Study shows electric forklifts lead the off-road sector

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by Emily Atkins

New research into the electrification of off-road vehicles show that the forklift market leads the sector, thanks to the need for emissions-free indoor operation in warehouses.

Calstart has released the results of a new research project that gives a wide-ranging technology and market assessment of zero-emission off-highway equipment. This research was conducted in partnership with Interact Analysis to support the California Air Resource Board’s Long-Term Heavy-Duty Investment Strategy, including the Clean Off-Road Equipment Voucher Incentive Project (CORE), and shows how off-highway equipment lags behind on-highway equipment in terms of electrification despite concerns over public health and greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis finds that off-road equipment electrification is progressing rapidly, with over 200 electrified equipment models currently available on the market across eight distinct off-road categories. Several categories, such as light forklifts, airport ground-support equipment, yard trucks, and transportation refrigeration units, are classified as technologically mature, meaning that only market barriers stand in the way of widespread deployment. Furthermore, technological progress in these segments is helping to transition the mining, rail, cargo-handling, marine, and agriculture sectors.

Two of the most successful segments have been forklifts and underground mining equipment, where deployment of electrified machinery is already widespread due to the need for these machines to operate in enclosed environments where exhaust fumes are a health concern. The report argues that mining companies need to more rapidly electrify other categories of equipment to meet the environmental goals that they themselves have set. It also points out that beyond the air quality and associated health and financial benefits of eliminating exhaust fumes, there are additional benefits to electrification in mining, such as higher low-end torque, which offers greater hauling power at low speeds.

Meanwhile, in forklifts, the big story is the battle between lead acid and Li-ion batteries. Currently, the market is 80/20 in favor of lead acid. By 2030, it is projected to be 30/70 in favor of Li-ion.


Construction equipment is primed for fast growth in electrification. There are various reasons for this, including the compactness of many construction machines and the proximity of many construction sites to the electrical infrastructure necessary for recharging this equipment. For example, sales of battery electric mini-excavators accounted for five percent of the total U.S. market in 2021 and are projected to account for 15 percent of the market by 2029. By contrast, the electrification of agricultural machinery is a much more difficult challenge, partly due to the need to operate in remote locations.

“Calstart’s beachhead strategy outlines the roadmap to deployment of zero-emission technologies in even the largest off-road equipment segments, added Jessie Lund, truck program manager.

“The beachhead strategy is based on the concept that the development and continual improvement of smaller electric machines leads to rapid improvements in areas such as component performance or charging infrastructure improvements that then drive the whole market forward. For example, the market success of battery electric forklifts clearly paved the way for the next wave of zero-emission equipment such as off-road yard trucks – a segment that is rapidly growing today.”