It is true that electric lift trucks are not suitable for every application. Throughout the past decade, however, there have been a number of changes in the lift truck industry and the material handling work environment that have been beneficial for the electric lift truck and advanced its opportunities.

The purpose of this white paper is to review those changes and the impact they might have in considering the use of electric lift trucks.

Electric lift trucks are environmentally friendly, since they are reliant on batteries and produce no exhaust emissions. This improves air quality for employees and customers. Plus, there is no possibility of damage to work product from engine exhaust, which can occur when using internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks. With these qualities, as well as their use of cushion tires, electric trucks are well-suited for indoor use in warehouse applications.

Considering they have fewer moving parts and no engine or exhaust noise, electric lift trucks produce one quarter of the noise of ICE lift trucks. The lower noise level and lower vibration levels also help reduce operator fatigue. Electric lift trucks offer considerable cost advantages over the life of the unit and can perform as well as ICE lift trucks in many cases. New battery types and charger technologies can eliminate the need for battery replacement, thereby minimizing storage space requirements in most multishift applications while providing advantages for the environment and workers’ health and safety.

There used to be a notable difference between electric and ICE lift truck performance. Electric trucks were not capable of performing as well as ICE lift trucks in terms of lift and travel speed. With improved performance of electric trucks in the past few years, the gap between the two is narrowing. Thirty years ago, the market was about 60% ICE lift trucks and 40% electric. Today, it is about 60% electric and 40% ICE lift trucks.

Although there are many benefits to owning electric lift trucks, some buyers still are hesitant to make the switch from ICE to electric trucks.

One obstacle to using electric lift trucks instead of ICE lift trucks is the perception that electric lift trucks do not perform as well as ICE lift trucks. For a large majority of applications, this is simply no longer true. With today’s AC motor technology, electric lift trucks are able to perform side-by-side with ICE trucks in many applications.

A second obstacle is the belief that electric lift trucks cannot operate in wet applications. More times than not, the ICE lift truck is the better-suited option for outdoor applications—but the gap is closing. Electric lift trucks can be fitted with pneumatic tires and designed for outdoor use, travel up and down ramps, and operation in inclement weather.

Another barrier is the perceived disadvantage of owning and changing batteries. In the current economy, customers are crunching numbers. They are concerned about having to pay for battery storage and floor space required for replacement batteries. Recent advances in charger technologies, however, have decreased the need to replace batteries in many applications. Keep in mind that fuel for ICE lift trucks must also be stored on site.

Environmental benefits
Electric lift trucks are superior to ICE models when it comes to less pollution. Indoor air quality is improved by eliminating internal combustion exhaust within a facility. It is no longer necessary to vent outside air into a facility to offset internal combustion exhaust or to exchange air as frequently through HVAC systems, which is good for the environment and reduces heating and air-conditioning costs.

If electricity is generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar power, then electric lift trucks are truly emission-free. However, the environmental impact of an electric truck is more than just being emission-free. Electric trucks use no engine oil, transmission fluid, radiator fluid, or filters that have to be changed regularlys. These waste items can be harmful to the environment if not handled and disposed of properly.

Converting a rider lift truck from liquid propane (LP) to electric in a 2,000-hour-per-year application results in the annual carbon reduction (CO2 and CO) of approximately 20,000 lbs. This is the equivalent of driving from New York City to Los Angeles approximately seven times. In addition, due to the battery industry’s efforts, more than 97% of all battery lead is recycled, which makes it one of the most highly recycled consumer products.

Economic benefits
Studies have shown electric lift trucks cost less to own over their lifetime than comparable ICE lift trucks. Electric lift trucks have lower fuel costs than ICE lift trucks, have a longer useful life, require less yearly and lifetime maintenance, and experience less downtime.

The overall life-cycle cost of electric is less than ICE primarily due to fuel costs. Cost to recharge an electric truck can range from $1.50 to $4.50 per shift, while LP fuel costs can range from $18 to $25 per bottle—costs that fluctuate based on local and national variables. Rising diesel and ICE truck operating costs are leading customers to look for alternatives. Operational savings and longer running life will more than offset the difference in purchase price of an electric forklift.

Overall, electric lift trucks have a lower life-cycle cost than ICE lift trucks, which can save buyers approximately one dollar or more per hour for each piece of equipment. This equates to between $2,000 and $6,000 annually per vehicle (actual savings may vary depending on conditions and applications).

As an example, Yale Material Handling Corp’s latest line of electric lift trucks provide:

•40% increase in travel speeds when compared with earlier DC-powered models
•Improved performance—faster acceleration, travel speed, and lift speed
•Increased productivity—AC power maintains performance as battery voltage drops, while DC performance is directly related to voltage
•Longer battery run time—improved efficiency with fewer stops required to recharge
•40% lower maintenance costs versus ICE trucks, due to:
—Fewer moving parts to fix or replace
—Reduced number of seals, hoses, and fluids to maintain
—No engine maintenance
•70% to 80% lower fuel costs than ICE trucks
•Approximately 30% longer service life than ICE trucks
•Less downtime than ICE trucks
•Over five years, an electric lift truck saves more than 18% in total costs.

Power to perform
Under most operating circumstances, today’s battery-powered lift trucks perform as well as ICE units in acceleration, run speed, lifting ability/capacity, ramp incline speed, and climbing capabilities. Electric trucks can work in more confined areas and often in narrower aisles than ICE lift trucks, creating an increase in storage space. Electric trucks are often able to provide a more cost-effective solution for warehouse storage while getting the job done for less cost.

New technology: zero battery changes
Advanced battery and charger technology—including fast charging and opportunity charging—means batteries do not have to be changed in most lift truck applications. Simply charging the truck during breaks or shift changes makes them ready to run when they are needed most.

The electric lift truck may not be the best option for every application need. However, with technological strides in the lift truck industry in the past decade, the electric lift truck has undergone alterations and advances that should not be overlooked. To discover if an electric-powered lift truck will offer the best total cost of ownership, visit the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) at

For more information about Yale, visit or call 800-233-YALE.

Yale’s opportunity battery charging
energizes McCain plant operations

As a three-shift frozen foods business, McCain Foods had 20 electric lift trucks requiring three batteries per truck. In order to maintain uptime, McCain needed to store the resulting 60 batteries in its Appleton WI facility. This posed environmental and safety hazards for employees.

Yale Materials Handing–Green Bay helped maximize McCain’s lift truck fleet capabilities by gathering data to better understand its needs. As a result, McCain switched from conventional battery charging to opportunity battery charging.

With assistance from YMH–Green Bay, McCain moved from three lift truck batteries per truck to one, eliminated 10 battery chargers, and reduced the facility’s total battery storage from 60 to 20 batteries.

“Two years ago, we teamed with YMH–Green Bay to help us understand and maximize our lift truck fleet’s capabilities,” said Alfredo Villarreal, regional warehouse manager, McCain Foods. “They assisted with gathering data to help us better ascertain our needs and make the necessary adjustments for our facility to be as cost-effective as possible.”

YMH–Green Bay ran time studies to help McCain indentify how long operators were running Yale lift trucks on a per-shift basis. The data helped synopsize McCain’s demand in regard to usage with a set amount of time equating to a specified number of loads. YMH–Green Bay helped McCain consolidate and eliminate extra equipment based on the number of hours the lift trucks ran, resulting in cost savings and better facility energy efficiency.

After a review of McCain’s battery usage, YMH–Green Bay introduced opportunity battery charging technology. This allows operators to recharge their battery and top off its charge at any time without having to remove the battery from the lift truck. By using opportunity battery charging, McCain no longer needed operators to charge batteries before their shift.

Today, the Appleton plant’s lift truck fleet consists of 27 Yale lift trucks. McCain purchased two ICE lift trucks, one GLC40AF and GLP60TG, respectively; three ERP040TH, four ERC050VG, and nine ESC040FA electric rider lift trucks; one MPE080LE, five MPE060LF, and one MPE080LC end riders; and two MPW050LE motorized walkies.