The United States Postal Service (USPS) has revealed its new mail truck after a years-long competition. The new truck will be built by Wisconsin-based defense contractor Oshkosh and can be fitted with both gasoline and electric drivetrains. But it won’t hit the road until 2023.
Oshkosh winning the contract is a potentially major blow to commercial electric vehicle startup Workhorse, which was one of the three remaining bidders. The company’s stock price plummeted following the announcement, and trading was halted multiple times.
The USPS has been looking to replace its existing mail trucks for years now, and it started taking solicitations for new designs back in 2015. The need for new trucks is urgent. The ones currently on the road are not only woefully out of date — they don’t even have air conditioning — but they’re a major fire risk.
The switchover was supposed to start happening in 2018, but the program experienced multiple setbacks. The USPS repeatedly extended deadlines in the early going at the request of the bidding manufacturers, and then when they finally delivered the first prototypes, many of them were faulty, according to an Inspector-General report released last August. The program was hit with further delays once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The new truck has more cargo space, better ergonomics, and, yes, air conditioning. It’s also dotted with cameras that give a 360-degree view, helping power a front- and rear-collision avoidance system with visual and audio warnings as well as automatic braking. The big front windshield and low hood should also give drivers a much better view of the road and pedestrians or cyclists, which is a big improvement for the safety of people outside the vehicle.
Oshkosh still has to finalize the design of the mail truck, which is part of the reason for the two-year wait. The defense contractor is getting a $482 million investment up front and is promising to make between 50,000 to 165,000 of the trucks over 10 years. Oshkosh had been working with Ford during the bidding process, but it’s unclear whether Ford was still involved in the final product.
The USPS and Oshkosh don’t say exactly how many of the trucks will be gas-powered and how many will be electric, just that the plan is to make both and that the vehicles will be designed in a way so that the powertrains can be switched to electric over time. The USPS says the gas engines will be “fuel efficient low-emission” but did not specify what it means by those terms.
President Biden said in January that he wants to replace the entire government fleet to electric drivetrains, though that won’t be possible without the USPS, which accounts for about a third of those vehicles.
“It’s disappointing that today’s announcement does not immediately commit to electrifying one of our nation’s largest vehicle fleets,” Robbie Diamond, the CEO of nonprofit Securing America’s Future Energy, said in a statement. “This contract is a golden opportunity to stimulate the domestic EV market and supply chain, and a commitment to electrifying the [postal fleet] would provide a clear incentive for further domestic EV industry development along the entire supply chain, from minerals to markets.”
Workhorse was the last remaining bidder pitching a fully electric vehicle, and it put a lot of effort into surviving as a business just to make it to the end of this process. The company sold off a small drone division, ostensibly spun out a new startup in Lordstown Motors to make an electric pickup truck without Workhorse’s baggage, and it even paid $7 million to buy out its original partner in the bid, trucking manufacturer VT Hackney. Workhorse even tailored the fine print of a recent loan in such a way that it would pay less interest if it won the USPS contract.