walk-in-body delivery trucks.

Oshkosh-Ford prototype (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)

Oshkosh Corp./Ford Motor Co.: A modified Ford Transit Cargo van.

Oshkosh, a defense contractor based in Oshkosh, Wisc., is working with Ford on mail truck prototypes.

Mahindra prototype (Brian Williams/Trucks.com)

Mahindra: a mild hybrid option.

Mahindra North America, a unit of India’s Mahindra Group, sells tractors and utility vehicles in America and operates the Mahindra North American Technical Center in Troy, Mich. Mahindra produced the Willys jeep under license in India after World War II.

VT Hackney prototype (Photo: Brian Williams/Trucks.com)

VT Hackney/Workhorse: A battery-electric mail truck with a range extender.

VT Hackney is a commercial truck and van body manufacturer based in Washington, N.C. It is owned by Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., a global technology, defense and engineering company. Workhorse is a relatively new builder of electric trucks. Workhorse also supplies electric vans to UPS.

All of the companies are prevented from commenting on their prototypes or the program by their contracts with the Postal Service. And the agency has not released details about the testing or the program.

Read Next: More Mail Trucks Burn Up; Letter Carriers Union Issues Warning

33 Responses

  1. Diablo

    ……The Postal “Circus” has been talkin’ ad nauseum about replacing their fleet of crappy trucks, with a more efficient ELECTRIC or hybrid truck, for about 12 yeras now…..They could have started this process a long time ago, but they didn’t, which is part of the reson the P.O. is as antiquated as it now is…They could have slowly taken a few trucks off the road, when they broke down, which was frequently, & replace each truck with the newer state-of-the -Art truck, but that never happened….I worked Parcel Post for 25 years, n’ dealt with break-downs, crappy fuel usage, n’ BLAZING hot temps in the summer…On a humorous note, when the temperature reaches 102 degrees, the horses that take tourists for rides in Central Park, NY, are brought in from the life-threatening weather…with the P.O., not at all….if you went home, you usuallly got “Wriiten-up”, or just not paid for the time….so, to sum it up, the P.O. cares less for it’s workers than HORSES….

    Reply
    • Mitch1204

      Rain, sleet or snow doesn’t stop a postal carrier. So you take the job then complain?

      Reply
    • Buffy

      Safety-safety. They claim to be worried about safety. The vehicles are a safety hazard. Fix that

      Reply
    • Tara

      If I didn’t know any better you seem stressed, but since you’ve worked for the PO you are spot on!!!

      Reply
    • Gina

      Well said. Said that most carriers deliver in those old hot boxes in summer or no heat in winter. How are those conditions acceptable? Or rural carriers using there own vehicles that can’t hold all the Amazon boxes and make multiple trips for but they aren’t compensated for at all. So sad.

      Reply
  2. Catherine

    I like the Oshkosh appearance as long saboteets fuel efficiency and safety features.

    Reply
  3. Edward Hayman

    I was one of the carriers that tested theLLV and no one listened to our concerns about faults we encountered, so I hope this time sombudy
    will listen to these employees who have to take their lives in everyday
    Travels because they will have some problems

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    They need to have a 4 wheel drive option for places that get snow and ice!!!!! Heat that works would be nice too. I about froze to death when it was -31 and I had a heated coat on!

    Reply
    • Jeff

      I’d be happy to have one that isn’t a threat to burn up. It’ll take a decade to get every office these new vehichles. That means that some postal employee will be driving those old LLV’s in the next 10 years.

      Reply
    • cd

      Interesting topics.
      On the 4 wheel drive, most ev’s / hybrids are coming out and better designed to integrate 4 wheel drive as is easier and less costly than heavy centralized motors / oil pumps / less hydraulic and lubricant concerns, no need for heavy transmission system.
      (Some ev / phev models vary as putting variable torque or horsepower amounts on front versus rear wheels. Likely good to get union involved on efficiency balanced with performance before this or overall direction has USPS too inflexible and inefficiently antiquated✌)

      Reply
  5. JJR

    As a rural carrier I’m guessing these new vehicles will not be issued to me and my fellow RCs. I was told today that some postmasters are writing up RCs for not supplying a vehicle for delivery when their cars break down; they’re also being written up for not having a big enough vehicle to do the job when they can’t get everything in their cars. Does no one in charge understand the difficulty of fitting Amazon packages in a normal personal vehicle, which we supply and maintain ourselves? It’s getting to be out of control.

    Reply
  6. Arachnid Nostril

    Only the government could requisition such a laughable, overpriced fleet of crapmobiles. There are SO many hatchback and delivery van options out there. There is no reason why the USPS need a customized monstrosity like one of these. When are we going to end the madness and shut down the USPS. Someone else will rise up to fill the void, and most people would just switch to electronic correspondence to save money which is cheaper, faster, and more environmentally friendly (if you care about that kind of thing… I don’t).

    Reply
    • Tom

      USPS has bought some Ram-Fiat front-wheel-drive vans with roomy bodies. Seems like those and/or Ford Transit vans would be a better idea than anguishing over custom-spec vehicles that might or might not work out. –Tom in Ohio

      Reply
  7. Paul Lambres

    And you could bet the farm not one single letter carrier or rural route mailperson has been consulted for any phase of this project. Only folks involved would be pencil pushers and engineers that have no knowledge of the real world and how it operates.

    Reply
    • CD

      Doing residential delivery on two routes of either MWF or TuThSat where employees don’t work overtime would still save USPS, IF half it’s fleet shifts to phev hybrids and ev’s within 4 years, other half in 4 to 5 years. The two schedule (MWF / TThSat) route for residential will mean 25 to 40% fewer vehicles needed, massive savings per vehicle, less required space, insurance, cost to deliver to each residence drops dramatically. Could put savings towards positives of benefits / more flexibility in approaching seasonal workload demands, etc. Otherwise, USPS won’t likely survive transition well.
      *note, union could make 4 days in row work weeks of m-th or tu-sat (half day one of those days, and or work on sorting and or loading trucks Or, float one day to cover for vacations / sick days…….)

      Reply
  8. Molly

    I heard they weren’t getting any with the steering wheel on the right side which is needed for rural areas.

    Reply
  9. Mitch1204

    The Oshkosh-Ford has the best curb appeal and the Transit is tried and tested to be reliable. That would be my pick.

    Reply
  10. Shelley Henson

    USPS is looking to these larger-than-LLV’s to help with the volume and size of Amazon parcels, but of course not looking too far ahead as within probably 3 years Amazon will have its own fleet or contracted out. Without the Amazon volume, these vehicles will be much larger than required. USPS fail, again.

    Reply
    • Shelia Scott

      My truck burnt up in 2017 they never gave me a letter to give to customers stating what happened to their mail and packages these trucks are a BIG SAFETY HAZZARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Reply
  11. Adam

    I’m a current employee with the USPS working in Motor Vehicle Services. My Semi Tractor is a 2006 with 645,203 miles and its ready for replacement. It’s a danger to drive in any weather that isn’t sunny and dry. The brakes lurch forward at stop lights or aren’t adjusted properly on a regular basis. Our VMF does the best they can but the Mgmt does whatever they can to do as little as possible. Our trucks are an embarrassment to drive with body pieces missing and efficiency is something we won’t touch on but anything is better than these tired, old, outdated, inefficient and not to mention ugly trucks. I’ve been hearing new trucks are coming for 3 years now but it reminds of when I used to tell my ex’s I loved them….just to get one thing….now I’m told that just to get one thing and that’d be work….lol
    C’mon Postal Service get new Semi’s already…is not just a safety thing but a moral thing too.

    Reply
  12. Bruce Justis

    The USPS is a Government Corporation not an agency. They are federally regulated and get federal benefits. That is another reason why they are always in the red, they do not know how to stay within a budget.

    Reply
    • cd

      You are right in that unlike private businesses that often don’t plan for retirement or much pension, the USPS is mandated to ☆fully☆ set aside funds for pensions.
      Doing residential delivery on two routes of either MWF or TuThSat where employees don’t work overtime would still save USPS, IF half it’s fleet shifts to phev hybrids and ev’s within 4 years, other half in 4 to 5 years. The two schedule (MWF / TThSat) route for residential will mean 25 to 40% fewer vehicles needed, massive savings per vehicle, less required space (parking, security, etc), insurance, cost to deliver to each residence drops dramatically. Could put savings towards positives of benefits / more flexibility in approaching seasonal workload demands, etc. Otherwise, USPS won’t likely survive transition well. To health & ✌🇺🇸

      *note, union could make 4 days in row work weeks of m-th or tu-sat (half day one of those days, and or work on sorting and or loading trucks Or, float one day to better cover for vacations / sick days, parental leave, healthier family life)

      Reply
  13. James Dell’Aringa

    I work in Las Vegas…why can’t they design an all-electric vehicle with a Solar panel on the roof? We have over 300 days of sun, and my route requires an average of 9 miles a day in driving.

    Reply
  14. Grizzly Country

    Remember when they had jeeps and you always got your mail? They got them driving minivans by me now and it’s questionable when we will get mail.

    Reply
  15. Diego Dana

    We at Trac-Grabber the “Get Unstuck from Mud, Sand, & Snow” device have been receiving requests from PO drivers to get USPS to procure Trac-Grabber and on-board their vehicles so operators can easily attache them when they get stuck, recover and quickly get underway again. USPS showed some interest in Trac-Grabber on several occasions but has not followed through to buy this simple, cost effective, Safety Device. So to all you PO drivers, we will continue to push to get TGs out to your vehicles.

    Reply

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