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Driver comfort and active safety were design priorities for the Postal Service's next-generation delivery vehicle. (USPS)

Oshkosh Defense selected to assemble next-gen mail trucks

About 10% of the new U.S. Postal Service fleet will be EVs, with Oshkosh delivering up to 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles in the next decade.

Oshkosh Defense won the long-awaited contract to manufacture the U.S. Postal Service’s next generation of postal delivery vehicles, which are expected to begin appearing on routes in 2023. Speculation ahead of the Feb. 23 announcement was that electric powertrains would be a primary method of propulsion, fueled by the Biden Administration’s stated focus of electrifying the U.S. government’s vehicle fleet and because mail trucks represent an ideal use case for electrification. They run the same routes daily, averaging between 10 to 30 miles per day, and return to a common facility after each shift for charging.

Indeed, battery-electric (BEV) powertrains are mentioned as part of the contract’s initial $482 million investment for Oshkosh Defense to finalize the production design of the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV), along with plant tooling and build-out. The Wisconsin-based manufacturer is still evaluating which of its U.S. manufacturing locations is best suited to NGDV production.

But the program also calls for “fuel-efficient” internal combustion engines (ICEs). The purpose-built, right-hand-drive NGDVs will be “retrofittable” to keep pace with advances in electric-vehicle and other emerging drivetrain technologies as they become mature and offer operational savings.

Oshkosh will assemble between 50,000 to 165,000 next-gen vehicles during the next 10 years. A spokesperson for the USPS initially told SAE International that information on the expected split between BEVs and ICE vehicles is not available. A day later, however, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told a Congressional hearing that the Postal Service was committed to electric vehicles making up about 10 percent of its new fleet. He said that an all-electric fleet would have added billions of dollars in costs to the project.

“The Postal Service recognizes that powertrain technology may change significantly over the available 20-year life of the NGDV, and as such, the USPS selected a flexible design platform that can accommodate advancements in technology,” the spokesperson replied, offering a similar response regarding the potential application of hybrid-electrics and other alternative fuels.

Opposition to the inclusion of conventional ICE powertrains was swift. For example, the Zero Emission Transportation Association’s (ZETA) executive director Joe Britton issued a statement immediately following the USPS announcement. ZETA advocates that all vehicles sold by 2030 be electric.

“U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is trying to lock our postal vehicle fleet into decades of carbon-intensive transportation,” Britton said. “This directly conflicts with the Administration’s stated goals and is certain to see swift pushback from appropriators who have sought to drive USPS vehicle electrification…We encourage others to join us in speaking out about this decision and call on Congress to act.”

HVAC and active safety
Oshkosh emerged from the five-year procurement process to supply the next-gen delivery vehicles, beating out five other companies including Ohio-based EV maker Workhorse Group. The NGDV vehicles will feature air-conditioning and heating, improved ergonomics and a significant upgrade in active safety technologies. The safety suite includes 360-degree cameras, advanced braking and traction control, airbags, a front- and rear-collision avoidance system that includes visual and audio warnings, and automatic braking.

Increased cargo capacity is another benefit of the new design, allowing the USPS to better accommodate higher package volumes stemming from the growth of e-commerce, DeJoy said. “The NGDV program expands our capacity for handling more package volume and supports our carriers with cleaner and more efficient technologies, more amenities, and greater comfort and security as they deliver every day on behalf of the American people,” he said.

The multi-billion-dollar contract with Oshkosh begins the process to replace and expand the Postal Service’s aging delivery-vehicle fleet. A large portion of its 230,000-vehicle fleet has been in service for 30 years. The investment is part of the Postal Service’s soon-to-be-released, 10-year plan to become the “preferred delivery service provider for the American public.”

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