The U.S. Postal Service said it wants its next mail truck to be electric, but it needs Congressional support to make that happen.
The agency awarded the first phase of what could become a more than $6 billion delivery vehicle program last month to Oshkosh Corp. Still, all but 10 percent of the vehicles the company plans to produce will be gas engine trucks.
That’s sparked a backlash by some in Congress and electric vehicle and climate activists who want to see the next-generation mail truck be electric.
Electric truck manufacturer Workhorse Group, one of the companies competing for the contract, told shareholders that it is exploring ways to challenge losing the Postal Service contract.
The post office now uses about 140,000 Grumman Long Life Vehicles for its main delivery service. Manufactured from 1987 through 1994, they need to be replaced. A 2014 audit from the USPS inspector’s office found that the current fleet could only meet the agency’s delivery needs through the 2017 fiscal year.
“When the U.S. Postal Service selected the supplier for production of its next generation of postal vehicles, we imagined an electric vehicle future, committing $482 million at contract award to prepare for it,” the Postal Service said in a statement.
“The challenge remains the Postal Service’s billions in annual operating losses, which is why we welcome and are interested in any support from Congress that advances the goal of a Postal Service vehicle fleet with zero emissions, and the necessary infrastructure required to operate it.
“With the right level of support, the majority of the Postal Service’s fleet can be electric by the end of the decade,” the agency said.
The initial $482 million contract will allow Oshkosh to complete its design and prepare a factory to produce the vehicle. It said the design would enable gas trucks to be retrofitted with electric powertrains.
The contract is drawing protests. Two Democrats from Ohio, Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan, and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., have introduced a resolution that would delay the contract until an investigation into how it was awarded is conducted. Workhorse is based in Loveland, Ohio, and getting a slice of the contract would be an important job creator for the state.
The representatives said the award to Oshkosh is not consistent with a Biden administration executive order directing federal officials to draw up plans to convert the federal government’s 645,000-vehicle fleet to “clean and zero-emission vehicles.”
Kaptur said in a statement that the probe would also determine whether the contract is “consistent with the President’s Executive Order to electrify the federal fleet.”
But others say a strategy using current funds to create a mix of combustion engine and electric vehicles will upgrade the postal fleet, reduce pollution and mitigate new technology risk.
“With $26 billion in cash and available cash, USPS does not need any funds from Congress to begin the initial purchase of vehicles and to sustain future vehicle purchases, including vehicles that will be largely electric. What USPS does need, though, is holistic postal reforms from Congress in the next two years,” Paul Steidler, a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, said in blog post.
“The current vehicles lack fuel efficiency and have high emissions. Hundreds have caught fire in recent years, not only threatening lives but leading to large toxic emissions through thick clouds of black smoke from burning wires, rubber, batteries, and other truck components. The sooner they are retired, the better,” he said.