Oshkosh Defense has built electric vehicles for more than 20 years, but they’ve always been more or less one-offs for special purposes. That all changes with its multibillion-dollar order for new mail trucks that make up the largest fleet in the U.S. and maybe the world.
“What we’ve seen happen in just the last few years is the economics have gotten to the point where we can apply this technology to a much broader number of use cases,” Oshkosh Corp. CEO John Pfeifer said last week at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, California.
As long as those vehicles return to base at the end of a shift, it is possible that up to 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles could be battery powered. But Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK) is committing only that the trucks will have zero tailpipe emissions at the end of the 10-year contract.
“The vehicle was designed not just to be electric — it’s great that it’s electric — but it is designed to deliver huge productivity and safety benefits for the postal carrier,” Pfeifer said. The current postal delivery vehicles built by Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) are up to 30 years old, unair-conditioned and prone to engine fires.
Workhorse Group grievance
The Biden administration wants all 645,000 government fleet vehicles to be electric. So, the awarding of the Postal Service contract to Oshkosh in February stunned some electric vehicle advocates who figured electric delivery van maker Workhorse Group had an inside track because it proposed an all-electric fleet.
But Workhorse (NASDAQ: WKHS, which is under Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for undisclosed reasons, flamed out, apparently because of the poor quality and reliability of its test vehicles. Short seller Fuzzy Panda last week heaped numerous quality and driver concern allegations on Workhorse in an attempt to drive its stock price lower.
Workhorse, which has not acknowledged the SEC probe, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington alleging that the Postal Service discriminated against it in the selection process. Workhorse wants the claims court to grant a permanent injunction, overturning the award to Oshkosh and reopening the bidding process.
Gotta have charging
The presence of Oshkosh, primarily a defense contractor that builds fortified vehicles for the armed services, including the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle, stood out on a last-mile panel discussion at the ACT Expo.
Pfeifer spoke to the biggest concerns surrounding electric vehicles — the availability of sufficient charging to keep the vehicles on the road.
“It’s really going to be gated by the ability to put the charging infrastructure in place to support 165,000 vehicles,” Pfeifer said. “[The Postal Service] will accelerate adoption of electric vehicles in accordance with their ability to charge them.
“I think we can be there. But we’ve got to build that confidence in the people that are buying these fleets because that will accelerate the adoption.”
Looked at ‘every little thing’
In reinforcing Oshkosh’s win over Workhorse, Pfeifer said the mail truck Oshkosh will build in Spartanburg, South Carolina, beginning in the summer of 2023 “is designed to “deliver huge productivity and safety benefits to the postal carrier.”
“We looked at every little thing that a postal carrier does and we designed it for the height of the vehicle,” he said. “The way the doors open and close were built for a specific reason, [as was] the technology on the vehicle in terms of auto stop, auto braking and surround cameras.”