In the 1980s, the United States Postal Service found itself in need of a new mail truck. It put out a request to the nation’s vehicle industry with the goal of finding the most long-lasting vehicle possible. It even developed a competition involving 24,000 total miles driven, 960 miles of potholes, and carrying a 400-pound load.
Many commercial developers entered the race but only one could win the prestigious job. Now, over 30 years later, Americans have seen the same vehicle dropping off their mail every single day. The appropriately-named Long Life Vehicle, made by Grumman and General Motors, has been in service around the country since 1985, when it won the postal service’s tough competition.
Grumman Corporation was founded in 1939 by Leroy Grumman and was originally called Grumman Aeronautical Engineering Company. It first specialized in aircraft production. Its biggest developments included different types of fighter jets, like the A-6 Intruder used in Vietnam.
Later, and most notably, Grumman went on to oversee the development of a Lunar Module that would bring us to the moon. This was also a bid it had to compete for (though clearly nothing as rigorous as the mail truck tests it would go on to do!) and it went up against companies who were much more experienced with spacecraft than Grumman was at the time.
Grumman came out on top, however, and won the bid. In 1969, the whole country watched as the Apollo Lunar Module carried the first group of men to the moon. In 1994, Grumman merged with Northrop Corporation and became Northrop Grumman. Now it is a leading aerospace and defense technology company. Its come a long way from producing mail trucks, but it’s clear to see how Grumman was able to develop such a tough vehicle.
The Long Life Vehicle
The LLV’s body was made by Grumman and it partnered with General Motors to develop the chassis. The trucks are made out of corrosion-resistant aluminum, making it perfect for USPS’s “Neither snow nor rain…” mantra.
It would take more than bad weather to stop these trucks. LLVs weigh over 3,000 pounds and can haul over 1,000 pounds. Its tight turning radius makes it versatile and practical on crowded city streets. Grumman even sold the LLV to the Canadian Postal Service, but they have since retired them.
Today, there are over 142,000 LLVs across the United States and they travel over a combined 1.28 billion miles each year. LLVs have the well-known feature of right-handed driving capabilities. This makes curbside mail delivery possible and is one of the biggest customizations Grumman brought to the LLV. We’ve come a long way since the days of delivering mail by wagon, that much is certain.
Are we nearing the end of LLVs?
Turns out, we are. In 2010, USPS released a statement noting that it cost them $524 million that fiscal year alone to service LLVs. Some of the trucks have even started catching fire for seemingly no reason. Considering that the last LLV was made in 1994, it’s clear that it lived up to its goal of being as long-lasting as possible and it’s understandable that USPS has a new generation of mail trucks in the works. Hopefully, the new fleet will be able to live up to the longevity of its predecessors.
It appears the biggest goals intended for the new batch of mail trucks are eco-friendly features like increased fuel-efficiency and lower emissions. A few hybrid options are even on the table. Other notable features include more hauling capacity, a bigger cabin, and increased visibility for drivers.
Whatever the new generation of trucks looks like, I’m sure we can still expect to see that well-known blue logo on the side and our mail to be delivered promptly, no matter what the weather looks like.