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Anatomy of the Largest Electric Vehicle Business: Industrial and Commercial

September 2, 2013 in Electric Truck, Electric Utility Vehicles, Electric Vehicles, EV News, Research

By Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx

For the next decade, the largest electric vehicle sector will be industrial and commercial electric vehicles on land. In great contrast to the hybrid and pure electric cars that come next in market size, industrial and commercial electric vehicles are almost never bought by private individuals. That means that they are almost never bought on up-front price, the criteria being cost-over-life, reliability and performance with any extra life over conventional versions much appreciated. Component suppliers can enjoy improved margins provided they supply what is needed. This means that innovation is more likely to be funded for such vehicles and loss-making sub-sectors are seldom encountered unlike the situation with hybrid and pure electric cars or pure electric bicycles and scooters.

The total market analysis is available in the unique IDTechEx research report, Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles for Land, Water & Air 2013-2023: Forecasts, Technologies, Players with the industrial and commercial sector covered thoroughly in Industrial & Commercial Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles 2013-2023: Forecasts, Opportunities, Players.

The industrial and commercial sector, that now drives the electric vehicle business, consists of heavy industrial vehicles which are mainly forklifts but with other sectors coming up fast – earthmoving, mining, agricultural and outdoor self-propelled electric cranes. Add to that buses and light electric vehicles including trucks and custom made taxis. Industrial companies buy the heavy electric vehicles (meaning heavy lifting or pushing) but government, including local government, tends to bankroll light electric vehicles. Buses are boosted by the plan of the Chinese government to use and export them in huge numbers. The marine electric vehicle sector, which IDTechEx reports separately, is vibrant not least because of industrial applications such as tugboats, both pure electric and particularly hybrid. To take one instance, Caterpillar Marine Power Systems with Aspin Kemp & Associates has recently developed a Powered Marine Hybrid System that provides fuel savings of up to 25% and emissions reductions. A recent Californian Air Resources Board study found a 73% reduction in particulate matter, 50% reduction in NOx and 26% reduction in CO2 . Significant improvements are also seen in performance, control and noise levels.

How are the markets moving?

There is a great disparity between the growth rates of the different sectors within the industrial and commercial vehicle business. Pure electric forklifts suffered a double digit annual percentage collapse in sales in the global recession 2008/9 then double digit recovery which ended in 2012 with only 3% annual numbers growth. IDTechEx therefore projects a 4% annual growth in numbers in this largely indoor category. There will be little change in average unit price as more sophisticated versions are adopted such as those with the more expensive Li-ion batteries offsetting cost reductions. By contrast, a rapidly increasing percentage of Class 4/5 forklifts will become hybrid. This is essentially an outdoor category. Even the vehicles for mining are mainly used outdoors in open cast mining and as surface runabouts. We saw the first models of all of these outdoor heavy industrial electric vehicles appear on the market in the last five years, initially constituting a very small part of the ranges on offer.

For example, John Deere launched its first large loaders with hybrid powertrains two years ago. It spent years talking with quarry and other large loader customers about what they wanted in a nine-yard production loader. That collaboration between customer and engineer resulted in the new 944K wheel loader with a hybrid-electric drivetrain.

“In addition to fewer emissions, customers asked for durability, fuel efficiency and reduced tire wear,” said John Chesterman, product marketing manager for 4WD loaders with John Deere. “We’ve responded with a loader that incorporates four modular, independent wheel drives with electronic traction control.”

John Deere’s hybrid-electric drivetrain manages with a smaller diesel engine which drives a generator to create electricity that is used by electric motors to drive the wheels. The hybrid-electric drivetrain provides significantly increased fuel efficiency – up to 25% saving – reduced tire wear, and increased durability and reliability through fewer moving parts. A larger version was launched in 2013.

Market size

An indication of market size is given by the IDTechEx number projections for 2020. There will be 706,000 pure electric forklifts sold in that year, almost all for indoor use where internal combustion is usually illegal. There will be 750,000 other heavy industrial vehicles sold, mainly Class 4/5 hybrid forklifts used outdoors and self-propelled cranes for outdoors followed by agricultural, mining and earthmoving electric vehicles. The average ex-factory price of heavy industrial EVs will more than double over the coming decade as larger vehicles in this category become electric in large numbers.

Electric buses will sell at the 110,000 level in 2020, most of them pure electric versions for China and made in China, despite their up-front price often being 60-100% higher than conventional versions. Thanks to over 200 suppliers, 377,000 light industrial and commercial electric vehicles will be sold in the form of on-road versions, notably delivery vehicles which are a robustly growing market, and off-road versions such as airport ground support equipment (GSE) which enjoys more modest growth, on IDTechEx analysis. There are about 300,000 GSE vehicles in the world’s airports today, including non-passenger airports such as military, freight and oil industry. Over $2 billion is spent yearly on GSE in normal years. About 100,000 GSE in use are now electric, up from 60,000 in 2000. These are replaced every seven to ten years. Therefore, with growth in base numbers and adding terminal (non GSE) applications such as airport shuttle buses and golf car types for the disabled in the terminal buildings, the sale of EVs to airport applications is 30-39,000 units yearly in 2013, most being for the USA followed by Asia, in contrast to electric forklifts where Europe is by far the dominant purchasing area.

Fig 1. Industrial and commercial EVs market value breakdown by sector in 2020.
Source: IDTechEx report Industrial & Commercial Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles 2013-2023: Forecasts, Opportunities, Players  Courtesy of IDTechEx

Source: IDTechEx report Industrial & Commercial Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles 2013-2023: Forecasts, Opportunities, Players
Courtesy of IDTechEx

Manufacturers add sectors

The more savvy manufacturers leverage their electric technologies across more and more sectors of the industrial and commercial electric vehicle business, MAN of Germany makes electric buses and large trash-collecting trucks. Caterpillar is in electric earthmoving land vehicles and marine workboats and Nissan and Toyota make electric forklifts, electric delivery vehicles and so on, with Toyota strong in e-buses as well.

A key IDTechEx report for land-based vehicles is, Industrial & Commercial Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles 2013-2023: Forecasts, Opportunities, Players. It is very frequently updated to reflect the rapid progress of this, the heart of the electric vehicle industry. For the marine aspect, see the IDTechEx report, Electric Boats, Small Submarines and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) 2013-2023.

Industrial and commercial electric vehicles are not as glamorous or familiar as electric cars but, as they used to say in England, “Where there’s muck there’s brass,” meaning money. Those seeking the biggest unit numbers or the prestige will go elsewhere.

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About IDTechEx

IDTechEx ( guides your strategic business decisions through its Research and Events services, helping you profit from emerging technologies. We provide independent research, business intelligence and advice to companies across the value chain based on our core research activities and methodologies providing data sought by business leaders, strategists and emerging technology scouts to aid their business decisions.

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