If you thought the seven-year search for new U.S. Postal Service mail trucks was over, think again.
There were three companies bidding for the massive contract, and one of them, Workhorse, now says a court should look into whether the deal was conducted fairly and whether the government didn't seriously consider its all-electric options including the Workhorse prototype pictured above.
The public details remain a bit vague, given the secrecy of the contract bids and other non-disclosure agreements.
In February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a deal for up to 165,000 new mail trucks worth up to $6 billion to defense contractor Oshkosh. The search for new delivery vehicles took the USPS around seven years, and once the Internet learned what the quirky new van would look like, much merriment ensued. Not everyone was happy, though.
Workhorse, formerly known as Amp Electric Vehicles, was one of two other contractors bidding for the USPS contract (the other was Karsan). This week, Workhorse sued the postal service over the terms of the deal, especially whether or not the mail carrier ever seriously considered Workhorse's electric vehicles as suitable replacements for the Grumman "Long Life Vehicles" that are commonly seen delivering mail today.
Workhorse's lawsuit—the version that the public can see, anyway—is vague, as the company said the revealing all of the contract information would release details about its bid for the contract and the company's EVs that would be helpful to competitors. Alongside the court filing, Workhorse issued a media statement that said Workhorse representatives met with the USPS in early March to "discuss the award and further specifics of the USPS selection process," but that the details of the meeting "cannot be disclosed at this time."
Nonetheless, we can get a feel for what the issue is based on anonymous sources who have spoken to the Washington Post, and it seems to all come down to the level of electrification the USPS is actually interested in. The February announcement included language about EVs but also made clear that gas-powered mail trucks would still be part of the USPS. Workhorse insiders told the Post that they believe the USPS didn't seriously consider Workhorse's bid, in part because it leaned so heavily on electric vehicles.
Embattled USPS postmaster general Louis DeJoy said after the Oshkosh announcement that only around 10 percent of the trucks the postal service will buy will be electrified. Workhorse is asking the court for a preliminary injunction to halt the procurement process for Oshkosh's mail trucks until the decision is reviewed. It also reportedly claims that the USPS did not fully evaluate an all-electric prototype from Oshkosh.
"The allegations are that basically that [the Postal Service] never planned to seriously consider Workhorse and they put their thumb on the scale to select against Workhorse," a source told the Post. The USPS and Oshkosh are not commenting on the lawsuit, and Workhorse said it is "unable to provide any further information with respect to this matter currently but will provide updates when appropriate and as permitted under its non-disclosure agreement as part of the USPS [Next-Generation Delivery Vehicle] program."
Oskhosh has said in other instances that the ability to swap out the gas-powered powertrain in its new trucks for all-electric versions was a selling point to the USPS, even though it told the SEC last November that is basically an electric-powertrain amateur: "While we are continuing to explore options to offer more propulsion choices in our products, such as electric-powered vehicles or mobile equipment, with lower emissions, this may require us to spend additional funds on product research and development and implementation costs and subject us to the risk that our competitors may respond to these pressures in a manner that gives them a competitive advantage," the company wrote at the time.
Whatever trucks the USPS purchases to replace its current fleet, they will be a massive upgrade. The LLVs currently in use were all built between 1987 and 1994 and were supposed to be retired after, at most, 24 years. All of the trucks are older than that at this point, but mail carriers might need to drive them for a few more miles before new trucks arrive.
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