The Terrible Fuel Economy of New Postal Service Trucks Is Almost Illegal

The current fleet of U.S. Postal Service (USPS) trucks is old and has been in urgent need of a replacement for some time. The agency is buying 165,000 new trucks but has come under fire for doing so. The trucks in production from Oshkosh Defense are critically late and very pricey, with poor fuel economy ratings. Additionally, only 10% of them are projected to be electric.

Why is the USPS buying trucks that get such poor gas mileage that they’re barely legal? Were these trucks intentionally designed to poorly manage fuel costs and pollution?

The USPS truck contract

The back sliding door of a USPS (United States Postal Service) postal truck
A USPS postal truck | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The 10-year $6 billion USPS deal with Oshkosh Defense for the new Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) has faced many setbacks, including questions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

Union workers from Oshkosh Defense, their families, and communities have fought to keep pressure on the company to build the new vehicles in northwestern Wisconsin. Leaders from United Auto Workers Local 578, along with reps from UAW regional and national organizations, Wisconsin AFL-CIO, and American Postal Workers Union 178, rallied to support 1,600 Local 578 members from a 14-county area in Wisconsin. Their efforts aim to move production of as many as 165,000 new mail delivery trucks from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Wisconsin. The group wants the truck built there and “built union.”

Despite a statement from Oshkosh Defense explaining production is already underway in South Carolina so the NGDVs can start delivering in 2023, union leaders and workers are continuing their campaign, according to Oshkosh Northwestern.

The terrible gas mileage of new USPS trucks

Earlier this year, the EPA sent a letter to the USPS with complaints about the dismal fuel economy of the trucks and urging the agency to “not proceed to a decision.” It’s an effort by the Biden administration to use the $11.3 billion allocated to replace the USPS fleet with new environmentally-friendly vehicles. The letter points out the current contract doesn’t achieve that goal, according to Jalopnik.

The Oshkosh replacement vehicle will make up one-third of the government’s entire vehicle fleet and, according to the EPA, only achieves a 0.4-mpg improvement over the agency’s current fleet, which is 30 years old. The new gas-powered trucks would only get 8.6 mpg with the air conditioning running. Electric vehicle experts indicate that the industry standard for a combustion-engine vehicle is from 12 to 14 mpg, according to the report.

The EPA says the fleet of trucks will consume 110 million gallons of fuel each year. Meanwhile, the USPS paid Oshkosh Defense $482 million without doing any analysis or research.

When the contract with Oshkosh Defense was first announced in Feb. 2021, the USPS explained it planned to buy up to 160k NGDVs. It would be a mixed fleet with some battery-electric vehicles and other fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicles capable of conversion to electric at a later date.

According to Ars Technica, the expectations were lowered significantly within a few hours. Only 10% of the vehicles would be electric. Worse, the gas-fed trucks would only get an EPA-estimated 8.6 mpg. Additionally, there was no longer a plan to convert the gas-powered trucks to battery electric.

According to Vice, if the trucks weighed a single pound less, they’d be illegal. Thanks to a long-standing loophole, larger, heavier gas-guzzling vehicles that produce more pollution are incentivized.

According to the EPA, the USPS elected not to consider any alternatives to its proposal, much less alternatives that would be safer for the environment, particularly on long rural routes. Additionally, it was noted by the EPA in its letter that recent decisions in federal court haven’t been in the government’s favor where agencies chose to ignore environmental protections. It advised the USPS not to proceed with its current plan for the NGDVs. The EPA also called for public comment on a new environmental impact statement and requested a public hearing.

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