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With around 260,000 vehicles at its disposal, the United States Postal Service operates the biggest civilian fleet in the country. Unfortunately, most of those vehicles get terrible gas mileage: the Grumman postal van only earns around 10mpg, and the 17% of USPS trucks that run on E85 don't fare any better. With stats like that, it's reasonable to assume that that fuel expense was a major factor in the USPS's $3.8 billion budget shortfall in 2009.
However, Congress may be en route to the rescue with a new bill authored by Representative Jose E. Serrano (D-NY). In December, Serrano introduced HR 4399, The American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act, and if passed, it will "begin a process of testing and deploying 20,000 electric-drive delivery vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service". More specifically, the bill "will allocate up to $2 billion for a two-phase, multi-track testing and manufacturing program, administered by DOE, for the design, deployment, and assessment of Electric Drive Vehicles (EVs), and related power grid infrastructure, moving EVs from design to manufacturing to daily use".
We're of two minds about this. On the one hand, many TCC staffers like the DOE program that has provided low-interest loans to Ford, Nissan, Tesla, and Fisker to encourage the development of fuel-efficient vehicles. Not only does that seem like a good investment in both the technology and manufacturing sectors, but also the federal government's money will eventually be repaid. In fostering the deployment of EVs, HR 4399 provides some of the same benefits.
On the other hand, HR 4399 isn't a loan. It's essentially seed money for a pilot program in EV testing and manufacturing, which seems like major duplication of effort, given the number of automakers and tuners that create and convert EVs these days -- you know, like Ford did for the USPS a decade ago and like Smith EV does in Europe? Or perhaps like AC Propulsion and AutoPort are doing for the USPS right now?
Furthermore, the 20,000 EVs funded by the program would replace less than 8% of the USPS's total fleet. As such, we doubt it will be able to stanch the river of cash that the USPS is hemorrhaging.
Our experience of the USPS has been pretty spotty over the years, but we understand that it's a very important arm of the federal government. As long as humans create items that defy electronic transmission (e.g. handmade birthday cards, holiday gifts, hams-of-the-month), we'll continue to need the USPS, and the agency's use of EVs is important to its bottom line -- and to the environment. We have a sneaking suspicion, though, that there are easier ways to economize than the one proposed by Representative Serrano.