Editor’s Note: Updates throughout with additional developments
Seventeen House Democrats introduced a bill Monday that would give the U.S. Postal Service an additional $6 billion to assure next-generation mail trucks run on electricity.
If the bill passes, it could revive a failed bid by electric delivery van maker Workhorse Group (NASDAQ: WKHS) to win the initial contract for Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.
Some key Democrats back the legislation. They include Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who chairs the Oversight and Reform committee that oversees the Postal Service, Reuters reported.
The Postal Service awarded a $482 million contract to defense contractor Oshkosh Truck Corp. (NYSE: OSK) to begin replacing its 30-year-old delivery vehicles. Oshkosh will build 50,000 to 165,000 mail trucks over the 10-year agreement. About 10% would be battery-powered.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Jan. 26 requiring that all 645,000 government vehicles run on electricity. That cannot happen immediately because neither the vehicles nor the infrastructure to charge them is ready.
But the direction is clear.
Also on Monday, Reps. Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur, who were among the 17 co-sponsors of the additional money for the Postal Service, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, all of Ohio, called for a review of the award for “inappropriate political influence” in the process. They also questioned whether the contract is consistent with Biden’s order on tackling climate change.
“This contract will have consequences for decades to come and, as such, we have serious concerns it could be a wasted opportunity to address the climate crisis and the reindustrialization of our manufacturing sector,” the Ohio lawmakers wrote in a March 1 letter to Biden.
Workhorse gains on news
Oshkosh said it could adjust to make electric vehicles if required. Most observers expected at least part of the initial Postal Service contract to go to Workhorse because it offered the only battery-electric prototype vehicle of the three finalists.
Day traders bid Workhorse shares to record highs in anticipation. Many of them bailed when Oskosh won the contract. Workhorse lost more than 50% of its value on the day the contract was announced and the next day. Its shares closed 12.89% higher Monday at $15.50. They closed up an additional 5.48% Tuesday at $16.35.
Separately, Bloomberg reported Ryan had questioned a 524,400 share block trade in Oshkosh stock on the eve of the Postal Service contract award on Feb. 23. The size of that trade was almost as much as average daily volume in the stock in the prior year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The parties involved in the trade couldn’t be determined, Bloomberg reported.
Trying to understand
Workhorse executives met with postal officials last Wednesday to try to understand why it was passed over. A day after the meeting, the Loveland, Ohio-based company said it had hired attorneys to explore its options. Workhorse said it expects a long process to ensue.
The new funding bill, sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman of California, would require at least 75% of the new fleet be electric or zero-emission vehicles. Workhorse has no guarantee that it would supply the vehicles.
The bill would also require no less than 50% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicle purchases be electric or zero-emission through 2029 and all new postal vehicles to be zero-emission after January 2040.
“We welcome and are interested in any support from Congress that advances the goal of a fleet with zero emissions, and the necessary infrastructure required to operate it,” the Postal Service said. “With the right level of support, the majority of the Postal Service’s fleet can be electric by the end of the decade.”