YALE forklift in warehouse lifting a pallet.

In today’s world it would be difficult to name any product that has not been touched by a forklift in some way. This essential piece of equipment has been around for nearly 100 years and, as with many technologies over the last century, forklifts have become increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly.

Most early forklifts were internal combustion engines (also referred to as IC, Gas and LP forklifts) that ran on propane or gasoline. From the 1950s onwards, battery powered forklifts began to take their place as an alternative option to gasoline-powered forklifts. Many users made the switch since these new forklifts could be recharged, they did not produce dangerous emissions and they provided ample power. Most recently, the invention of lithium-ion batteries has added an entirely new dimension of efficiency to electric forklifts.

These advancements have not gone unnoticed by supply chain professionals. In fact, over the last ten years, the majority of new forklifts purchased were electric forklifts (according to the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association). This article will review why companies have chosen to operate electric forklifts over their gas counter parts.

1. Lower Operating Costs

Electric forklifts have a lower cost per hour of operation than any of the gas forklift models available on the market today. This is largely due to the cost of fuel as well as reduced maintenance and parts expense.

Electric forklifts are powered by large, heavy lead-acid batteries, the same kind found in your car, but considerably bigger and more powerful. The batteries typically provide enough power for one standard eight-hour shift, which translates into 5 or 6 hours of constant usage. On the other hand, internal combustion engines run on a variety of fuels: gasoline, diesel fuel, liquid propane gas (LPG), or compressed natural gas (CNG). The cost of fuel required to power these forklifts is significantly higher than electricity.

You may ask yourself “what about charging and changing batteries”? In the past, many buyers avoided electric forklifts because they didn’t want to deal with the cost and time of swapping batteries, but things have changed a lot in recent years. The majority of single and double shift (and most three-shift operations) never need to change out their battery. This is because new battery charging technology allows you to quickly recharge batteries during breaks.

In addition to fuel costs, electric forklifts require less maintenance and parts. On average, they have 90% fewer parts then their internal combustion counterparts, so maintenance is easier and repair costs are lower.

Because of this an electric forklift has fewer periodic maintenance intervals and spends more time in productive operation. Electric motors are highly dependable, partly due to fewer friction parts and partly as the result of advanced electrical technology. A major advantage of electric forklifts is that they keep on running and can easily be serviced with a battery maintenance program and regular cleaning.

Finally, forklifts with electric motors don’t require expensive specialty tools or a stockpile of spare parts to maintain. They also don’t require special fuel storage areas for safely holding explosive or flammable fuels like gasoline, propane and diesel. Electric forklifts only require an alternating current (AC) power port to plug into and perhaps a small area to host a spare battery that sits on charge.

2. Longer Life

Fewer parts not only mean lower maintenance costs, but it also contributes to a longer lift span for electric forklifts. On average, you can expect an electric forklift to last longer than an internal combustion engine because more moving parts means more things to potentially break.

3. Easier to Maneuver

Electric forklifts can operate in very narrow aisles compared to gas forklifts. They are (generally) lighter weight which means greater maneuverability, but still maintain impressive lift heights. This is because the battery is used as the counterweight resulting in a smaller footprint allowing for a tighter turning radius. These features mean that the electric models are much easier to drive in between narrow shelving and aisles in a warehouse. However, it is important to note that the physical size of the forklift will ultimately dictate the space in which it can effectively work.

Utilizing electric forklifts makes it possible to increase the amount of product you can store without compromising the safety of your operations. Additionally, you may want to use an electric forklift when storage space for the forklift is limited. Being able to tuck the machine into a smaller space might help you to more easily keep a forklift on your premises or eliminate the need to rent additional machines.

Finally, maneuverability is key to creating a safer environment within your operation. For example, a smaller turning radius and narrower build can mean fewer opportunities for accidents and an easier time stopping or turning the forklift in an emergency.

4. Eco Friendly

Electric forklifts have zero site emissions, which means a cleaner, safer work environment for your employees. For every 10,000 hours of use, IC-powered forklifts emit 120,000 more pounds of carbon emissions than electric forklifts. Converting to electric forklifts can reduce the carbon footprint immediately. Additionally, because of these harmful emissions, only propane-fueled lifts can be used indoors, and they require exceptionally good ventilation. Gas and diesel-powered models shouldn’t be used indoors, unless they are clean burning with a catalytic converter. Finally, because electric forklifts operate in typically cleaner environments, many times they need less tire maintenance and replacement which helps reduce environmental waste.

5. Comfort and Safety

Most electric forklifts don’t make a lot of noise, certainly much less than an IC forklift. Noise can be an annoyance, but it’s also a safety concern when you have multiple machines and pedestrians moving around your facility. For operators, not only are they quieter but vibrate much less, which cuts down on fatigue. Fatigue is a dangerous variable in the life of a forklift operator, as it can raise the risk of accidents and damage to products.

Also, since they don’t have an engine, there are fewer smells, gases, and liquids to deal with.

Overall, electric forklifts have come a long away since their inception in the 1950’s. Today they are the preferred method of picking and transportation within the supply chain because of their lower operating costs, longer life span, ease of maneuverability, positive environmental impact and the improved comfort and safety of employees.

Now that you have made the decision to choose an electric forklift vs. gas forklifts, the next thing to consider is what type of electric forklifts do you need? Our friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you choose the right forklift for your operational needs and budget. Fairchild Equipment is an authorized Yale and Hyster forklift dealership, and also offers several other top brands of forklifts, including CombiliftLandollBendiDrexelMariotti, to serve customers throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern Illinois and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the right equipment for their materials handling needs.


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726