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ProMaster perfect for Postal Service

by Bill Cawthon on

The U.S. Postal Service’s Request for Information and Prequalification/Sources Sought – Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) Acquisition Program is definitely not looking for a minivan.

Ram-ProMaster-136-USPS-Web

The RFI, which actually covers a potential 210,000 vehicles, is really a wish list. It calls for a vehicle larger than the current Grumman LLV to handle the growing volume of package deliveries as the Postal Service tries to compete with FedEx and UPS.

While it’s true the specifications in the current RFI aren’t set in stone, it’s also true that six billion dollars can make a lot of wishes come true.

Based on the specifications in the RFI, the Postal Service is interested in something like one of the mid-size, single-rear-wheel UPS package cars.

Another big factor is improved fuel economy. The Grumman LLV is rated at 17 miles per gallon but in actual daily use, all the stops, starts and idling drop that figure to only about 10 miles per gallon.

The average letter carrier’s route is about 15 miles long. Then travel from the post office to the route and back, usually at speeds no greater than 40-45 miles per hour, has to be added.  Multiply that by the tens of thousands of vehicles in operation, most of them six days a week, and it’s easy to see that even a small improvement in fuel economy will mean a significant amount of money saved over the 20-year service life the USPS wants.

In addition, the successful vehicle will be available in two-wheel drive and either all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

While the RFI specs aren’t set in stone, it’s pretty clear the the USPS wants an aluminum, composite or plastic body or some combination of those materials. The weight savings of the desired materials translate directly into money saved at the pump and money made through increased payload.

The Postal Service also wants a body with easily replaceable panels. Body repairs on the Grumman body have proven to be costly. Based on the experiences described in the RFI, an aluminum body with a fiberglass or composite engine cover could be a solution.

The USPS RFI requires the NGDV to have either an alternative fuel or dual-fuel powerplant and it wants the drivetrain to survive 12 years of typical postal use. Proposals must factor in the availability of refueling and/or recharging infrastructure and the cost of any new construction required.

Given a fresh understanding of what the Postal Service wants, it would seem that Ram could propose a van based on the ProMaster 1500 with the four-cylinder diesel and the 136-inch wheelbase. The dimensions work out, except that the truck floor-to-ground height is less than the minimum but FCA could point out that the lowered floor height is actually a benefit, considering the concerns the USPS expressed in the RFI about musculoskeletal injuries .

The one feature lacking on the ProMaster is a tilting steering wheel which is one of the must-haves as letter carriers can run from a small female (5th percentile) to a large male (95th percentile). Other items, such as a rearview camera and LED lighting, are off-the-shelf or off a supplier’s shelf.

Any custom body could incorporate the ProMaster’s three-piece front fascia and its replaceable wheel opening cladding, another item on the wish list.

Actual body component production could be farmed out to a company like Morgan Olson or Utilimaster or it could be done in-house. The ProMaster is built at the Ram van plant in Saltillo, Mexico, so NAFTA sourcing isn’t an issue and frames could be shipped to a U.S. plant for final assembly.

As far as strict U.S. sourcing is concerned, the Postal Service said it “…has not made a determination at this time as to what percentage of the end product will be required to be sourced in the United States.”

Based on anecdotal evidence, the ProMaster diesel already gets better fuel economy than the Grumman LLV and a CNG conversion of the V6 is another option. Hybrids and electrics are limited options due to the cost and the weight, which, especially in the case of a pure-electric vehicle, would take a serious bite out of the payload capacity.

Of course, Ford and General Motors could, and likely would, offer competing solutions: Ford with the Transit and GM with the K2XX platform used for the G-series van. The Transit doesn’t currently have a federalized diesel option but Ford could modify one of its European diesels. General Motors did offer a hybrid for the the previous van platform but it was discontinued after 2013. CNG is an option for Ford and GM, as well.

The Colorado/Canyon platform and the T6 Ranger wouldn’t meet the specs laid out in the RFI because their rear wheel houses aren’t far enough apart.

The chart below lists some of the Postal Service’s desired specs and how the ProMaster 1500 meets them. There aren’t any compliance comparisons for the Performance section because the Postal Service’s requirements could almost be met using sail power. The specs with an “N/A” response are dependent on the body that will be proposed rather than the actual ProMaster body.

USPS NEXT-GENERATION DELIVERY VEHICLE VS. RAM PROMASTER
Specifications USPS NGDV ProMaster 1500* Meets Spec?
Overall Length, Max. (in.) 230 213.1 Yes
Overall Height, Max. (in.) 106 101 Yes
Vehicle Width, Max. (excluding Mirrors) (in.) 85 82.7 Yes
Side Window Still Height, Max. (in.) 44 N/A N/A
Turning Radius, Max. (ft.) 44 40.7 Yes
Rear Door Opening Width, Min. (in.) 48.5 N/A N/A
Rear Door Opening Height, Min. (in.) 72 N/A N/A
Truck Floor to Ground, Min. (in.) 26 21 No
Truck Floor to Ground, Max. (in.) 28 21 No
Interior Ceiling to Floor Height, Min. (in.) 76 76.1 Yes
Width between wheel houses, Min. (in.) 48 56 Yes
Clear Flat Cargo Length, Min. (in.) 108 122.8 Yes
Clear Flat Cargo Width, Min. (in.) 72 73.4 Yes
Cargo Storage Capacity (ft3) 155 406 Yes
Minimum Cargo Payload (lb.) 1,500 3,794 Yes
Performance USPS NGDV
0-15 mph (sec.) 5
0-50 mph (sec.) 22
0-65 mph (sec.) 35
Cruising Speed, Min. (mph) 65
Speed on 20% Grade, loaded to GVW (mph) 45
Maxiumum Grade at GVW (pct.) 20
*Ram ProMaster 1500 with 136″ wheelbase and high roof

The USPS held a supplier meeting last Wednesday. Manufacturer responses are due a week from Friday, on March 6.

Note: If you’re looking for the Ram badging in the picture, it’s not there. The Postal Service does not allow manufacturer markings on the exterior of its carrier route vehicles.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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