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Let’s tap the regenerative brakes on trucking’s zero-emission path

May 17, 2023
Too many in trucking are too sure of what power technology will lead the industry toward decarbonization. At this point, there is no single solution for every duty cycle. Now is the time for fleets to consider various future options.

I have not processed all that I saw and heard at the recent Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Anaheim, California. The show was jam-packed with lots of great conversations.

One thing I really admire about the people I spoke with is their passion. People were very excited to talk about trucking’s zero-emission future and how they saw it.

Don't get me wrong—I think their passion is good. You have to have confidence in the technology solution you are working on. However, passion can sometimes lead to blinders being put on and preventing other options from being seen. 

See also: Eight fleets will help all of us learn more about larger EV deployments

It seems to me that there are too many people in the trucking industry who are too sure of how the move to zero-emission freight movement will unfold. They each see a single path that will get us from where we are today to where we need to be in the future. And some even talk about it without addressing the obstacles that must be overcome to get there.

But the reality is that no one solution will work for every duty cycle. Each option makes sense in some circumstances but not others. What works in one application could be a disaster in another. I am concerned that the folks who are touting their solution as THE right choice are doing fleets a disservice and may even do more harm than good.

If a fleet—especially a small or midsized fleet—selects the wrong powertrain option now, it could make them unwilling to try to move to a different zero-emission solution in the future.

For manufacturers, I know that I have urged you to be mindful of this and even to walk away from business that is not a good fit for their technology at this point. I want to reaffirm that caution, and I want to encourage the folks who are passionate about their technology solution to open their minds to other options that might also make sense for a given fleet.

I know that NACFE coined the phrase “The Messy Middle,” and we stand by it despite what might be perceived as bias. Despite all the passion, the road to zero-emission freight movement needs various solutions. It requires cooperation among a host of key players because there are obstacles that need to be overcome. We would be naïve if we said otherwise. So, let’s make sure we are looking at all of the options before moving forward. 

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.

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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