The earliest new mail delivery trucks will replace the U.S. Postal Service’s aging and troubled fleet is January 2022, according to a new report by the service’s Office of the Inspector General.
The Postal Service began planning the fleet’s replacement with a new purpose-built vehicle more than five years ago. The post office expected to place the first trucks in service during the federal government’s 2018 fiscal year, but many delays have hampered the program. The postal service plans to provide production contracts worth a combined $6 billion to one or more companies by the end of this year.
Part of the delays resulted from the low quality of the prototype vehicles companies submitted for testing and evaluation. The report said that vehicles delivered by four of the five suppliers “experienced critical safety failures during the prototype testing phase, including brake failures and leaking fuel tanks.”
The post office now uses about 140,000 Grumman Long Life Vehicles for its main delivery service. The trucks have an expected service life of 24 years. But 69 percent of the fleet is between 25 and 32 years old, the report said.
The agency spent more than $700 million last year maintaining the vehicle. The average expense is about $5,000, but at least 10,000 of the trucks needed an average of more than $12,000 of work last year.
There also is another problem with the mail trucks that the inspector general’s report doesn’t address. Dozens burn up for unexplained reasons annually. According to a tally by Postal Times, at least 22 of the delivery trucks caught fire so far this year.
The report points out the importance of the Postal Service. It “delivers 48 percent of the world’s mail volume and more packages than any other business using the largest vehicle fleet in the U.S.” Replacing the vehicles will significantly reduce what the post office spends on fuel, repairs and maintenance, the report said.
The inspector general said the delays started with the agency’s acquisition strategy and were amplified in recent months by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The findings include:
- Issuing the official Request for Proposal to suppliers for the prototype vehicle took six months longer than initially planned.
- During the prototype vehicle design and development phase, the Postal Service extended the timeframes for building 44 prototype vehicles from six months to one year based on requests from suppliers for additional time to develop proposals and design prototype vehicles.
- The Postal Service and suppliers required additional time to build and assemble the prototypes. While suppliers initially planned a year to design and build their prototypes, they only allocated 18 weeks to build, assemble, and complete supplier testing before delivery. Without adequate time to test their assembled vehicles, the suppliers delivered faulty vehicles. The Postal Service suspended field testing and returned all of the vehicles to the suppliers to correct the deficiencies.
- When the prototype testing phase resumed, the Postal Service implemented two additional tests — a simulated field test and a durability test — to address critical safety issues. That created delays between three to eight months, depending on the individual performance of a supplier’s vehicle.
- After the two additional critical safety tests were completed, three of the five suppliers completed the remaining prototype tests by December 2018. The Postal Service extended the testing period a further three months to allow the remaining two suppliers to complete testing by March 2019.
Because five different teams were competing for the large contract, the Postal Service intentionally limited its oversight of the suppliers’ design and build process. It believed that was a better approach to getting unbiased evaluations of the prototypes during field testing.
Many of the delays could have been avoided had the Postal Service emulated other large fleet operators by customizing commercial off-the-shelf vehicles rather than creating entirely new designs. That’s typically the practice of foreign postal services and private mail and delivery companies in the U.S., the inspector general’s report said.
The new truck will be called the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, or NGDV. There are just three teams left in the competition. They are:
Turkey-based Karsan, which makes commercial electric vehicles, teamed with long-time USPS supplier Morgan Olson of Sturgis, Mich. The team has offered a plug-in hybrid engine option for the new mail truck.
Workhorse Group, a small Loveland, Ohio, electric truck builder, also is in the running and would build the truck in partnership with Lordstown Motors. Lordstown is rebooting a shuttered General Motors auto factory in Ohio to build electric vehicles. Workhorse is a part-owner of Lordstown Motors.
The third team is specialty truck- and military vehicle maker, Oshkosh Corp., of Oshkosh, Wisc., and Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, Mich. They based their internal combustion engine entry on the Ford Transit cargo van.