The U.S. Postal Service has relaxed its opposition to electric vehicles (EVs) over recent years. The latest breakthrough came last week when the Postal Service finally stopped insisting on custom-built vehicles to replace its ancient fleet of delivery trucks. That means more automakers will have a chance to participate in the agency’s fleet electrification efforts — and Ford Motor Co. is among the first to benefit.
The Postal Service announced a major new fleet modernization plan a little over two years ago, but it left little room for EVs. Instead, the main thrust of the initiative was to replace the agency’s existing 165,000 delivery trucks as quickly as possible. Designed in the 1980s with a 25-year lifespan in mind, the trucks have become obsolete in terms of safety and driver comfort, as well as fuel efficiency.
The Postal Service introduced its original modernization plan on Feb. 23, 2021, along with a 10-year contract awarded to Oshkosh Defense. The company was tasked with delivering a new fleet of specialized “next-generation delivery vehicles” which the Postal Service described as running either on electricity or gas.
But critics quickly noticed that the contract stipulated a mere 10 percent of the new vehicles would actually be electric. Howls of protest from electrification advocates ensued.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the plan, arguing the Postal Service did not have enough money in its budget to pay up-front for EVs. Congress responded by working to fill the funding gap.
New research has helped to further the case by demonstrating the benefits of fleet electrification. Electric vehicle advocates — including Ford and other auto industry stakeholders — also pitched in by supporting a new analysis that addresses shortcomings in the research originally cited by the Postal Service.
All of that advocacy work paid off. With $3 billion in new funding from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the Postal Service was able to focus more attention on fleet electrification in a new plan announced in December of last year.
The new plan still falls significantly short of the 100 percent electrification mark, but it is an improvement. The Postal Service plans to acquire a total of 106,000 delivery vehicles through 2028. Oshkosh will supply at least 60,000 of its custom-designed vehicles to that total — and at least 45,000 of those will be electric.
The Postal Service has also stated that all of its new custom Oshkosh vehicles will be electric after 2026. That timeline won’t require an about-face for Oshkosh. The company has pointed out all along that its custom vehicle designs can accommodate either internal combustion engines (ICE) or battery-electric technology. The delivery trucks are also designed to be retrofitted from an ICE to a battery as needed.
But the Postal Service appears to have reservations about Oshkosh’s ability to ramp up operations quickly enough to satisfy electrification advocates. The new plan also calls for the acquisition of an additional 21,000 EVs from various off-the-shelf manufacturers over the next five years.
Ford’s hand in the EV movement appears to have paid off, too. On Feb. 28, the Postal Service announced that it had selected Ford’s E-Transit electric van as its first off-the-shelf delivery vehicle. The agency plans to purchase 9,250 E-Transit vans, which will be manufactured at Ford's factory in Kansas City, Missouri.
The agency still needs to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement before the arrangement is finalized, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. If all goes according to plan, the vans will begin arriving in December of this year.
As part of the effort to improve its EV profile, the Postal Service also engaged three suppliers to deliver a combined total of more than 14,000 charging stations, it announced in February.
It remains to be seen if Ford or Oshkosh will suffer any backlash from the “anti-woke” movement among Republican officeholders in more than 20 states. Though the “woke capital” canard claims to protect state pensions from mismanagement, it is simply an attempt to thwart investment in decarbonization technologies and gin up an emotional response that helps drive conservative voters to the polls.
Missouri has emerged as one of those hotspots for the “anti-woke” movement. And Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who hails from Missouri, has emerged as a leader in the charge against “woke capital."
Another leading “woke capital” warrior in Missouri is State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick. Last August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch business columnist David Nicklaus noted that Fitzpatrick and State Attorney General Eric Schmitt have been advocating against ESG (environmental, social, governance) investments, with a particular focus on the global firm BlackRock.
Nevertheless, Missouri will host a factory owned by an out-of-state company (Ford’s headquarters are in Michigan) that will help accelerate the energy transition by replacing more than 9,000 Postal Service trucks with EVs.
Similarly, Oshkosh Defense is headquartered in Wisconsin. But the company plans to manufacture its custom Postal Service vehicles in South Carolina, where State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr. has also focused his anti-ESG attention on BlackRock.
A public statement on Loftis’s website dated Oct. 10, 2022, explains that “… these actions against BlackRock are just one step in protecting South Carolina’s financial interests from self-serving outsiders who have no stake in the well-being of taxpayers or public retirees.”
“[Loftis] continues to evaluate additional measures that may be taken to further cement the state’s independence from undue influence,” the message continues.
Image credit: U.S. Postal Service
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.