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Material Handling Vehicles Boost Electric Market

Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota use their electric vehicle purchasing power and experience in more than cars.

* By Peter Harrop
* Mar 17, 2011

By a big margin, Toyota is No. 1 in hybrid car sales and indeed in sales of electric vehicles overall thanks to such things as sales of its electric forklifts, where it is in the top three in most countries. For example, it is No. 2 in material handling vehicles in the United Kingdom. Indeed, Toyota’s position in electric material handling vehicles may have been strengthened even further by the fact that world No. 1 Linde sold its materials handling business, rebranded as KION Group to financiers KKR and Goldman_Sachs for €4bn, not to an engineering company optimizing long-term success with synergies.

Companies such as Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota cross-fertilize EV component purchasing power and experience between their material handling, car, and other electric vehicle-making activities such as buses. Some of the first moves to ac motors were in forklifts, and lithium-ion batteries have appeared in some Nissan forklifts since 2008. Hyundai has a large hybrid outdoor forklift, and Jungheinrich field tested an innovative electric counterbalanced forklift in 2010 for launch this year. This type EFG 216k truck is equipped with a lithium-ion traction battery. Toyota is also introducing lithium-ion here, not just working to replace NiMH in hybrid cars and for use lithium-ion traction batteries in pure electric cars.
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The material handling aspect is no sideshow. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Japan’s largest diversified machinery manufacturer, completed construction of a traction battery plant inside its Nagasaki Shipyard and Machinery Works in November 2010. Capacity at the plant, which will produce lithium-ion batteries for forklifts, is 400,000 units yearly.

The Toyota Prius still drives almost all of its hybrid car sales, being made in three continents. Its Auris now has a hybrid option, global production being in the United Kingdom, and electric versions of all its car models are being rapidly introduced. Toyota is not very keen on pure electric cars at present levels of battery performance, so hybrid versions of most Toyota car models will be made available.

To chase Toyota from a position a long way behind, many car companies have formed alliances. Now the BMW cooperation with PSA Peugeot Citroen is being solidified into a 50:50 joint venture, functioning in the second quarter, to share the formidable cost of developing hybrid powertrains and seek early volume.

Before that, Daimler AG (playing catch up in EVs by buying 10 percent of Tesla and developing electric Smart and Mercedes models) struck a partnership with Renault Nissan to develop small cars, notably pure electric ones. Renault Nissan also partners with Mitsubishi on this. Mitsubishi promises electric versions of all new car models. Like Nissan and Fiat, it seems to prefer the pure electric small car route.
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