The Intertubes are all ablaze with news of Ford’s latest dip into the pool of electric vehicles, and it adds yet more fuel to ongoing US Postal Service fleet replacement dumpster fire. The vehicle in question is the new Ford E-Transit van. It’s quiet, compact, connected, and it only weighs one metric tonne. So, why doesn’t USPS insist that its fleet contractor build something along those lines instead of pushing more gasmobiles onto neighborhood streets?
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Why Does USPS Hate Electric Vehicles?
For those of you new to the topic, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is among those recognizing the urgent need to replace the Post Office’s aging, decrepit delivery fleet with something newer and better.
That would be electric vehicles, which are quiet and emission-free. Though the up-front cost is typically more than a comparable gasmobile, electric vehicles win on lifetime costs, including lower repair and maintenance costs as well as lower fuel costs.
With exportable power capability, electric vehicles can also can perform a range of services on top of getting from point A to B, which could pile additional value onto a fleet.
Nevertheless, when DeJoy signed the firm Oshkosh Defense onto a new fleet contract last year, he only called for a sliver of the new vehicles to come with electric drive.
Critics have also pointed out that Oshkosh Defense is not exactly a household word in the area of electric vehicles, and they argue that the contract should have gone to an automaker with more experience in zero emission technology.
Why Weight Matters
That’s not quite fair to Oshkosh Defense. As part of the Oshkosh corporate family, the company is networked into the fleet electrification trend. Last year it launched an electrified fire truck alongside plans for other electric emergency vehicles, and it proposed a new EV for the US Army fleet. The company also points out that it has extensive experience in customizing vehicles to fit specific needs.
Oshkosh has also stated that it is willing to put anything under the hood that the US Postal Service asks for. Its new Postal Service vehicle can host batteries or a gas tank, and it is also engineered to accommodate a gas-to-electric retrofit.
Earlier this year, the Postal Service did indicate that it was willing to bump up the percentage of electric vehicles in the Oshkosh contract. However, that still leaves tens of thousands more gasmobiles under contract, and that is where the question of weight becomes an issue.
Earlier this year, our friends over at Vice drew attention to the weight of the new Oshkosh gas-powered delivery truck, which is significantly heavier than the old truck when loaded. More to the point, Vice cited an assessment indicating that the new Oshkosh truck, plus payload, is just one pound over the new EPA fuel efficiency standards for light duty trucks.
If the fully loaded vehicle weighed just one pound less, it would fall under more stringent EPA regulations, because it would be classified as a light duty truck. That would have left DeJoy without much of a choice. The contract would have had to accommodate more EVs.
As it stands, the Oshkosh vehicle weight was assessed at 5,560 pounds, plus a payload calculated at 2,941 pounds, brings the vehicle one pound over the 8,500-pound threshold for heavy duty trucks, which don’t fall under electrification requirements, at least not yet.
I’ll See You In Court!
By now everyone knows that the Oshkosh contract was challenged in court by the electric vehicle startup Workhorse Group, which competed for the contract.
Workhorse is not the only one to be upset. Last month, a total of 16 US states launched three different lawsuits against the contract along with various environmental organizations, demanding additional environmental reviews.
“Attorneys general from 16 states — 14 of which have Democratic governors — sued in San Francisco,” recounted National Public Radio on April 29. “A separate lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, CleanAirNow KC and Sierra Club was filed in the same venue. Another was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and United Auto Workers in New York.”
Joining the California in courtroom action are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Ford Does Fleet Electrification Right
Meanwhile, Ford has gone squarely in the opposite direction both weight-wise and emission-wise, with the new, lightweight, electrified version of its popular Transit van.
Sporty passenger cars get most of the media attention when the topic turns to electric vehicles, but Ford has managed to shine the spotlight onto working vans, beginning with a full-sized, electrified version of the Transit van last year.
The new compact E-Transit is aimed at the demand for smaller, lighter vans in Europe.
“E-Transit Custom’s no-compromise all-electric architecture helps to deliver a targeted driving range of up to 380 km, DC fast-charging, and full towing capability– not to mention dynamic new styling,” Ford enthuses. “In addition, the new van will help take productivity to new levels using sophisticated connectivity to enable always-on relationships.”
Hmm, productivity. Now that sounds like a good fit for the US Postal Service, especially when you combine it with exportable power capability.
“Among features developed using in-depth insights from van users to ensure E-Transit Custom provides an unmatched customer experience, ProPower Onboard technology will provide exportable power for tools, lights and devices while on site,” Ford explains.
More Electric Vehicles For More Fleets
The new E-Transit is just part of Ford’s fleet electrification plans, including people-movers as well as other working vans initially aimed at the European market, leveraging its Ford Otosan joint venture in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Ford is not the only automaker to catch wind of the fleet market for electric vehicles. Last year, GM launched its BrightDrop electrified delivery van joint venture with interest from big players in the delivery business like Merchants Fleet and FedEx.
Last time we checked, FedEx had an order of 2,500 BrightDrop electric vehicles in the works, with plans for up to 20,000. Walmart is also leaning on Brightdrop for fleet electrification, with an initial order of 5,000 vans.
With all this activity going on, it’s difficult to understand why the Postal Service is clinging to gas-powered technology, but maybe Postmaster General DeJoy knows something we don’t.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Ford is making compact, lightweight electric vehicles for the van segment of the European market (photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company).
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