The New USPS Delivery Van: Hit or Miss?

It's the design controversy du jour.

USPS van

USPS

In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing "federal agencies to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles to create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries," noting that it would be "the largest mobilization of public investment in procurement, infrastructure, and R&D since World War Two."

But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy apparently didn't get the message; he just announced a giant order for up to 165,000 new vehicles to replace the Grummans that are on the road now and need to be replaced as they tend to catch fire and are expensive to repair. According to a press release, "The vehicles 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."

The Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) will be built by Oshkosh Defense, which beat out two all-electric proposals. They are working with Ford, and the gasoline model is based on the Ford Transit. The design community is not impressed, including Treehugger regular Mike Eliason:

I disagree with Mike, having been writing for years that we should make SUVs and light trucks as safe for pedestrians and cyclists as cars or get rid of them. The NGDV has almost every feature I would have wished for:

Safety Features

USPS

It's got backup cameras, bumper sensors, collision warning systems, but most importantly it has those passive features that are so critical: a low sloping front end (with great visibility through that big windshield) so if someone is hit, they can roll up onto the hood and decelerate a bit before they hit the glass. It also has some form of blind-spot warning system which would be really critical here; it is a right-hand drive vehicle and it's going to have a big blind spot right where drivers are used to seeing. From a pedestrian and cyclist safety point of view, one couldn't really ask for more.

Rob Cotter, an electric vehicle expert known to Treehugger for his ELF (Which Sami Grover and I visited in Durham, North Carolina) is not impressed either and has a good point about the amount of glass. However, the USPS likes the height:

"The NGDV vehicles will include air conditioning and heating, improved ergonomics, and some of the most advanced vehicle technology — including 360-degree cameras, advanced braking and traction control, air bags, a front- and rear-collision avoidance system that includes visual, audio warning, and automatic braking. The vehicles will also have increased cargo capacity to maximize efficiency and better accommodate higher package volumes stemming from the growth of eCommerce."
Sideview

USPS

Rob Cotter is also correct that if you don't have a gas engine, you don't need that beak at all. And this idea of being able to retrofit the gas vehicle to electric is completely silly; the drive trains are often completely different.

Katie Fehrenbacher knows her trucks, she covers transportation at GreenBiz and gets this right, you can't just pull one out and put the other in. It's likely that DeJoy and the USPS were not that serious about EVs at all;

Rob Cotter notes that there was no requirement for it to be an EV, and his entry didn't make the shortlist.

It's likely that this won't be coming to a street near you soon; Cotter notes that Oshkosh has no experience with battery electric vehicles, there is an executive order stating that all vehicles should be electric, and it is likely that Postmaster General DeJoy is not going to be around for much longer.

I still disagree with Mike Eliason about whether the designer should be embarrassed and agree with Shawn Micallef that it's cute, perhaps not as cute as a Gremlin, but a lot safer.

We can't embed polls on Treehugger right now, but leave a note in comments or click here and let us know: Hit or Miss?