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The postal service wants to change over its fleet by 2018.

The classic white boxy U.S. Postal Service truck that's been roaming American streets for decades just received a Dear John letter. The agency has issued a Request for Information for a "Next Generation Delivery Vehicle" it hopes will replace the existing fleet by 2018. Here's Automotive News, which spotted the RFI documents online:

The agency has scheduled a meeting with potential bidders next week in Washington. It says it will pick vendors this summer to build prototypes, which will undergo tests in 2016 before a contract is awarded in early 2017.

It could be one of the largest fleet purchases ever. According to specifications released to potential bidders Jan. 20, the Postal Service would buy 180,000 vehicles at $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, valuing the contract at $4.5 billion to $6.3 billion.

The USPS began purchasing its current fleet of rectangles-on-wheels in 1987—then for $11,651 a pop, according to a 2014 inspector general report. The new information request reveals that the service bought about 163,000 from that time through 2001. In recent years these so-called Long Life Vehicles have become a maintenance burden the cash-strapped agency can no longer bear.

USPS

The USPS wants to expand the payload capacity of its trucks to a minimum of 1,500 pounds, which looks like a nod to its increased emphasis on package delivery. Automotive News suggests the specified needs could be met by European-style vans that have "proliferated in the U.S. over the past decade." As we've written before, this class of slimmer vans, with its ability to take tighter turns, also has the potential to help city planners design safer streets.

The request documents reveal a number of design flaws in the current fleet that the USPS hopes to address in the next one. The preferred upgrades include:

  • Durable door design—i.e. locks and latches that can "withstand the rigors of the postal duty cycle."
  • Stronger wipers—the fleet's existing windshield wipers evidently experience "fatigue" from all the rain or sleet or even snow that don't keep post-people from getting where they need to go.
  • Crevice elimination—apparently the current trucks have lots of "difficult to access" cracks where letters can accidentally slip and get lost in the mail.
  • Heavy-duty mats—all that stepping in and stepping out takes its toll.
  • Better climate control—Keeping the semi-exposed delivery person comfortable in every season requires a ventilation system that delivers heat or air "in the right quantities to the right body locations."

And let's not forget a good cup holder. Supplementary material supplies the specs here:

The vehicle shall be equipped with a standard adjustable cup holder. The cup holder shall be within reach of the 5th percentile female and the 95th percentile male in the normal seated operating position. All exposed edges shall be rolled or provided with a radius of curvature to prevent injury.

Which raises the question: In what sense was Newman a 95th-percentile male?

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story used an image of a USPS mail truck that was not the LLV type being replaced.

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