This Cute Box on Wheels Is an Ultra-Rare Electric Postal Van From the Gas Crunch12/07/2019
If you’re trying to cut oil dependency by replacing internal combustion government vehicles with EVs, the United States Postal Service is a good place to start. Boxy little postal vans don’t generally cover a ton of mileage. They spend a lot of time idling, have all night to recharge, and they’ve typically been powered by relatively thirsty engines built for durability over efficiency. It’s so obvious, in fact, that Grumman tried it 40 years ago.
Back in the early 1980s, the United States had just suffered a serious energy crisis. Runaway price inflation, lines at gas stations, and serious energy issues became a part of American life. The embargo didn’t last long, but for the first time ever, fuel economy became one of the most important considerations among new car buyers. And for the first time in decades, the government thought seriously about electrification.
That’s how the adorable 1981 Grumman Olson Kurbwatt Electric Postal Van came to be. A pilot vehicle built to test the concept of an electric postal van, Kurbwatt prototypes were sent to post offices in Evansville, Indiana and Cupertino, California. Just over 40 of the things were put into service, while another 10 or so were sold to private buyers and companies doing research on electric vehicles.
The Kurbwatt weighed in at just 2650 pounds, hit 30 mph in a blistering 14 seconds, and could rage on to an eye-watering 55 mph according to JingleTruck. Range was limited to 40 miles, not particularly impressive but adequate for urban and suburban postal duty. The prototypes stayed in service for a decade, accumulating half a million miles between them. It seemed to be a success, but high battery prices and the end of the energy crisis killed the Kurbwatt before it ever really lived.
Now, one surviving example is for sale in Ohio. It’s good news that Grumman built these vans to have their batteries quickly swapped, as this particular example needs a new pack. It’s not a perfect example, but it’s a $6950 piece of USPS history.
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