Manufacturers discuss trends, solutions and rental advantages to battery-powered equipment
By Stephen Elliott
October 31, 2023
As battery-powered equipment becomes more the norm and expands on job sites, manufacturers continue to look at ways to incorporate and innovate new products into mainstream commercial and home applications. Manufacturers are investing in new products along with partnerships to provide battery solutions.
For example, John Deere, Moline, Ill., which acquired majority ownership of Kreisel Electric in 2022, announced in August it was constructing a 115,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in Kernersville, N.C., to build battery solutions and support the off-highway market in North America. In January, Caterpillar, Irving, Texas, announced it was collaborating with Lithos Energy, a U.S.-based battery technology company producing lithium-ion battery packs. Several electric vehicle (EV) models are on the market from various companies, and more are on the way.
“The most obvious benefit of battery-powered equipment is that it doesn’t give off any emissions, so it’s kinder to the environment and can even be used indoors or in other sensitive areas,” says Lars Arnold, product manager — sustainable power, Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE), Shippensburg, Pa. “It’s also typically much quieter and vibrates less, providing a safer, nicer operator experience with the same or better performance.”
Volvo CE has six models of compact machines commercially available including the EC18 Electric, ECR18 Electric and EC25 Electric compact excavators; the L20 Electric and L25 Electric compact wheel loaders and the DD25 Electric asphalt compactor. The company also has a 23-ton EC230 Electric excavator available in Europe and coming to North America in 2024.
Sam Dando, senior marketing manager, Toro, Bloomington, Minn., says as regulations increase on gas and diesel engines, job sites can easily meet environmental requirements by turning to battery-powered equipment. Toro’s latest battery-powered products for the rental market are the next-generation eDingo® 500 and the electric Ultra Buggy™. “Both machines were designed to help with the specific challenges associated with indoor construction jobs that require heavy or continuous operation, fast completion times and a need to reduce overall costs,” Dando says. The Electric Ultra Buggy e2500 is powered by the company’s proprietary HyperCell™ battery system and delivers up to an eight-hour runtime.
Grant Van Tine, product manager, electric vehicles, John Deere, says the company is working on multiple battery electric projects, such as the 310 X backhoe, 145 X concept excavator and the 244 X compact wheel loader. “While these models are not yet commercially available, Deere has committed to offering over 20 diesel-electric and battery-electric models by 2026,” Van Tine says. Van Tine says the internal combustion engine (ICE) is still a big part of John Deere’s long-term powertrain plans. He says Deere continues to invest in engine technology to increase power density, lower fuel consumption and enable the use of renewable fuels. “In the future, Deere machines will feature a variety of alternative power forms, including traditional and renewable fuels, battery electric and hybrid powertrains,” Van Tine says. “There is a growing interest in battery electric machines, but most contractors want to try them before they buy them.”
Case Construction Equipment, Racine, Wis., has several electric off-road vehicle models on the market and more are set to hit the equipment yards soon. The company’s first electric mini excavator, the CX15EV, launched earlier this year, is ideal for utility teams and other contractors who change job sites often and do a lot of work indoors. In 2024, Case plans to launch the CL36EV, an electric compact wheel loader, along with a fully electric backhoe loader, the 580EV. “Probably the most appealing benefit for rental houses will be maintenance costs,” says Brady Lewis, product manager for emerging products and technology, Case Construction Equipment. “Without all the moving parts of an internal combustion engine, owners can significantly reduce maintenance and all the periphery costs that come with it, like downtime, labor and parts.”
Mark Michaels, senior director of product management, Husqvarna Construction North America, Olathe, Kan., says his company offers a wide variety of battery and electric products in categories from sawing, cutting, drilling, concrete placement, compaction, surface preparation and dust extraction. “For example, the Husqvarna K1 PACE battery-powered cutter has three basic components: the battery, the saw and the blade,” Michaels says. “The battery, in essence, replaces the fuel tank, fuel filter, engine, carburetor, recoil rope and spark plug — all the normal service areas for wear and tear items on a gas-powered machine. “This means over time, the saw will have a greater ROI [return on investment] as fewer parts and labor will be needed to keep the saw in good running condition.” Michaels says advances in battery technologies continue at a “very” rapid pace. “We can expect to see more power, longer run times, and faster charge times, allowing battery products to supplant combustion engines in more applications,” Michaels says.
Nick Moore, director of product management — electrification, Briggs & Stratton, Milwaukee, says he thinks there will be great emphasis on the intentional design of a battery system and making sure it meets the proper sizing requirements for an application. “Battery sizing is critical when it comes to ensuring safe operation and optimal performance,” Moore says. “We feel it is vital for us as a power solutions provider to be there to help OEMs [original equipment manufacturer] navigate initial questions and product specifications when transitioning equipment from one power source to another, like going from a traditional engine to battery power.” Moore says applications depend on power needs. “Larger equipment with heavy loads would probably still see a great benefit from hybrid, where you can greatly reduce the emissions and fuel consumption without going fully electric with an excessively large battery,” Moore says. “As battery technology continues to improve, more and more equipment will embrace the benefits of fully electric power — especially in the compact equipment space.”
Justin Odegaard, acceleration manager, Doosan Bobcat North America, West Fargo, N.D., agrees there will be growth of electric equipment in the rental market. Machines such as the all-electric Bobcat T7X loader replaces a diesel engine with electric power, removing routine maintenance items such as engine oil, filters and cooling systems. “Electric-powered machines are typically going to have a higher up-front cost and many folks will struggle to justify that cost for limited or irregular work,” Odegaard says. “Rental as an opportunity is key here because a rental house can get a higher utilization out of that machine relative to a typical contractor at this point in time.”
Russ Pierce, director — national rental sales, Makita USA, La Mirada, Calif., says along with benefits such as less maintenance, no filters, easy start, no pull cords, more power and better user experience, there also are concerns. Pierce says for a rental store, those concerns include listing all batteries, chargers and other items on a contract. “Then, ensuring they are returned,” Pierce says. “Store associates must have training and be able to train the customer on proper usage of the product and charging of the batteries.”
Genie, Redmond, Wash., has more than 70 percent of its product range available as either hybrid or electric, according to Ryan Crow, Genie global product director. “The technology has moved and evolved so quickly that certifications and standards are also playing catch up,” Crow says. “Charging infrastructure is still one of the biggest barriers to full electrification. Hybrid machines use less fuel and reduce emissions while providing the additional flexibility that many job sites will continue to need for a while.” Crow says Genie’s lithium-ion batteries in its GS scissor lifts are a great example of an advantage provided by electrification. “The lithium-ion battery helps rental companies and their customers meet sustainability goals and comply with increasingly stringent regulations related to emissions and noise pollution, while eliminating the need to maintain or replace the machine’s battery over the machine’s normal life,” Crow says.
Skyjack, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, recently announced the launch of a new range of DC electric scissors, featuring AC brushless electric drive motors among other significant design changes. Launching globally in 2024, the “simply electric” range will be replacing the current hydraulic drive models. Malcolm Early, vice president of marketing, Skyjack, also thinks rental stores will have an advantage renting battery-powered equipment due to current sustainability agendas. “Governments set sustainability targets and governments are also one of the largest sponsors of construction projects,” Early says. “Governments will then leverage that sponsorship to maintain progress on their sustainability targets. “Contractors are the major customer group for rental companies and battery-powered equipment allows rental companies to meet the contractors’ needs. In many senses, the rental industry is faced with some of the same questions that face the electric car buyer — charging opportunities, range anxiety, etc. The industry may have to change some of the ways they work with their fleet, and some expectations may have to change along with that.”
In June 2021, Honda Engines, Alpharetta, Ga., launched the Honda eGX, an electrified power unit to accommodate the needs of the construction machinery market, operating with zero emissions. David Bush, assistant manager, experiential group, Honda Power Sports & Products, says the battery-powered motor was designed to closely match the performance output of conventional gasoline-powered Honda GX100 and GXR120 industrial engines. “Today’s environment is shifting supply and demand toward zero emission products,” Bush says. “Using the Honda eGX as an example, the company’s new electrified motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery and can accommodate the needs of construction applications.”
Alex Berg, CEO, Cratos Equipment, Pompano Beach, Fla., a provider of battery-powered demolition equipment, says it’s a misconception that battery-powered equipment is weaker than diesel/gas powered equipment. “With the right strength of battery, and the right components on the machine to effectively use the battery, battery-powered equipment is just as strong as any diesel machine,” Berg says. “We don’t think diesel engines are going away for the same reason electric isn’t going away. Both have their usage where they’re a better option than the other. Now, as for hybrid technologies, we absolutely do see a likelihood of that category seeing a rise in the near future.” Berg says rental stores are essential for the growth of battery-powered equipment. “Businesses that need this equipment can decrease stress on their cash flow by simply renting the equipment when they need it, rather than buying it outright,” Berg says. “Rental stores are positioned to be the go-to solution for this highly in-demand category of equipment.”