The Messy Middle: A Time For Action

The Messy Middle: A Time For Action

The messy middle is a time between now and when the trucking industry gets to the zero-emission movement of freight. In 2019, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) began using the term and it since caught on and is used by many people involved in the transportation of goods.

NACFE recently explored the myriad powertrain options — advanced diesel, renewable fuels, natural gas, hydrogen, hybrids, battery electric power and hydrogen fuel cells — available to fleets in the messy middle.

The report contains the analysis of benefits and challenges of each option and lays out the factors fleet managers need to consider when deciding which technology or technologies to deploy in their operations.

While the messy middle can be complicated, NACFE does not view messy as bad, but rather sees it as a time where fleets will have to evaluate many options and look beyond just the truck to the infrastructure needed to support that truck. It is critical that fleets have reliable data on which to base their decisions in order to make proper choices.


The primary conclusion of the report is that it is now time for fleets to act and begin to wade into the messy middle in order to get to a zero-emissions future. Waiting is no longer an option.

Other conclusions include:

  • All stakeholders should support fleets in making the right adoption decisions. This includes OEMs, suppliers, utilities, charger manufacturers, regulators, etc.
  • Decisions should include a realistic understanding of your pipeline capabilities. Each stakeholder needs to realistically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and not over promise solutions.
  • An even higher level of collaboration is essential. Fleets cannot traverse the messy middle on their own. They need to engage with utilities, governmental agencies, charging equipment manufacturers, OEMs, and others to leverage all the available knowledge.

Decision Making

NACFE also developed a best practice for decision making to help fleets evaluate their options.

  • Start with battery electric trucks. If they meet your needs and the cost and timing is right, this can be the simplest path forward and a single change for your fleet.
  • If BEVs don’t work, the next consideration might be hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, given another zero-emissions pathway with probably a better solution for long haul. (This assumes that the technology matures, and green hydrogen becomes more available.)
  • Natural gas, hybrids, renewable fuels and hydrogen internal combustion engines are options in the messy middle that fleets might deploy if their strategies to decarbonize cannot be supported in a timely manner by zero-emissions solutions.
  • In some cases, it may make sense to stay with a diesel strategy working to make the equipment and operations as efficient as possible leading to a later decision to move to zero-emission vehicles.