Electric truck builder Workhorse Group called the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to award a giant contract for the next mail truck to a rival “arbitrary, capricious, and without rational basis” in a legal filing.
Originally filed under seal in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the complaint by the Loveland, Ohio, electric vehicle maker was partially unsealed this week. Workhorse wants the court to block the contract award or to instruct the Postal Service to make a new decision based on “rational best value analysis.”
The Postal Service announced Oshkosh Defense as the winner of the competition to build the mail truck in February. Under the terms of the initial deal, Oshkosh, Wisc.,-based Oshkosh will get a $482 million contract to complete the production design of its mail truck offering. The agreement also provides Oshkosh funds to pay for tooling and factory configuration needed before launching production.
The filing said Workhorse spent more than $6 million designing electric prototypes of a replacement mail truck as part of a formal bidding process but that that agency didn’t take its offering seriously following a mishap with a truck.
“It falsely blamed Workhorse’s prototype vehicle for a “safety incident” that was clearly the result of the USPS driver’s error. It engaged in discussions with Workhorse that improperly failed to meaningfully notify Workhorse of perceived deficiencies in its proposal and that misled Workhorse as to the areas Workhorse needed to address in its updated proposal,” the company said in its filing.
Oshkosh, which has Ford Motor Co. as a major supplier in the program, will assemble the new mail truck at a dedicated factory in Spartanburg, S.C.
A series of contracts are expected to approach $6 billion.
The post office wants to replace a fleet of about 140,000 Grumman Long Life Vehicles that it uses 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. They are also prone to fires, with several hundred burning up in recent years.
Workhorse’s proposal would have provided a fleet of electric vehicles. Although the Postal Service has considered using electric vehicles for its new fleet, just 10 percent of the vehicles in the Oshkosh contract would be electric, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said at a Congressional hearing earlier this year. That percentage would allow the agency to test the technology and limit the cost of installing chargers at postal facilities.
In its complaint, Workhorse said the rendering of the Oshkosh mail truck depicts a vehicle that is entirely different than what the company had provided for testing during the competition.
“Even though ‘prototype performance’ was specifically identified as an evaluation subfactor, the USPS had selected a vehicle from Oshkosh that skipped the prototype phase altogether. This was especially puzzling given that Oshkosh has never previously produced a last-mile delivery vehicle, much less an electric one,” according to the complaint.
Workhorse said the Postal Service unfairly blamed its truck for a mishap that injured a worker evaluating the prototype.
“The USPS misleadingly claims that a flaw in Workhorse’s parking brake system caused Workhorse’s prototype vehicle to roll down an incline and into a ditch, injuring a test track driver,” Workhorse said.
The company said the USPS test track driver failed to put the prototype in park, leaving it shifted to the drive position. The driver then left the driver’s seat and walked to the cargo area. The unattended vehicle then rolled down a slope into the ditch.
“Rather than acknowledge the clear driver errors, the USPS not only disingenuously directed the blame at Workhorse but has seized upon this incident as its ‘posterchild’ reason it could not have awarded the contract to Workhorse,” the company said.
Oshkosh said it will continue to move forward with its contract despite the Workhorse complaint.
“Oshkosh Defense is aware that Workhorse Group has filed a bid protest with respect to the U.S. Postal Service’s award of the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle contract to Oshkosh. While bid protests are a normal part of the government contracting process, we do not comment on such proceedings,” the company said in a statement.
“The NGDV contract with Oshkosh Defense includes both zero-emission battery electric vehicles and fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine vehicles and we have the resources and capabilities to deliver any mix the USPS orders,” it said.
The Postal Service declined to comment, citing its policy of not discussing litigation.
But in a statement, the agency said it also was looking forward to Oshkosh moving ahead with the contract. It said the first new trucks will go into operation in 2023.
Editor’s note: The headline was changed to reflect that Workhorse Group alleged a Postal Service driver’s error helped push the contract to Oshkosh.