The ubiquitous postal Jeep, a rugged American icon for nearly 30 years, is slowly disappearing, to be replaced by another, tamer icon, the minivan.
The Postal Service is taking delivery this summer of 9,000 Ford Windstars, to replace a roughly equal number of Jeeps. As with the passing of drive-in movies and waitresses on roller skates, the fading of the Jeep and the switch to vans is another sign of broader changes in American society and the workplace.
In an era when mail-order catalogs like Land’s End and Victoria’s Secret seem to breed out of control, the new vans have the large cargo area needed to haul dozens of plastic trays brimming with junk mail.
In an age when personal safety is becoming an obsession for an aging public, the vans will have air bags, among the first for the Postal Service, as well as regulation seat belts. And at a time when 55 percent of the letter carriers are women, the vans will offer a cargo area closer to the ground.
The vans are virtually identical to the 209,000 Windstars that Ford Motor Co. sold to families and corporate fleets last year. But the postal vans, which cost $17,000 each, have a few modifications. They have only the two front seats, with no seats in the second and third rows. Steel grilles cover all windows around the mail, while a steel-grille bulkhead separates the front seats from the cargo.
“Somebody can’t take a baseball bat and break in and steal the mail,” said Robert J. Williams, government sales manager for Ford.
The Postal Service is using the Windstars to replace one-third of its 30,000 Jeeps. The rest of the Jeeps will be replaced over five years, said W. Wayne Corey, acting vehicle maintenance manager.
All of the new vans have steering wheels on the left side, as on most American vehicles. They will be used to serve apartment buildings and so-called loop routes, for which a carrier parks a van, hauls out a bag of mail and walks a loop around a block or two delivering letters.
The Postal Service will continue using Jeeps, which have right-side steering wheels, on routes with street-side mailboxes.