Fleetowner 38196 Winners Losers

Do alternative fuels have to be about winners and losers?

May 8, 2019
It’s as if people think one power source will be the answer for all trucking applications.

Wow, my team and I have been busy the past several weeks. Between the hydrogen truck launch event in Scottsdale, AZ, hosted by Nikola, and ACT Expo we heard a lot about alternative fueled vehicles.

One thing I find very interesting about the conversations surrounding the various options in the alternative fuel arena is that it is talked about in the same language used to describe a sudden death cage match. Terms like winners and losers, victors and vanquished are being tossed around as if they are absolutes. Either you win 100% of the market or you lose. That’s it. There is little to no talk of a middle ground.

Maybe I am naïve to think that when it comes to powering the commercial vehicles of tomorrow it is not an all or nothing equation. However, based on my interactions with fleets in a number of areas, I don't think l I am being naïve about this. The reality is no two fleets operate exactly the same or spec their trucks the same. Duty cycles matter in trucking and what makes perfect sense in a line haul application would be a disaster if used in an urban pick-up and delivery application.

So, I am baffled by what seems like “pick me, pick me, pick me” when it comes to how a vehicle is going to be powered whether that fuel is electric, hydrogen-electric, fuel cells, diesel hybrids or even CNG. It’s as if people think one power source will be the answer for all trucking applications. I sort of understand that because for many years diesel reigned supreme, but even today while diesel has the lion’s share of the market there are some fleets operating CNG or LNG vehicles and even some fleets that have returned to gasoline power in some of their smaller delivery vehicles.

Work we've done over the years in our Annual Fleet Fuel Studies shows that for almost any technology we are looking at a 15-year span from when that technology first hits the market until it sees widespread adoption. I suspect the same will be true it comes to powering the vehicles of the future.

Maybe someday there will be a winner takes all cage match where one fuel will reign supreme. But my money is on fleets determining that certain fuel sources work better in their applications than others. Much like many fleets that run trucks from multiple manufacturers I suspect we’ll see fleets operating trucks powered in a variety of ways based on what makes sense in a given application or duty cycle.

Think I’m wrong? Challenge me to a sudden death cage match. Or better yet, let’s sit down over a coffee or a beer and talk about.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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