Can Electricity Help Deliver the Mail?

Can Electricity Help Deliver the Mail?

From our friends at, a timely look at the Postal Services search for a new delivery vehicle

Pushing the Envelope: The USPS Long Life Vehicle


Pushing the Envelope: The USPS Long Life Vehicle

That boxy little mail truck in your neighborhood actually has a name. It’s called the LLV, which stands for “Long Life Vehicle” and it, along with 142,000 other LLVs, are responsible for moving most of the 523 million pieces of mail every day. But their long life is coming to an end as the USPS is going deeper into debt. With over $40 billion dollars in unsecured liabilities, the USPS is struggling to prioritize the replacement of its aging fleet. We unpacked everything you need to know about the LLV and its potential replacement.



In 1985, the USPS challenged Grumman and General Motors, Poveco, and American Motors to build a mail truck that would become the perfect mail carrier. The USPS compared each company’s prototype against a set of grueling tests.

  • Drive 5,760 miles on a closed loop 5-mile-long paved road at 50 to 55 mph.
  • Drive 11,520 miles over a gravel road at 30 to 45 mph.
  • Drive 2,880 miles over a road with a shoulder, stopping every 250 feet and accelerating to 15 mph in between.
  • Drive 960 miles over cobblestones that ranged from 3 to 4 inches high at 10 to 14 mph.
  • Drive 960 miles over potholes at 10 to 14 mph.
  • Haul a 1 -ton pound load during one half of the road test.
  • Haul a man and a 400 pound load during one half of the road test.
  • Drive over potholes ensuring that each wheel hits a pothole 35,000 times.
  • Make one hundred consecutive stops from 15 mph.

Grumman and General Motors won the challenge with the “Long Life Vehicle“.

The USPS first purchased 99,150 LLVs for $11,651 each (that’s $25,126 in 2013 dollars).

  • Manufactured by Grumman from 1987-1994 in Montgomery, PA
  • Vehicle Weight: 3000 lb
  • Cargo capacity Weight: 1000 lb
  • Cargo capacity Volume: 121 cubic feet
  • MPG: 9
  • Body: Corrosion-resistant aluminum
    • Length 14 ft 7.5 in
    • Width 6 ft 3 in
    • Height 7 ft 1 in
  • Chassis: GM S-10
    • Frame: AM General
    • Engine: 98 hp 4-cylinder GM Pontiac 2.5L Fuel Injection “Iron Duke”
    • Transmission: 3 speed GM Turbo-Hydramatic 180 automatic transmission
    • Rear Wheel Drive

LLVs make up 74% of the entire USPS vehicle fleet

  • 212,000 vehicles total
    • 192,000 vehicles for delivering mail – 3% are held in a maintenance reserve
      • 142,000 are LLVs (74%)
      • 22,000 are FFVs (11%): Flex-Fuel Vehicle – similar to the LLV but with the ability to use E85
      • 21,000 are minivans (11%)
      • 7,000 are other (4%)

LLVs travel 60% of the entire fleet’s miles

  • Distance traveled yearly by the entire USPS fleet: 1.28 billion miles
  • Distance traveled yearly by all LLVs: 765 million mi
  • per LLV yearly: 5,388 mi
  • Distance traveled daily by all LLVs: 2.6 million mi
  • per LLV daily: 18 mi

LLVs use 57% of the entire fleet’s gas

  • Gas used yearly by the entire USPS fleet: 149 million gallons
  • Gas used yearly by allLLVs: 85 million gallons
    • per LLV yearly: 599 gallons
  • Gas used daily by allLLVs: 284,000 gallons
    • per LLV daily: 2 gallons

Most LLVs hang out in the city

  • Percent of the USPS fleet used for each type of route:
    • Rural: 17%
    • City: 83%
      • Park & walk: 42% (or 50% of city)
      • Curbside: 26% (or 32% of city)
      • Dismount: 7% (or 9% of city)
      • Express: 8% (or 9% of city)

LLVs stop and go… a lot

  • Average Curbside Delivery Route:
    • Number of stops: 500
    • Distance: 20.8 miles
    • Speed: 13.6 mph
    • Route time: 6hrs
      • Time spent driving: 1 hr 30 min (25% of the time)
        • Average drive between stops: 11 sec
      • Time spent stopped: 3 hrs 50 min (64% of the time)
        • Average stop between drives: 27 sec
      • Time on break: 40 min (11% of the time)
    • Pre/Post route drive time: 30 min


Considering the amount of wear and tear these trucks endure, the LLV really is an amazing testament to the durability of American engineering. However, unlike Forever Stamps…


It was originally designed to last 24 years, but in 2009, the USPS implemented a preventative repair program to extend their life from 24 years to 30 years.

  • 1987: 6,818 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2011 to 2017
    • Age in 2015: 28 years old
  • 1988: 17,060 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2012 to 2018
    • Age in 2015: 27 years old
  • 1989: 17,232 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2013 to 2019
    • Age in 2015: 26 years old
  • 1990: 17,222 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2014 to 2020
    • Age in 2015: 25 years old
  • 1991: 17,716 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2015 to 2021
    • Age in 2015: 24 years old
  • 1992: 17,785 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2016 to 2022
    • Age in 2015: 23 years old
  • 1993: 18,121 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2017 to 2023
    • Age in 2015: 22 years old
  • 1994: 16,889 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2018 to 2024
    • Age in 2015: 21 years old
  • 2000: 8,170 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2024 to 2030
    • Age in 2015: 15 years old
  • 2001: 9,553 purchased
    • Lifespan extended from 2025 to 2031
    • Age in 2015: 14 years old


The current USPS repair strategy is to “Fix-as-Fail” – but with an aging fleet, repair cost are on the rise.

  • In 2008, it cost $1,886 per vehicle to repair.
  • In 2009, it cost $2,471 per vehicle to repair.
  • In 2010, it cost $2,600 per vehicle to repair.
    • 37% of maintenance cost was unscheduled – the USPS only accounts for 20% to be unscheduled.
  • In 2013, it cost $3,188 per vehicle to repair.
    • 24% of maintenance cost was for 9% of the fleet that required more than $6,000 in repairs.

Auditors have advised the USPS to replace LLVs that cost more than $3,500 to repair.


Old LLVs lack safety technology that is now standard.

  • Front airbags
  • Back-up cameras
  • Intermittent wipers
  • Blind-spot warning systems
  • Daytime running lights
  • Seatbelt reminders
  • Anti-lock brake systems (ABS)


The USPS must comply with the alternate fuel requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

  • 75% of lightweight federal vehiclesmust be able to use alternate fuel sources.
    • EPACT92 started going into effect in 1996, 2 years after Grumman stopped producing the LLV.
    • EPACT92 gave until 2006 to comply.
  • Only 22% of the USPS fleethas the ability to use alternative fuel.
    • E85 21.2%
      • Only 9.7% of the entire fleet actually use E85 fuel because it costs 23% more to operate a vehicle on E85 – That’s $1.23 of E85 to travel the same distance that $1.00 of gas will.
      • Only 2% of the fleet’s gas is alternative fuel (2.3 million out of 149 million gallons of gas equivalent).
    • Other (CNG, Propane, Hydrogen, EV, Hybrid): 0.8%


The USPS is an independent establishment of the federal government and is expected to pay for its operation from the revenue it generates, but things aren’t going so well.

  • They can’t raise rates because the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 caps their rates based on inflation.
  • Mail volume has declined 20% from 2007-2011.
  • They’ve already maxed out their $15 billion borrowing limit from the US Treasury.
  • According to their 2014 financial report, the USPS is in a “Deep Financial Hole” with 35cents of assets to cover every dollar of liabilities.
    • $21.6 billion in assets
      • $2.3 billion in unrestricted cash
      • $1.8 billion in other assets
      • $17.5 billion in buildings and equipment
    • $61 billion in liabilities
      • $16.8 billion in retiree health benefits
      • $17.2 billion in workers’ compensation
      • $15 billion in debt – the statutory limit
      • $3.5 billion in compensation, benefits, and leave
      • $3.6 billion in deferred revenue (Forever Stamp usage)
      • $5.4 billion in other liabilities
  • In 2013, they had a net income loss of $5 billion dollars.
    • $66 billion in revenue
      • $28.1 billion in First-Class Mail
      • $16.9 billion in Standard Mail
      • $12.5 billion in Shipping and Packages
      • $3 billion in International
      • $1.7 billion in Periodicals
      • $3.8 billion in other revenues
    • $71 billion in expenses
      • $50.3 billion in Compensation and Benefits
      • $6.7 billion in Transportation
      • $1.9 billion in Depreciation
      • $1.1 billion in Supplies & Services
      • $1.6 billion in Rent & Utilities
      • $3.5 billion in Vehicle/Maintenance, Interest & Other
      • $0.3 billion in Separation Costs
      • $5.6 billion in RHB Pre-funding


  • In 2005, they began to weigh the options.
    • It would cost $4 billion to replace the LLVs (or 28,571/LLV).
    • Refurbishing theLLVs would cost $2.8 billion (or 20,000/LLV).
      • This would delay purchasing new vehicles until 2020.
    • They decided to continue with the fix-as-fail plan.
  • In 2009, they bought more time.
    • It would cost $4.3 billion to replace the LLVs (or $30,000/LLV).
    • They decided to spend $524 million to repair the LLVs to last until 2017.
  • In 2011, they started filling gaps in the fleet.
    • It would cost $4.4 billion to replace the LLVs (or $31,000/LLV).
    • They decided to spend $500 million for 25,000 minivans (or $20,000/minivan) to replace the dying LLVs.
  • In 2011, they explored re-powering.
  • They replaced the engine, transmission, rear axle, and exhaust system on several LLVs.
  • In 2012, they tested re-powering.
  • The repowered gasoline and diesel LLVs were deployed for testing in VA.
  • In January 2014, they began filling more gaps in the fleet.
    • They bought another 3,509 minivans to replace more dying LLVs.
  • In September 2014, they began preparations for supplementing the next generation LLV.
    • They will use existing LLV bodies on new rolling chassis (everything but the body).
    • They will keep the body for its…
      • roll up rear door
      • sliding side doors
      • correct ride height for curbside deliveries
    • They will scrap the old chassis because of its…
      • low miles per gallon
      • poor resistance to corrosion
      • outdated engine diagnostics
      • high maintenance
    • The new rolling chassis solution will need to have a 20+ year life.
    • This LLV mash-up will help supplement the next generation of delivery vehicles.


Replacing all LLVs could take up to 10 years, and the oldest LLVs will start dying in 2017.

By choosing to repair the LLVs instead of replacing them, USPS will have $342 million in extra cost by 2017.



USPS has been toying with Electric Vehicles (EV) for a long time:

  • 1899: EV used as alternative to horse – cut route time in half (from 3 hrs for 40 pickups to 1 1/2 hours)
  • 1903: EV used in St. Louis, MO
  • 1914: EV used in Long Island City, NY
  • 1959: EV used in Miami, FL
  • 1960-63: 77 EVs tested
  • 1970-80: 620 EVs tested
  • 1995: The USPS tested 6EVs for 8 months and found them to cost just $.03 more per mile than gasLLVs.
    • The EVs cost just 38 cents/mi compared to 35 cents/mi for gas in 1995.
  • 1996: The USPS teamed with GM to convert several LLVs to electric, but GM ceased all electric vehicle endeavors in 1998.
  • 2001: 500 Ford EVs were tested. They passed all USPS requirements except for the 50 mile range (it only went 42). – Ford recalled the EVs and replaced them with gas powered minivans.
  • 2010: The USPS offered $50,000 to five firms to develop EV prototypes by stripping the LLVs engine and transmission to retrofit it with an electric drive system. The EVs began testing in the Washington DC area in 2011.
  • 2011: 10 Navistar eStar two-ton EV step vans were deployed for testing in CA, NY, and VA: they can go 100 miles on a charge and recharge in 6-8 hours.

Today, most EVs can drive anywhere from 40-100 miles per charge.

96% of all LLVs drive under 40 miles/day making it the perfect candidate for going electric.

  • 1% drive <5 mi/day
  • 15% drive 5-9 mi/day
  • 28% drive 10-14 mi/day
  • 25% drive 15-19 mi/day
  • 15% drive 20-24 mi/day
  • 7% drive 25-29 mi/day
  • 3% drive 30-34 mi/day
  • 2% drive 35-39 mi/day
  • <—————————-minimum EV range
  • 1% drive 40-44 mi/day
  • 1% drive 45-50 mi/day
  • 2% drive >50 mi/day


  • Energy recapturing: With an average of 500 stops every day, regenerative breaking could be used to recapture energy.
  • Cheap to charge: LLVs drive during on-peak hours and park during off-peak hours.
  • Lower maintenance cost: EV battery replacement would cost just $6,367 every 5 years compared to $15,940 for 5 years of LLV maintenance.
  • Lower operating cost: It cost $.05/mi to operate an EV compared to $.33/mile to operate an LLV.
  • If gasoline prices are in the $3-$4 a gallon range, one EV could save the USPS $1,500 per year – that’s $213 million per year.
  • Generate Revenue:
    • By reducing emission with EVs, the USPS could sell its excess allowances.
    • When plugged into the “Vehicle-to-Grid” system, the USPS could buy and sell its energy for a profit – the EV battery would become grid regulators/stabilizers.
    • One EV could generate $2,308 every year just by being plugged into the grid overnight – that’s $328 million per year.


Initial cost of an EV would be around $40,000.

Studies show that an electric LLV could pay for itself in…

  • 10 years without Vehicle-to-Grid revenue or government purchasing funds – 1% return rate.
  • 5.6 years with Vehicle-to-Grid revenue but without government purchasing funds – 15.3% return rate.
  • 5.5 years without Vehicle-to-Grid revenue but with government purchasing funds – 19.9% return rate.
  • <2 years with Vehicle-to-Grid revenue and government purchasing funds – 63.2% return rate.


“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” – Inscription on the James Farley Post Office, New York City, NY




USPS Seeks Supplier For Replacement Of Delivery Vehicles (LLV)




USPS may buy 20,000 Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (2/15/10)

Most of the 220,000 U.S. Postal Service vehicles only travel 20 to 25 miles per day making them a good match with the range of an electric vehicle. Hundreds of stops make hybrids and electrics ideal for capturing braking energy and regenerating the batteries.

Instead most USPS vehicles run on gasoline, increasing our nation’s dependency on oil. The popular mid-sized delivery vans achieve about 10 mpg. The 40,000 that sometimes run on E85 ethanol do worse. The Postal Service generates over 5 million tons of CO2 per year, only 12 percent of that is from its 220,000 on-road vehicles.

A Winton electric automobile was first used by the Postal Service in 1899. It only took an hour-and-a-half to collect mail from 40 boxes, less than half the time it took the horse-powered wagon. Over the years, USPS has used a variety of hybrid and electric vehicles.

No one type of vehicle meets all delivery needs. Jets and long-haul trucks move mail across the nation and around the world. Many delivery routes demand larger delivery vans. Others are best served by smaller and lighter vehicles.

Mail is being delivered on a trial basis by three-wheel electric vehicles in Florida, California and Arizona. The T3 has a range of 40 miles, a maximum speed of 12 mph and a load capacity of 450 pounds. Powered by two rechargeable power modules, the T3 has zero gas emissions and costs 4 cents a mile to operate.

The Postal Service is testing a fourth generation fuel-cell Chevrolet Equinox. The crossover vehicle has an electric drive system, lithium batteries, and a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle to keep delivering electrons for extended range. When I visit my alma mater in Irvine, I see the Equinox used to deliver mail. The Irvine hydrogen station is used by the University, corporations, the USMC, and early personal drivers of the Honda FCX Clarity. A second fuel-cell vehicle is being tested in Washington, DC.

In New York City, the Postal Service has had 30 electric 2-ton vehicles on the street since 2001. They were recently joined in Long Island, NY, by two 2-ton hybrid electric vehicles.

The USPS uses medium-duty hybrid electric vans from Eaton Corporation (ETN) and Azure Dynamics (AZD.TO). They join the 10 existing Hybrid-Electric Ford Escape vehicles currently in the fleet.

USPS had ordered 185 Chrysler plug-in hybrid vans, but new Chrysler executives have cancelled the ENVI electric and plug-in vehicles. The electric vehicle manufacturing was cancelled even though that was part of Chrysler’s argument that it needed $20 billion of loans from the taxpayers.

Quantum (QTWW) announced on February 1 that it was selected by the US Postal Service (USPS) to produce an advanced electric postal delivery vehicle based on the widely used Long Life Vehicle (LLV) platform. Quantum is also making the hybrid-electric drive system for Fisker.

Quantum was competitively selected, along with 4 other companies, for participation in a 1 year demonstration and validation program to be conducted by the USPS for the use of electrification of the 178,000 LLV segment of the postal delivery fleet, the largest civilian fleet in the country.

The short range mail routes with numerous stops make postal delivery vehicles an ideal application for a battery electric vehicle with regenerative braking features. Under this program, Quantum will integrate its Quantum Quiet™ high efficiency battery electric drive system, into a Grumman LLV, and optimize for the 500 to 700 stops per day use of a postal delivery vehicle. UQM has received from Quantum an electric-motor and propulsion system order for the USPS electric drive system.

A bill is now being debated in Congress, HR 4399: American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act, that would enable the USPS to have 18,000 hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles as part of its fleet, plus at least 2,000 pure battery electric vehicles. The bill would reduce the need for dirty peaking power plants by accelerating the use of smart grid and vehicle-to-grid. The bill calls for 3,600 charging stations. The bill priorities buying of American made vehicles with American made advanced batteries. Recycling and reuse of the batteries is part of the proposed legislation. The bill calls for $2 billion of estimated spending, investment, and research.

The USPS has demonstrated zero-emission leadership for over 100 years. In sun and darkness, rain and snow, carriers walk billions of miles delivering mail and packages.