As soon as you start investigating forklift trucks for your fleet, you'll see a range of different power options. The market used to be dominated by diesel, but now LPG/gas and electric-powered forklifts are easily available. (Under the electric heading, you'll also see different battery types, for example Lithium-ion). So are there pros and cons for each? Which one should you choose?
Read on to learn when is the right time to choose a diesel vs. an LPG/gas forklift and when electric would be a better fit.
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Diesel: Still the Choice for Heavy-Duty Tasks?
First things first - we all know that fossil fuel emissions contribute to global warming and pollution. For the material handling industry, this means change in the form of the EU Stage V emissions regulations – which, post Brexit, the UK looks likely to follow. Even if it doesn't, Stage V compliance offers a strong framework for improving air quality.
All this means that businesses are well-advised to consider the make-up of their fleets. At the very least, they should aim for Stage V compliance with the latest clean air engine technology.
Some businesses will feel that diesel still has a place. That's because of its longstanding reputation for capability in heavier-duty operations.
Will Diesel Forklifts Give the Best Load Capacity?
Since diesel engines are considered more powerful, diesel forklifts are thought of as lending themselves to more arduous and heavier jobs. In the current TCM range, our diesel trucks have a lifting capacity ranging from 1.5 tonnes to 10.0 tonnes. Larger capacity is essential for heavier duty activities, for instance in manufacturing or logistics.
However, to compare, the TCM range of electric counterbalance trucks has maximum lifting capacity ranging from 2.0 tonnes to 3.5 tonnes. For many material handling operations, this will be more than enough.
Meanwhile, as technology continues to develop, larger and larger capacity electric forklifts will become more common. It's already true that today's electric forklifts can do many of the same jobs as diesel and have high-tech designs for robustness, stability and longevity.
Are diesel forklifts more affordable?
In terms of affordability, there are pros and cons with diesel. If you are looking for a used forklift, you may find a greater range of diesels available. However, you'll need to check compliance with the latest regulations (especially if you're buying, not renting or leasing in the shorter term).
Diesel trucks are generally cheaper to buy, but there's a caveat here too. Although electric trucks have a higher ticket price, they can offer better TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). This means that they can be cheaper to run over their entire lifespan. Battery charging, for example, is generally cheaper than diesel refuelling.
Verdict: Why Choose Diesel
Diesel can be great for the heavier duty jobs. The familiarity of diesel technology means it has been easier and cheaper to maintain, but be aware that this is changing as electrification takes over. When comparing costs, it's also important to remember that cost-effectiveness is down to more than the initial purchase price – electric could be cheaper in the long run.
Electric Avenue: Getting On-Board with the Latest Forklift Technology
Electric forklifts are sometimes thought of as being for 'indoor' use. They are very well-suited to these environments, but needn't be limited to warehouses. They can be excellent for cross docking and unloading lorries, for instance. Their (generally) lighter weight means great manoeuvrability, but still with impressive lift heights.
Another big plus is the issue of exhaust. Emissions from fossil fuels damage the environment, but they are also harmful to workers. The British Safety Council is among the organisations that have called for limits to exposure to diesel emissions. Electrification could help you improve the air quality on your site and protect your workers.
Aside from great lift and load capabilities and improved air quality, there are other advantages that are sometimes overlooked. One is that most electric forklifts don't make a lot of noise – certainly much less than a diesel truck. Noise can be an annoyance, but it's also a safety concern when you have multiple appliances and pedestrians moving around your site.
Are There Disadvantages to Choosing an Electric Forklift?
You may have heard that electric forklifts are not suited to outdoor use, but this is dependent on the model. Find out from your dealer if the forklift you are considering has features like a weather-resistant exterior and protected electronics, as well as an appropriate warranty.
You also need to be prepared for the downtime you need when charging, as the truck needs to be stationary during this period. Note that you will need adequate space for dedicated charging areas as well.
Above all, consider how you will run your electric fleet operations; charging, regular equipment checks and maintenance could represent quite a change from how your fleet currently operates. That said, assessing where you could make improvements gives you the opportunity to make things more efficient and cost-effective!
The advantages of Lithium-ion batteries
As mentioned at the top of the article, it's worth knowing that there are different battery options available under the main heading of 'electric'. Li-ion is a more energy-efficient battery type that charges quickly and doesn't need to be changed mid-shift, increasing productivity.
As with the electrification vs. diesel comparison, Li-ion costs more to purchase than the most common alternative, lead-acid, but often represents savings in the long run. Li-ion doesn't need regular maintenance and there is no risk of damage due to poor maintenance (which is not the same for lead-acid, for which proper care and training is advised).
Verdict: Why Choose Electric?
Electric has a lot to offer. There's a balance to be found in terms of getting your operations ready for an electric fleet, plus the initial outlay. However, you get lower TCO, better environmental impact, and a modern, high-tech forklift that's as capable as a diesel one in most regards.
What about LPG?
You might be thinking of LPG as the middle ground. It's cleaner than diesel, but not as clean as electric. Like electric, it creates less noise. LPG is also cheaper to buy than a new diesel forklift in many cases.
On the downside, you also likely have higher maintenance costs than an electric forklift (in fact, LPG/gas forklifts can have the highest maintenance costs of all three power types). Although they don't need the regular maintenance of an electric battery, costs do rise with the need for an annual winter service and anti-freeze.
You may sometimes see very good travel, acceleration and lift speeds (but of course, speed isn't always an advantage. Safety-first thinking is obviously crucial to protecting your workforce, fleet, site and other assets).
There are some tasks best suited to the power a diesel truck offers, which is why you will find models to meet those needs in the TCM range. However, electric forklift technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, so it's only a matter of time until an electric truck comes out with exactly the capabilities you're looking for (if it doesn't already exist).
If you'd like more advice on which forklift to choose, why not book a free health check with a local TCM dealer? Let us help you identify the most cost-effective options with the best functionality for your needs.