Electric Forklifts

Lifting More at Lower Costs: Today's Electric Forklifts

May, 2018

Jeffrey W Lehman, PE
Customer Energy Solutions Lead
​American Electric Power

Today, electric forklifts are outselling fossil-fuel-powered forklifts (LPG, diesel or gasoline) 64 percent to 36 percent — with the fastest growth coming from heavy-duty, indoor/outdoor 90–120 volt electric forklifts that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Why are so many industries moving toward all-electric forklift fleets?

Ask a Tesla automobile owner. They already know that electricity is by far the lowest-cost fuel for vehicles. The comparison can be literally dollars versus pennies. For example, the cost of one 10-gallon refill for an LPG- or diesel-powered forklift varies from $18 to $25. By contrast, the cost of one recharge of an equivalent electric forklift is about $2. And that’s during peak electric rate hours. Many companies plan most of their recharging during off-peak hours — 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. — when utility electric rates are often 40–80 percent lower.

By moving to an all-electric fleet, companies can simplify their operations. There’s no need to maintain on-site fuel storage and refueling. And for their operators, it’s a lot easier — and safer — to plug a forklift into a charger than to refuel their tanks with gas.

Another major cost savings comes from the lower maintenance costs of electric forklifts. Because fossil-fuel- powered forklifts have more moving parts than electrics, as well as lubricants and filters to replace, they typically require twice as much maintenance. With more frequent routine maintenance, and more time required for each check-up, the total scheduled maintenance costs can be three times higher — or more — than for an electric. In a typical plant, that’s an extra $1,500 in maintenance costs per forklift.

Just 10 years ago, electric forklifts and other forklifts only had a fraction of the lift capacity of their IC engine cousins — and only operated for a fraction of the time. Today, heavy-duty electric forklifts have caught up, tackling loads of 11,000 to 40,000 pounds or more, indoors and out, non-stop, at a fraction of the operating costs of gas-powered trucks. That’s why electric forklifts are outselling gas forklifts 2:1 — and why more firms are converting to all-electric fleets.