Being a dork, I’ve often talked to my mailman about his work truck, the venerable Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV). These aluminium workhorses, based on the Chevy S-10 pickup, are soon to be retired, and while a full (possibly electric) replacement is in the works, some mail fleets have been adding stopgap placeholders already, including Ram Promaster and Mercedes-Benz Metris vans.
In fact, a Metris in Postal Service livery showed up at my house the other day, with an interesting change: The famous Mercedes-Benz tri-pointed star badge in the grille had been swapped out for a post office eagle’s head badge. I liked it, but was curious — why did they do that?
I asked my mailman about the badge. That day he was following a trainee mail carrier driving the new Metris. From his perch in the Grumman LLV, he had an answer for me immediately:
“They decided to take off the Mercedes badge because they were afraid that people would see that and think we were spending too much money.”
The “they” refers to some unnamed higher-up U.S. Postal Service people, and you know, this seems like a plausible answer. In America, we almost exclusively equate Mercedes with luxury, even though the company builds many non-luxury utility-type vehicles, which are more common in the rest of the world.
Plus, the U.S. post office is so often under scrutiny regarding its financials, though as far as I’m concerned, it offers a hell of a deal. I can mail a first-class letter from my house in North Carolina to a friend in Los Angeles for 55 U.S. cents ($0.77). If I asked you to deliver a letter from me to a friend even a mile away for 55 U.S. cents ($0.77), you’d probably slap me. The Post Office is OK in my book.
I wanted to know if this was the real reason the badges were changed. I mean, aesthetically, I think a good argument can be made, as I think the eagle’s head badge looks cooler than the Benz symbol anyway, at least in this context.
I reached out to the Postal Service for comment and got this reply:
“It is common practice to remove manufacturer’s nameplates as part of the upfit process. The Postal Service does not endorse any vehicle manufacturer or advertise on a manufacturer’s behalf. As part of our decal package we chose to use the USPS trademark eagle symbol instead of the vehicle manufacturer’s symbol. All decal markings are installed as part of the vehicle acquisition contract.”
OK, well, that’s not really addressing the motives behind the badge swap, and while they simply could have changed the badges just because they could, some of the reasoning given here doesn’t hold water.
The part about removing the manufacturer’s nameplates, for example, hasn’t always been historically accurate for the post office. Look at this Jeep DJ Dispatcher, the famous Postal Jeep used in the 1970s and 1980s:
That’s an official Postal Service photo from 1970, and as you can clearly see, the manufacturer’s name isn’t exactly hidden here, stamped in huge letters on the rear door.
The current Grumman LLVs were purpose-built for the Postal Service, and as such never had any badging or branding on them. So they don’t really count.
Maybe this is a new rule, though? Maybe more recent Postal vehicles can’t have their manufacturer badging? Well, I’m not so sure that’s true, either, because the Post Office has started using Ram Promaster vans in the past few years, and look at them:
Yep, that’s a ram, not an eagle. I know my animals, but feel free to confirm that independently if you must.
So, based on what I can tell, I’m more inclined to believe the real motivation for the badge swap is just what my mailman told me: The Post Office wants to avoid any reason to get people riled up at them.
Honestly, this is probably a smart move; the badges add an extra USPS-defining visual element to the vans, and I’m pretty sure there would have been some kind of ill-informed backlash if people saw mail carriers tooling around in easily identifiable Mercedes-Benzes. I’m not even mad they didn’t officially admit it to me. I get it.
The same people who didn’t seem to mind that mail carriers were sweating like hams in a tanning beds in their un-air-conditioned LLVs would all have suddenly become appalled, just appalled, that mail carriers were cruising around in the luxurious embrace of a Mercedes.
These are not luxury vans. They’re utility vehicles, well-built but not even remotely opulent, and the Postal Service really has nothing to hide. They’re even assembled in Mercedes’ Charleston, South Carolina, factory, mostly to get around the dreaded Chicken Tax.
But that really doesn’t matter. Even if they didn’t admit it to me, I think they made a good call here. Besides, anyone who knows a bit about cars knows what these are and knows there’s nothing to freak out about.