Motive power, just like about everything else in materials handling, is rapidly evolving. Lead-acid batteries, long the dominant battery type for electric lift trucks, are expected to cede share to lithium power by 2030, even though for many one-shift operations today, a lead-acid choice can still be a good one.
Just how rapidly lithium batteries are taking hold in the lift truck market is something research firm Interact Analysis has studied closely, looking at data through multiple angles, including forklift classes, countries and regions. The firm’s latest analysis finds that by 2030, 45% of the total forklift market, including combustion engines, will be powered by lithium batteries. Among all electric lift trucks, that share will be about 70%, says Maya Xiao, the senior analyst with Interact heading up the research.
“There are two overall directions the research shows,” says Xiao. “One is that electric power is replacing internal combustion as a power source; and two is that within electric units, there’s an increasing trend from lead-acid batteries toward lithium batteries.”
The OEMs that make smaller electric units, such as walkie pallet jacks, will offer nearly all lithium-ion powered products by the end of the decade. OEMs producing units weighing less than 250 kilograms already are focused on lithium power, explains Xiao, and by 2030, those offerings are expected to be nearly 100% lithium-powered.
“It’s very easy for one order of these smaller forklifts to number into the hundreds at a larger logistics services or e-commerce company,” Xiao says. “Companies will ‘rinse and repeat’ with large orders as they replace older equipment, other companies will see the success, and that will help drive the market.”
Xiao expects a shift toward lithium in Class 2 trucks, which covers narrow aisle equipment, moving toward automated narrow aisle systems with lithium power. When investing in these solutions, the battery price tag is not a huge factor because they’re focused on other aspects like uptime, throughput and productivity, Xiao points out.
The main areas of appeal for lithium lift truck batteries include low maintenance, high energy density, and fast opportunity charging during breaks, which when done properly, allows lithium-powered units run without battery swaps. However, lithium has faced some recent bumps, including ongoing supply chain delays this year, and rising costs for materials, since lithium batteries are in high demand in other vehicle segments.
Interact Analysislowered its lithium growth prediction for the lift truck market recently due to ongoing supply chain and cost concerns, says Xiao. Such concerns have generally led to longer lead times for lift truck buyers, adds Xiao, which in some cases means companies go with what is available, rather than waiting for an electric truck with the ideal motive power characteristics for the application.
“Some electric forklift buyers—they can’t wait around for like eight months or even as long as 12 months to get the lift truck equipment they need for a project, so they end up going with what’s in stock,” Xiao says. “But longer term, as lead times return to be more normal, the outlook for lithium powered forklifts is quite positive.”