By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
For an organization with longstanding financial troubles, the United States Postal Service has managed to attract a lot of attention with a proposed delivery truck it calls the NGDV.
That’s the newest postal acronym for Next Generation Delivery Vehicle — a bigger, but not sleeker, delivery truck that the cash-strapped Postal Service wants to buy for residential deliveries.
With the prospect of a $4.5 billion to $6 billion price tag, the USPS has Detroit’s truck industry salivating — despite the agency’s low credit rating.
The 15 truck makers who have qualified for the first round of competition must have visions of Congress finally coming to the aid of the Postal Service, which long has complained that its current fleet of 200,000 delivery vehicles has literally run out of gas.
Most of these — 163,000 ironically known as “long-life vehicles” when they were purchased between 1987 and 2001 — are the boxy right-hand trucks that would win no prize for their looks.
Costly to keep on the road, postal executives have wanted for years to begin replacing them with newer trucks that would cost less to operate and be easier to maintain.
The problem: the USPS, saddled by Congress with prepaying health care costs for its retirees, has not had the funds to make major truck purchases for years.
This past summer, it did scrape together $257 million to place an order for 3,000 walk-in “intermediate” delivery trucks, but these are off-the-shelf, standard delivery trucks, a postal spokeswoman noted.
The NGDVs are to be a giant order for customized postal delivery trucks needed to replace the somewhat squat delivery trucks in the fleet, and to help the USPS move the increasing number of parcels in the mail.
The USPS hopes to place the first of the NGDVs in service in 2018.
Other than estimating the trucks could cost $35,000 each, the Postal Service has said little about how it would finance the purchases, which are likely to be spread over a number of years.
Asked how the truck purchase could be financed, USPS spokeswoman Sarah Ninivaggi told Linn’s: “The Next Generation Delivery Vehicle acquisition, like our operations and other investments, is funded through sale of postage, products and services.”
Truck makers are being advised that they’ll be expected to produce prototype vehicles that can be subjected to what the USPS describes as a “24,000 mile durability test” at a testing facility yet to be disclosed.
Included will be “obstacles” such as cobblestone streets, gravel roads, and stops and starts that a delivery truck would make.
Letter carriers will be directed to drive the vehicles on actual routes, the USPS test plan says.
The test plan also calls for mock repairs to see if postal mechanics can handle these vehicles as well as the current long-life trucks.
The biggest improvements in the planned truck over the delivery vehicles in the current fleet are that drivers should be able to store more parcels, and be able to walk into the truck’s storage bay and pick up the parcels from the shelving there.
One of the big difficulties the USPS has had with the current explosion in parcels is that the small long-life vehicles don’t have room to store many of the packages that now must be delivered.
Bidding for the contract has attracted big truck makers such as Ford Motor Co., Fiat-Chrysler, Nissan, Freightliner and Morgan Olson (the successor to the firm that supplied the long-life vehicles), and others.
According to The New York Times, the development of a new truck can be an expensive process for the truck makers. Creating a new truck can cost $1 billion, the paper quoted an automobile analyst as saying.
What the new trucks will look like will be up to each truck maker.
Some news accounts have shown a left-hand-drive vehicle with a somewhat bloated van that can carry the projected 1,400-pound load. Speed should not be an issue because the current fleet averages only 13.6 mph on a route.