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USPS' new mail trucks appear at odds with Biden administration's EV agenda

President Biden has said the federal fleet will go 100% electric. The new mail trucks fall incredibly short of that.

US Postal Service truck delivering mail
Just one in 10 of these will actually be electric, supposedly.

In the first weeks of the Biden administration, the 46th president announced a radical shift in the federal government's future vehicle fleet: Every single one would become 100% electric, as part of the administration's Buy American executive order. The administration never included a concrete timeline, but the goal is to convert some 645,000 vehicles to zero-emissions models over time. Ripe to take advantage of this order is the US Postal Service, which conducted a six-year-long search for its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle.

This week, the USPS announced its pick for the NGDV, but quickly, the messaging from the Biden administration and its commitment to staffing the federal vehicle fleet with EVs appeared to be getting muddier. Included in the USPS' contract awarded to Oshkosh Defense, based in Wisconsin, is the provision to deliver not just battery-electric delivery vehicles, but "fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine vehicles." So, what gives?

A USPS spokesperson told Roadshow that "the NGDV will be equipped with either fuel-efficient internal combustion engines or battery electric powertrains and can be retrofitted to keep pace with advances in electric vehicle technologies," and cited a "flexible platform" Oshkosh plans to use for these vehicles. That sounds good, but in other words, it sounds a lot like relying on some massive effort to one day ship tens of thousands of mail carriers back to Oshkosh to yank out engines and install an electric powertrain. 

Red flag No. 2 came Wednesday as US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said during a congressional hearing that battery-electric mail trucks will only make up 10% of this new fleet, or just one in 10 of the new Oshkosh-assembled trucks. DeJoy's comment seems to fly directly in the face of the Biden administration's roadmap of taking emissions out of the federal fleet of vehicles. After all, the Postal Service operates one of the largest government fleets. Production of the vehicles won't begin until 2023 -- well into Biden's term -- and the USPS' initial contract payment tallies to $482 million. The sum could grow to $6 billion total over 10 years as Oshkosh gets the green light to build up to 165,000 new mail trucks.

DeJoy added that he's open to speaking with the Biden administration and Congress to ask for what he estimated to be "$3 or $4 billion" extra to make something like a 90% EV fleet happen. The White House didn't immediately respond to Roadshow's request for comment when asked about the USPS' selection or the administration's view on deeper discussions following President Joe Biden's executive order. The USPS declined to comment on DeJoy's remarks.

Even with the described "low-emission" engines, the USPS fleet will become far more modern, given that the Grumman Long Life Vehicle is well past its expiration date. For an administration that pledged to put climate change at the forefront of major decisions, however, it's not a surprise the USPS' decision has caused confusion.