Under sustained pressure from the White House to embrace all-electric vehicles, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has reportedly opted to more-than double its initial order of EVs. Considering the agency’s previous concerns that electric vehicles might not be well suited to rural communities and would be too expensive to field en masse, this is an unexpected turn of events.
“As we have reiterated throughout this process, our commitment to an electric fleet remains ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet as well as our fragile financial condition. As our financial position improves with the ongoing implementation of our 10-year plan, Delivering for America, we will continue to pursue the acquisition of additional BEV as additional funding – from either internal or congressional sources – becomes available,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy explained in February. “But the process needs to keep moving forward. The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles to fulfill on our universal service obligation to deliver to 161 million addresses in all climates and topographies six days per-week.”
While the Oshkosh Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) selected to supplant the Grumman Long-Life Vehicle (LLV) does have the ability to be equipped in a manner that’s wholly reliant on battery power, the USPS initially ordered far more combustion models after deciding they’d be better for a majority or routes. In fact, out of all the trucks vying for the juicy government contract, the NGDV is probably the most like the Long-Life Vehicle that has more than lived up to its name. LLVs are still on the road today, despite production having ended in 1994 and that makes it easy to guess why the USPS might have been hesitant to change things up.
Out of its initial order of 50,000 vehicles, only about 10,000 were supposed to be battery electric variants. The rest would have utilized the small combustion engine the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Biden Administration, Zero Emission Transportation Association, various climate activists, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party all said were unacceptable. While gripes fixated on fuel economy and emissions (often noting that mpg wasn’t much better than 30-year-old Grummans) everyone failed to take into account that a vehicle spending its whole day idling or carrying around a load of packages at 5 mph isn’t going see the best returns. However this also makes a good counter argument for those parties that would like to see more EVs on the road.
The Biden administration has made transitioning to all-electric vehicles one of its biggest platforms and has been pressuring just about every government entity that exists to trade its existing fleet for one comprised entirely of EVs. Joe Biden even issued a “climate change executive order” mandating that the U.S. government fleet of vehicles must be 100-percent electric by 2035.
Logistical issues created in the wake of the pandemic have already handicapped automotive production. But it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to source the raw materials necessary for battery production – poking holes in any arguments that EVs will so be cheaper than their combustion-based counterparts and are automatically kinder to the environment. The United States Postal Service expressed concerns of its own and ultimately decided that a flexible vehicle that mimicked the LLV and had the ability to be retrofitted with a battery pack later on was the way to go.
So what changed?
As previously mentioned, the Environmental Protection Agency came down pretty hard on the USPS and claimed that the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) pertaining to the truck were unsatisfactory and should be redone. It even pressed for a public hearing that would have forced the Postal Service (a supposedly independent government agency designed to make its own purchasing decisions) to defend itself.
“We thank the federal agencies, including the EPA, for their input,” Mark Guilfoil, USPS’s vice president of supply management, said at the time. “After thorough review and study we determined that EPA’s request for a supplemental [environmental impact statement] and public hearing would not add value to the Postal Service’s already year-long review. It is also important to note that a supplemental EIS and public hearing are not legally required.”
The USPS basically told everyone to kiss off and maintained that it was simply cheaper to stick with combustion models. While some offices would get electric trucks, the Postmaster General explained that the only way to improve EV adoption was for the government to allocate more money for their purchases.
By April, four environmental groups and the UAW filed lawsuits seeking to block the USPS’s plan to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles, arguing again that the agency failed to comply with environmental regulations when it issued its EIS.
The USPS didn’t officially state why it had a change of heart when it informed Reuters that it’s now considering buying 25,000 EVs out of its initial order of 50,000 next-generation delivery vehicles from Oshkosh Defense. But we can make a few educated guesses using the information provided above, especially considering how drastic the shift has been. It’s more than double what the Postal Service originally had planned. Based on additional statements, it seems the trend will also continue as it strives to replace its aged fleet.
Though, if those earlier statements about EV not being a good fit for all routes are true, the USPS will still be required to retain and maintain some of the ancient gas-powered LLVs to pick up the slack while also attempting to stay as close to the initial order’s $2.98 billion price as possible.
“[The Postal Service will] also need to make significant investment in the repair of over 50,000 aging [delivery vehicles] each year to continue extending their useful life, despite the significant operational risk, considerable maintenance costs, and the higher emissions of greenhouse gases,” stated the USPS. “[The agency] anticipates evaluating and procuring smaller quantities of vehicles over shorter time periods … in order to be more responsive to our evolving operational strategy, technology improvements, and changing market conditions.”