Prestige Electric Car PrestigeElectricCar This article shares some of the research carried out in producing the new IDTechEx report, […]
Industrial and Commercial Electric Vehicles - the Next Decade
14 October 2011

Industrial and Commercial Electric Vehicles - the Next Decade

    This article shares some of the research carried out in producing the new IDTechEx report, "Industrial and Commercial Electric Vehicles 2012-2022".

    Those selling components for electric vehicles and those wishing to make the vehicles themselves must seek where the majority of the money is spent and will be spent. That must lead them to industrial and commercial electric vehicles because today these represent 60% of the value of the electric vehicle market. Indeed, this sector is set to grow 4.2 times in the next decade. Industrial and commercial electric vehicles include heavy industrial vehicles, the term referring to heavy lifting, as with forklifts. Then we have buses, trucks, taxis and the other light industrial and commercial vehicles. There are also a few work boats and commercial boats and one day there will be commercial electric aircraft but this is really a story about the burgeoning demand for off-road industrial vehicles and on-road commercial vehicles. 

    The market for electric industrial vehicles is already large because, by law, forklifts have to be electric when used indoors. Little growth remains in this market but outdoors almost all earthmoving and lifting vehicles use the conventional internal combustion engine. That is about to change dramatically because hybrid electric versions reduce cost of ownership and exposure to price hikes with fossil fuels. Hybrids increasingly perform better as well, with more power from stationary, ability to supply electricity to other equipment and other benefits including less noise and pollution. On the other hand, airports, often government owned or funded, are under great pressure to finish converting their Ground Support Equipment (GSE) to pure electric versions both on and off the tarmac partly using federal grants. 

    Yet another industrial trend is for use of electric vehicles to replace slow and often dangerous manual procedures. Sometimes a self-powered indoor crane replaces scaffolding. An electric stair climber replaces human effort and possible injury. On the other hand, sit-on floor cleaners in buildings, sit-on ice cleaners in ice rinks, outrider vehicles carried on trash collection trucks and a host of similar solutions speed processes and reduce injuries and costs. 

    Buses, trucks, taxis and the other light industrial and commercial vehicles are going electric for similar reasons but we must add the desire of national and local governments, who buy many of them, to go green, even where there is no payback. However, the size and growth of the industrial and commercial sector is less dependent on government funding and tax breaks than the more fragile market for electric cars, particularly pure electric ones. Electric delivery vehicles cope better with the frequent stop and start. Excitingly, most of the electric vehicle technologies are changing and improving hugely and innovation often comes here before it is seen in the more publicised electric vehicle sectors such as cars. Asynchronous traction motors were first widely used on forklifts: their benefits of longer life, less maintenance, low cost and freedom from magnet price hikes and heating problems are only later being seen in a few cars. Ultracapacitors otherwise known as supercapacitors permit very fast charging of buses whether by the new Level 3 charging stations or regenerative braking and they release huge surges of power when the bus is full and starting on a hill. Gas turbine range extenders have been on some buses for 12 years but they are only now being planned for cars. Fuel cells will be viable in fleets where the expensive hydrogen distribution is manageable - not for cars across the world. Energy harvesting shock absorbers about to hit the market will be very viable on buses and trucks where they can put up to 12 kW into the battery whereas such devices on cars will take longer to prove. 

    Nevertheless, it is important to look at industrial and commercial electric vehicles as part of all electric vehicles out there because it is increasingly true that one company will produce EVs for many end uses and even make key components. This achieves the product reliability and cost advantages that come from highest volume manufacture based on standardisation and shared research. For instance, Toyota´s industrial and commercial EV developers share their discoveries with the car divisions, one of the reasons why it is the largest electric vehicle manufacturer in the world by a big margin, making pure and hybrid electric forklifts, buses, cars and more. With that breadth it is able to make its own asynchronous and synchronous traction motors and register an unprecedented number of battery patents, making its own batteries too. 

    Toyota is making further headway in a bid to increase leverage across the whole on and off-road electric vehicle market. The company´s bus and truck manufacturing unit, Hino Motors, released hybrid models in both Japan and the U.S.A in 2011. In Japan a hybrid Dyna light-duty cab-over-truck has recently become available powered by a diesel engine using its conventional Atkinson cycle engine, whilst in the U.S.A two versions of the hybrid Dutro truck are planned for release in December 2011. The Dutro has been re-engineered to give the hybrid version a 50% improvement in fuel economy over the last generation diesel version in both the 155h and larger 195h variants. 

    Projected figures in Japan for the hybrid Prius Alpha minivan were exceeded according to Dow Jones Chinese Financial Wire at a rate of 52,000 units, surpassing an initial target of just 3,000 per month before release. 

    As the company´s electric vehicle range expands with the Dyna, Dutro and multiple Prius variations, Toyota are also developing a new alternative fuel vehicle in the form of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle scheduled to be released in 2015 in four major cities within Japan, the U.S., and Europe where hydrogen supplying infrastructures are available. A recent Automotive News report details the company´s plans to reduce the fuel cell car´s manufacturing costs by reducing the amount of platinum in the power trains plus developing an alternative insulator for the hydrogen tanks. It is claimed in the past six years the company has achieved a 90% manufacturing reduction cost and aim to halve this again by the time the vehicle is ready for the market. Expect that to benefit its industrial and commercial vehicles later. 

    By contrast, most of the other automotive manufacturers define their addressed market as little more than cars and they hope to buy the best components on the open market. They box themselves in as a consequence, missing the point that the industrial and commercial electric vehicle business in particular is a very useful plank to achieving leadership in electric vehicles overall. For those not seeking a huge business in electric vehicles, the industrial and commercial sector offers many niche opportunities including those based on the needs of certain localities and industries. 

    For more information on commercial and industrial electric vehicles please visit and purchase the report.
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