A tall order: USPS looks for its truck of the future

USPS chooses six companies to compete in truck design prototype challenge

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has narrowed the field of finalists for designing the next-generation prototype of its mail delivery truck. The six companies will now design, build and deliver a total of 50 vehicles within one year, after which the USPS will put them through their paces for six months before selecting one winner. The company selected to supply 142,000 new vehicles for the fleet will be awarded a $6.3 billion contract.

Each of the six finalists is receiving contract awards valued at $37.4 million to build the prototypes. On the list are:

  1. AM General, a military and commercial vehicle manufacturer;
  2. Karsan, a Turkish commercial vehicle manufacturer;
  3. Mahindra, an Indian conglomerate and automotive manufacturer;
  4. Oshkosh, a maker of commercial and military specialty trucks;
  5. Spartan Motors’ Utilimaster, a manufacturer of walk-in and parcel delivery vans and truck bodies; and
  6. VT Hackney, a division of ST Engineering, a Singapore-based aerospace, electronics and military contractor.

In its Request for Proposal, USPS indicated the need for a truck capable of handling a payload of at least 1,500 lbs. and that has at least 155 cu. ft. of cargo space. Also noted was a desire to consider hybrid and new technologies, including alternative fuels and advanced powertrains. Remote locking and ignition capabilities, and heating and cooling systems that take into account the amount of door openings and closings, that windows are often open, and that the cargo area is unheated, were indicated as well.

Defining what it called a “low-cost, high-tech alternative,” the Postal Service said it’s looking to reduce maintenance costs over the minimum 20-year expected life of the new vehicle. In particular, it wants manufacturers to consider ease of repair and replacement of large body parts that are subject to damage.

Each of the six finalists for the USPS contract is able to partner with other manufacturers. For example, VT Hackney has subcontracted production of the vehicle chassis and powertrain to electric truck maker Workhorse Group. Hackney and Workhorse have developed an electric delivery truck that incorporates a drone docking station. When the truck gets to the delivery route, the eight-propeller drone called the HorseFly can be used to deliver packages using GPS. The companies say it’s a combination of technologies that could save time and money, and ultimately reduce maintenance costs.

Workhorse Group’s E-Gen electric delivery vehicles are powered by BMW i3 range extender (REx) units consisting of a two-cylinder gasoline engine and Panasonic lithium ion batteries.
The solution works as a generator to produce electricity to extend the vehicle range. The same E-Gen chassis from Workhorse can be found in the 325 vehicles the manufacturer is building for UPS, including 200 new units that will be deployed beginning in January.

UPS operates one of the largest alternative fuel and advanced technology fleets in the U.S. Using its “rolling laboratory” approach, the package carrier deploys more than 7,200 low-emission vehicles and in August achieved its goal of driving 1 billion miles with an alternative fuel fleet.

Originally placed in service beginning in 1987, the USPS fleet includes 190,000 Grumman Long Life Vehicle delivery trucks. Designed for a 24-year lifespan, in 2009 the service life of the iconic mail trucks was extended by six years, meaning that starting in 2017, 142,000 of the vehicles will need to be replaced.

The new vehicles that will be joining the USPS fleet in the coming years are expected to have the same long-term value as the models they will be replacing. The delivery trucks are also going to be well suited for last mile delivery needs.

Looking to the future, the Postal Service is realizing it needs this type of truck and technology to compete in an increasingly e-commerce-focused world.

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