On January 20 the United States Postal Service put out a request for bid to replace by 2018 its aging fleet of Long Life Vehicles with at least the possibility of an alternative-energy drivetrain in consideration.
The present vehicles custom-designed by Grumman Corp., intended to last 24 years, are at the end of this cycle. They’ve been experiencing numerous maintenance issues, and automakers are lining up to bid on a $4.5-$6.3 billion contract for 180,000 new vehicles at $25,000-$35,000 apiece to be the backbone of the USPS delivery fleet.
The government has specifically requested alternative energy be explored but all this is still up in the air.
Now that diesel has been given a clean bill of health of sorts and is used for many other fleets, would it be the fuel-efficient propulsion source of choice? Or could a hybrid or even plug-in hybrid be adopted to let the postal service curtail its annual usage of much as 154 million gallons of gasoline per year?
Between electrified versus diesel technologies, analyst Alan Baum observes diesel would make more sense for rural routes, and hybrid would make more sense on suburban and urban routes.
An all-electric postal truck would be limited to routes with charging en-route. This could be feasible but the government’s $35,000 price limit would suggest it’s unlikely.
Also quite possible would be a cheaper alternative like a four-cylinder gasoline engine incorporating fuel and emission-saving technologies including variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, perhaps stop-start, and more.
More certain is the new vehicles are requested with right-hand drive, and to be larger to handle bigger parcels such as those delivered to online shoppers. A new truck would not be quite as simple as going to the suppliers of vehicles for FedEx, UPS, or DHL because those are not right-hand drive. Even if one of these suppliers were used, it would need to meet specifications.
In contention, according to a report by Automotive News could be modified existing vehicles like the Ford Transit or by Fiat Chrysler which sells the re-badged Dodge Sprinter line. Or, these makers could base a new USPS truck on their present products.
The Sprinter is a Mercedes-engineered vehicle but it’s being said the three-pointed star on the front of an essentially the same Mercedes-badged ProMaster would probably bring down criticism of government waste.
As it is, the postal service has been overdue, and the issue of deteriorating underperforming trucks needs to be dealt with.
A report by the postal service’s inspector general says in 2013 the trucks needed $3,188 in upkeep, and 9 percent needed more than $6,000 to keep them in service.
The present Long Life Vehicles are said to get less than their 16-mpg rating. They use an aluminum body on a steel frame with four-cylinder GM driveline.
Problems have included leaky windshields, small crevices into which loose mail falls and gets lost, a sliding door that needs frequent repairs, and even the aluminum body has been rusting in salt-belt states.
On the positive side, the configuration lets drivers step right out of the vehicle onto the curb. It’s larger than the Jeep DJ that was used from the 1950s to 80s, and now they want a larger vehicle.
The new vehicle’s parts content must be at least 50-percent domestic. Nissan has said it is not interested in the bid although its NV200 built in Mexico could be adopted to fill the bill.
Ford has not directly said it will go for it, but implications are it will as will others interested in what may be the largest fleet purchase in U.S. history.
This week in Washington, the USPS will be meeting potential bidders and by summer it aims to select the builder of its new fleet.
In 2016 pre-production vehicles would be tested prior to actually awarding the contract in 2017 for vehicles intended to be on the road by 2018.