Nissan Lithium Forklift. Source: Nissan

Material Handling Vehicles Boost Electric Market

Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota use their electric vehicle purchasing power and experience in more than cars.

By a big margin, Toyota is No. 1 in hybrid car sales and indeed in sales of electric vehicles overall thanks to such things as sales of its electric forklifts, where it is in the top three in most countries. For example, it is No. 2 in material handling vehicles in the United Kingdom. Indeed, Toyota’s position in electric material handling vehicles may have been strengthened even further by the fact that world No. 1 Linde sold its materials handling business, rebranded as KION Group to financiers KKR and Goldman_Sachs for €4bn, not to an engineering company optimizing long-term success with synergies.

Companies such as Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota cross-fertilize EV component purchasing power and experience between their material handling, car, and other electric vehicle-making activities such as buses. Some of the first moves to ac motors were in forklifts, and lithium-ion batteries have appeared in some Nissan forklifts since 2008. Hyundai has a large hybrid outdoor forklift, and Jungheinrich field tested an innovative electric counterbalanced forklift in 2010 for launch this year. This type EFG 216k truck is equipped with a lithium-ion traction battery. Toyota is also introducing lithium-ion here, not just working to replace NiMH in hybrid cars and for use lithium-ion traction batteries in pure electric cars.

The material handling aspect is no sideshow. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Japan’s largest diversified machinery manufacturer, completed construction of a traction battery plant inside its Nagasaki Shipyard and Machinery Works in November 2010. Capacity at the plant, which will produce lithium-ion batteries for forklifts, is 400,000 units yearly.

The Toyota Prius still drives almost all of its hybrid car sales, being made in three continents. Its Auris now has a hybrid option, global production being in the United Kingdom, and electric versions of all its car models are being rapidly introduced. Toyota is not very keen on pure electric cars at present levels of battery performance, so hybrid versions of most Toyota car models will be made available.

To chase Toyota from a position a long way behind, many car companies have formed alliances. Now the BMW cooperation with PSA Peugeot Citroen is being solidified into a 50:50 joint venture, functioning in the second quarter, to share the formidable cost of developing hybrid powertrains and seek early volume.

Before that, Daimler AG (playing catch up in EVs by buying 10 percent of Tesla and developing electric Smart and Mercedes models) struck a partnership with Renault Nissan to develop small cars, notably pure electric ones. Renault Nissan also partners with Mitsubishi on this. Mitsubishi promises electric versions of all new car models. Like Nissan and Fiat, it seems to prefer the pure electric small car route.

Third-generation traction batteries such as lithium sulphur are being successfully used today but in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Manned aircraft already incorporate the benefits of very thin, wide-area traction batteries. Others will follow.

Indeed, look for the new, very flexible copper indium gallium diselenide CIGS solar cells all over solar boats for up to 150 people such as those made by Kopf Solarschiff GmbH near Stuttgart. More area can be covered and electric land and air vehicles will follow later in adopting this, starting with the new orders for solar dirigibles. The new flexible photovoltaics typically are printed reel to reel. By contrast, traction batteries pushing the limits of energy storage up to 400 kWh or more are first seen in electric tugboats and electric Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.

In an excellent example of the new cross fertilization of ideas between many very different types of electric vehicle, DLR, a German research organization, is developing electric nose wheels for taxiing using its own Airbus A320 airliner and its state-of-the-art permanent magnet synchronous brushless “dc electronically commutated” motor. But it also is developing fuel cell-powered material handling vehicles and cars and a simplified flat internal combustion engine for next generation hybrids in its Institute of Vehicle Concepts division near Stuttgart. Winners see the big picture.

An “Electric Vehicles Land Sea Air” event will be held in Stuttgart on June 28-29. Everything from electric planes, solar boats, material handling vehicles, cars, and delivery vans will be involved. For more information, visit

About the Author

Peter Harrop, Ph.D., is chair of IDTechEx Ltd., a research, analysis, and events firm based in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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