The US Postal Service has been stubbornly dragging its feet on fleet electrification, and the situation is becoming increasingly weird as other working vehicles make the jump to zero emission mobility. In the latest development on that score, Ford’s new E-Transit van is demonstrating that other fleet owners are more than willing to make the EV switch. So, what is USPS’ problem?
USPS Does Not Heart The EV, Much
Without a doubt, the US Postal service needs to replace its aging fleet of mail delivery vehicles as quickly as possible.
New EV technology provides a golden opportunity to zero out tailpipe emissions from the fleet while offering a raft of other bennies including lower fuel and maintenance costs. Improvements in health, safety, and neighborhood relations are another plus.
In addition, as rolling energy storage devices, the new Postal Service vehicles could participate in demand response programs, emergency power supply, and other grid reliability services.
They could, that is, if they were electric vehicles. When Postmaster General Louis DeJoy ordered up a new, multi-billion dollar “Next Generation Delivery Vehicle” makeover for the USPS fleet last year from the well known defense contractor Oshkosh Defense, EVs played a faraway second fiddle to gasmobiles.
A New Hope For The USPS EV Of The Future
That’s not quite the end of the story. EV fans put the stinkeye on the qualifications of Oshkosh Defense, but the company does have some vehicle electrification cred through the Volterra branch of its parent company, Oshkosh Corporation. The group recently introduced an electric vehicle for military use, and its experience in task-based collaborative vehicle design is also relevant to the USPS contract.
On its part, Oshkosh Defense seems willing to go in whatever direction the USPS decides to go. The silhouette of its new van is similar to the all-electric design cooked up by Workhorse, the EV startup that competed for the contract. The Oshkosh vehicle is adaptable for internal combustion engines, battery-powered electric drive, and EV retrofits, too.
USPS recently doubled its overall electric vehicle commitment, which is still pretty pathetic, but it does indicate that the initial 10% set-aside for EVs was a floor, not a ceiling.
Meanwhile, Over At Ford…
USPS is already in an embarrassing spot, considering that its own contractor is ready to make the jump into the electrification space. Making matters worse is the fleet electrification movement, which is beginning to take hold among private companies.
Though many private fleets are not in a position to achieve 100% electrification in the near term, the movement is growing, and more auto makers are churning out more EVs for commercial fleets.
Ford Motor Company is a case in point. The company introduced an all-electric version of its super-popular Transit van last November, which didn’t get much notice because everyone was distracted by electric versions of Ford’s iconic Mustang and F-150 pickup truck nameplates.
Nevertheless, for all the fuss made over EVs as personal cars, electrifying a work vehicle like the Ford Transit is a key step along the global decarbonization journey.
More E-Transit EVs For Europe
The Transit van is especially popular in Europe, and that is where the latest news about E-Transit comes in. Last Thursday, Ford announced that it has begun shipping its all-electric E-Transit vans from its Ford Otosan factory in Kocaeli, Turkey.
“Following strong early demand for E-Transit from European businesses — with over 5,000 customer orders received before vehicles roll off the assembly line — Ford Otosan is now moving to full mass production,” Ford enthused, noting that the factory is powered by renewable energy.
Ford also notes that it has a €2 billion expansion in the works for the factory and expects to increase its workforce by approximately 3,000 people. The production expansion will be enabled by a newly announced EV battery manufacturing joint venture in Turkey, aimed at the range of 30 to 45 gWh when fully operational.
Ford also reminded everyone that it will be introducing 4 new all-electric E-Transit models to provide for additional customization opportunities.
“With its highly competitive range, payload, power and choice of bodystyles, E-Transit is designed to painlessly enable operators’ fleet electrification while accelerating their productivity through Ford Pro’s charging, telematics and servicing solutions,” Ford observes.
What about that, USPS?
More Electric Vans For The US, Too
Meanwhile, last month our friends over at the Kansas City Star were among those reporting that Ford has put Kansas on the electric vehicle map with its new E-Transit manufacturing facility in that state, which is interesting because that particular factory also features in-house battery manufacturing, which is a first for Ford.
According to Ford, by February 8 the Kansas City Plant received more than 10,000 pre-orders from 300 commercial customers before shipping the first ones out.
“Businesses of all sizes are ordering E-Transit – from small operations like Sheeran Construction in Aston, Pennsylvania, to municipalities like the city of Orlando, Fla., to some of the nation’s largest service providers and retailers like Walmart,” Ford notes.
What About That, USPS?
To ice the electrification cake, Ford draws attention to the additional benefits it has built into its E-Transit EVs, taking full advantage of connectivity and energy storage features, including features that enhance driver comfort and safety.
All of this raises the question of what is up with the USPS? After all, last year Oshkosh Defense reportedly tapped Ford to supply internal combustion engines and transmissions for the new new USPS vehicle. That suggests Oshkosh could be nimble enough to form a battery-electric drive partnership, if not with Ford than with another auto maker.
Adding to the intrigue is Oshkosh’s decision to repurpose its warehouse facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina for manufacturing the new USPS vehicle, instead of using existing factories in its home state of Wisconsin.
South Carolina has a solid anti-union reputation going back to the 1950s and it holds the dubious title of least-unionized state in the nation to this day, so it’s no surprise that Oshkosh’s decision raised cries of outrage from labor unions and their allies in the US Congress. However, the warehouse angle does enable Oshkosh to scale up and build new assembly lines from scratch.
It remains to be seen how much of the new operation is dedicated to electric drive, but that will probably depend on the amount of pressure that EV advocates can put on Postmaster General DeJoy in the coming months.
Oshkosh Defense is not the only EV firm eyeballing South Carolina, Coincidentally or not, last December the well-known EV manufacturer Proterra announced that it is locating a new battery manufacturing plant in Spartanburg County. The media spotlight didn’t pay much attention to that, even though workers at Proterra’s California factory voted to unionize just a few years ago.
For that matter, the best-known electric vehicle startup in the world has capably demonstrated that zero emission mobility and union labor do not necessarily skip happily hand in hand.
If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: With its stubby front hood and oversized windshield, the silhouette of the new Ford E-Transit van EV bears a slight resemblance to the USPS Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (credit: Ford Motor Company).
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