US Postal Service commits to buy 66,000 EVs — finally

After facing backlash for plans to add thousands of gas guzzlers to its fleet, the USPS has shifted course with a game-changing pledge to go electric.

A postal worker loading mail into the back of a mail truck in a post office parking lot
(Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
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Having exhausted all other options, the U.S. Postal Service, operator of the largest federal vehicle fleet, has announced a transformative plan to start electrifying its fleet and move away from gas-guzzling delivery trucks.

The USPS, led by Trump appointee Louis DeJoy, announced last year that it planned to place a large order for new internal-combustion-engine trucks. After experiencing heavy pushback for not going electric more swiftly, the agency then made a series of seemingly reluctant announcements over the past year unveiling plans to procure increasingly larger proportions of electric vehicles and smaller proportions of gas-powered ones. Tuesday’s announcement was the latest in this series. 

With this week’s news, the Postal Service is now committed to significantly decarbonizing its aging fleet of over 230,000 vehicles. It plans on buying 60,000 next-generation delivery vehicles” from Oshkosh, a defense contractor, of which 45,000 will be electric. The agency will also purchase 46,000 vehicles from commercial automakers, of which 21,000 will be electric, according to The Washington Post. That’s a procurement total of 66,000 electric delivery vehicles, which will make USPS, which already has the largest vehicle fleet in the nation, into the operator of the largest electric vehicle fleet in the nation. 

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The USPS also announced a new goal of acquiring only electric delivery vehicles after 2026, with plans to develop tens of thousands of charging stations over the next five years. 

The rapid remaking of the aging federal vehicle fleet is being funded with $3 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act and $6.6 billion in USPS funds. It’s a historic new direction for the storied institution. 

Evolving postal attitude toward EVs

Canary’s Maria Gallucci has been reporting this year on the Postal Service’s evolving attitude toward electric delivery trucks. Here’s how she summarized it in August:

The saga unfolding around the fate of America’s mail trucks began last year, when the Postal Service announced plans to order up to 165,000 new delivery vehicles — with 10 percent electric and around 90 percent of those expected to burn gas in internal combustion engines.

At first, the plan was to buy just 5,000 battery-powered trucks in the initial purchase order. In March, however, the Postal Service raised the number to 10,000 electric trucks, plus another 40,000 gas guzzlers.

But even doubling its EV order wasn’t enough to quell critics. In July, the service upped its EV demand to more than 30,000 trucks, about 40 percent of its total truck order, up from its initial 10 percent — due to the efforts of climate advocates, state attorneys general and union groups.

Now the USPS plans for 60 percent of its total truck order to be EVs. 

This move toward electrification is mandated by policy. An executive order from President Biden calls for the federal government to purchase only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. The Postal Service’s fleet of 230,000 vehicles represents the largest share of the 650,000-vehicle U.S. government fleet, the largest vehicle fleet in the world. 

The USPS is perfect for electrification

Postal fleets in Germany, France and Japan already operate tens of thousands of electric vehicles, while the fleets of delivery giants such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS are rapidly being transformed by electrification.

Short-haul postal vans and trucks are perfect targets for electrification, Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and trucking lead at clean energy nonprofit RMI, told Canary. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.) Smaller commercial trucks and vans average only 30 or 40 low-speed miles and one shift per day, so there are no concerns about range and no need for fast-charging infrastructure. While small trucks do not travel as many miles as semis and long-haul trucks, they lead in the number of units deployed, Roeth pointed out. They’re also highly visible in communities around the country, so if they’re electric, that helps to normalize the idea of EVs. 

These kinds of smaller commercial vehicles will be one of the main segments to go electric soon, Roeth said. Small trucks doing final-mile delivery are absolutely going to be battery electric.”

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Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.