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The US Postal Service is adding ten of thousands of new electric vehicles to its fleet, but thousands of gasmobiles are still in the picture (image credit: USPS).

Clean Transport

US Postal Service Caves On Electric Vehicles, But What About The Trucks?

Thousands of gasmobiles are still in the picture, but the US Postal Service is adding ten of thousands of electric vehicles to its fleet, too.

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US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was roundly booed across the Intertubes and into the halls of Congress last year, when he announced that electric vehicles would make up only 10% of a long overdue makeover for the Postal Service’s aging fleet of delivery trucks. The pushback worked. Earlier this week the agency announced a new plan featuring many more EVs, though gasmobiles are part of the package, too.

The Long Road To Electric Vehicles For The US Postal Service…

The Postal Service’s EV journey has been a rocky one. The delivery vehicles in the existing fleet were designed for long life, but about 25 years have passed since they first debuted. That’s an eternity in terms of automotive technology. Aside from the noise and pollution of old internal combustion engines, safety features and driver health were shorted.

A fleet turnover to EVs would have been unlikely 10 years ago, when costs were high and only Tesla dominated the market. By the time DeJoy took office in 2020, the time was ripe to start bringing electric vehicles into the picture. US automakers were beginning to zero in on delivery fleet electrification except for Tesla, which was and still is chasing the affordable EV it promised so long ago.

Nevertheless, when DeJoy awarded a new $6 billion, 10-year contract for 165,000 new “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” in February of 2021, only about 10% of the fleet was reserved for electric vehicles.

…Has Not Ended, Yet

The pushback was loud and long, partly due to shortcomings in the Postal Service’s environmental impact statement. With an assist from a new analysis and additional funding from Congress, electric vehicles began to factor into the fleet makeover plans with increasing force earlier this year. DeJoy bumped up his electric vehicle aspirations last spring, and got to the 50% level over the summer.

The latest announcement indicates that the pressure continued to mount over the past few months, though there is still a substantial gap between the Postal Service’s actual commitment and 100% electrification.

On December 19, the Postal Service announced that it will up the electric vehicle ante to 75%, for the first tranche of 60,000 new Next Generation Delivery Vehicles. That’s another big step towards 100%, but it still saddles the Postal service with 15,000 new gasmobiles to ply neighborhood streets for years into the future.

Further raining on the 100% EV parade, the Postal Service implied that 15,000 could be just a starting point for ICE vehicles. The plan is to have other contractors deliver 21,000 off-the-shelf vehicles to supplement the 45,000 under the Oshkosh contract, but not all of them will necessarily be electric.

“As part of this plan, a total of 21,000 additional commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vehicles are also expected to be battery electric, depending on market availability and operational feasibility,” the agency said.

“The Postal Service also anticipates including internal combustion vehicles necessary to meet immediate vehicle replacement needs,” they emphasized.

The Postal Service also stated that it will continue to explore the “[f]easibility of achieving 100% electrification for the overall Postal Service delivery vehicle fleet.”

Media coverage of the announcement translated that statement as a full-on commitment to 100% electrification, but it clearly was not. It was a commitment to further study.

That probably won’t mollify some critics, but the 75-25 ratio does satisfy the benchmark for near-term federal fleet electrification established by the Biden Administration.

In addition, the agency’s contractor, Oshkosh Defense, has stated that it engineered the Next Generation Delivery Vehicles to accommodate either gas or electric drive. That leaves open the possibility of converting some of those gasmobiles to zero emission drive in future years.

The potential for 100% electrification could also improve if fuel cell EVs gain a foothold in the US transportation landscape, but that remains to be seen.

What About The Long Haul Trucks?

A White House press release of December 20 cheered the Postal Service’s new EV plan, but it was careful to refer only to a commitment to acquire 100% Next Generation Delivery Vehicles beginning in 2026, without mentioning that the Postal Service fleet also includes hundreds of tractor-trailer trucks.

The White House also specified delivery trucks elsewhere in the press release, stating that “the overall $9.6 billion, 100,000-vehicle modernization plan results in 66,000 electric delivery vehicles and tens of thousands of charging stations through 2028, and a target of acquiring only electric delivery vehicles after 2026.”

Despite shoving long haul trucks to the sidelines, the White House found much to cheer about. “This $9.6 billion investment — which includes $3 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act — installs modern charging infrastructure at hundreds of USPS facilities, electrifies 66,000 delivery vehicles, and modernizes mail delivery by creating a smarter network to more efficiently reach its 163 million delivery locations across the country and further strengthen the sustainability of this critical public service,” the White House emphasized.

What About The Trucks, Part II

The electrification of the Postal Service’s long haul truck fleet could become a sore point sooner rather than later. DeJoy’s cost-cutting plan includes reducing the agency’s reliance on air cargo. If that involves a greater reliance on long haul trucks, emissions are simply being moved from one transportation mode to another.

DeJoy claims to have developed some new efficiencies in that regard, though he did not specify which trucks are involved. “A key focus of our modernization effort is to reduce inefficient transportation and improve distribution operations, resulting in far less air cargo and far fewer truck trips,” he stated.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread. All else being equal, cutting down on air cargo would be an environmental win for the Postal Service. Decarbonization advocates have been focusing on the role of aircraft emissions in the Earth’s carbon overload. Zero emission aircraft are beginning to edge into the market, but the only available near-term solution is to cut down on air travel.

More EVs For The USA, Army Edition

Despite a bit of hedging by both the Postal Service and the White House, the new EV announcement is a significant commitment. It puts pressure on another large federal fleet manager, namely, the Department of the Army.

The Army has been slow on the uptake, but EVs are beginning to appear on its radar, and it could make up for lost time through its relationship with the Postal Service’s, Oshkosh Defense, which as the name suggests is a longtime military contractor.

When Oshkosh Defense won the Postal Service delivery vehicle contract, critics took note of the company’s relatively limited experience with electric vehicles. However, Oshkosh Defense has EV relationships within its parent company, Oshkosh, and with other EV stakeholders in addition to its experience with purpose-built EVs.

Last January, Oshkosh Defense teased the idea of electrifying a new tactical vehicle to be shared by the Army and US Marine Corps, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey (for now).

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post:  @tinamcasey

Image: New Next Generation Delivery Vehicle for US Postal Service (courtesy of Oshkosh Defense).

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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