WASHINGTON — When the U.S. Postal Service put out a request a few years back for bids to overhaul their aging fleet of vehicles, it was seen as a chance to think big through Congressman Tim Ryan.
“This is an opportunity to transform the postal fleet, to transform the American auto industry to leapfrog other countries with our commitment to electric vehicles and batteries and charging stations,” Ryan said. “I mean this is a huge opportunity that would be missed if we just go back and say we want to do the old school kind of truck.”
But that’s what he says they did in their decision to bypass the all-electric Ohio-built model pitched by the Workhorse Group and going instead with one from a Wisconsin company Oshkosh Defense.
“I mean it didn’t make any sense,” Ryan said. “That’s why a lot of us thought that Workhorse was in a really good position because out of the top three they were the ones who were really going to go all-in on the electric vehicle.”
Workhorse was thrust into the spotlight on May 8, 2019, when then-President Donald Trump tweeted that Workhorse would be buying the former Lordstown GM Assembly plant, which had closed two years ago this week when the last Chevy Cruze rolled off the line March 6. It was a tweet that prompted Governor Mike DeWine that day to immediately pump the brakes.
"This is probably not the day yet to celebrate,” DeWine said at a news conference that day. "For this really to work it's going to take the contract with the United States Post Office."
Workhorse and its founder Steve Burns would splinter off to form Lordstown Motors which has begun production of the all-electric pickup Endurance at the plant. Workhorse maintains an ownership stake in Lordstown which would have produced the vehicles.
In a statement, the company told News 5 “Lordstown Motors’ business plan was never reliant on Workhorse receiving the USPS contract; if they were awarded it, we would’ve loved to have been a part of the production team, but our focus has always been and will always be to build the most cost-effective, safest, zero-emission work vehicles ever made – starting with the over 100,000 Endurances that have been preordered.”
Still, when the Postal Service passed on Workhorse in favor of a Wisconsin Company it raised the concerns of lawmakers who called on the Biden Administration to step in.
"The company in Osh Kosh Wisconsin is not going to build electric vehicles,” said Senator Sherrod Brown. “They're going to build traditional gas-guzzling vehicles."
That he argues flies in the face of the original electric intent for the fleet and in the face of the Biden Administration's Executive order on climate change which called for the electric transformation of the entire federal fleet. Brown says they want a deeper look into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's role in the decision.
"We don't know if it's a big Trump contributor in Wisconsin but we do know that the Youngstown area was left out and we have a company there that can absolutely do this and I will fight for them,” Brown said. The Biden Administration recently named three members to the Postal Service board that if confirmed would give them the votes Brown said to oust DeJoy.
Workhorse executives were to meet with postal service officials on Wednesday to discuss their decision.