Propane-Fueled Forklifts: Time To Talk Benefits With Customers

At the age of 20, Gabriel Reding took a job in Toledo, Ohio as a maintenance tech at a steel factory. Over the years, he helped the company save money and maintained and repaired the material handling equipment (forklifts). He eventually went to work for a large multi-brand supplier of all things material handling.

“I had the opportunity to problem solve with massive Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “I’ve worked with customers who have had up to 500 forklifts in their fleet (both electric- and propane-powered). There’s pros and cons of both, but for me, 90% of the time, I want a propane forklift.”
Forklifts propane better benefits 0519There are many advantages to propane-powered versus electric-powered forklifts including cleaner emissions, lower costs, less storage, and greater efficiency, said Reding, who now is a maintenance leader for Novation IQ, a manufacturer of materials such as innovative foams and fabrication in Lenexa, Kan.

“Incorporating propane-powered forklifts into an equipment lineup can benefit both equipment distributors and their customers,” said Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Yet with all the advances in the propane industry, the benefits of propane forklifts have not been fully touted by members within the propane industry.

“Over the past few years, the propane industry as a whole took the material handling industry for granted and had become a little complacent,” he explained. At the same time, the manufacturing industry has been changing. Warehouse owners think differently about the footprint—expanding upward instead of outward. In addition, technology is also changing the manufacturing industry, requiring fewer people to do the same amount of work.

“From the propane industry’s standpoint, we did not keep up with the industry development,” Wishart said. “Over the past three to four years, propane forklift users have increased slightly, but the number of electric forklifts has increased exponentially. Our growth [in propane-powered material handling] has not kept up.”

As a consequence, the electric industry has had the opportunity to sell without much resistance or competition for the past five to 10 years. “It’s time to put information out there and make propane prominent again,” Wishart said.

“We have to remain engaged with our customers. We have to understand the whole process of purchasing a new forklift, so we can’t just sell the fuel. Most manufacturers don’t necessarily talk about propane as part of their pitch, thus we have to be ready to augment their efforts with our own messaging. As an industry, we need to increase our brand presence.”
Forklifts SB propane provides better benefits 0519By doing a little bit of research in your market, such as learning regional needs and operations and getting to know your customers, retailers can provide complete solutions rather than just one part of a solution. Knowing how to articulate the benefits of propane-powered forklifts is key.

Benefits of Propane-Powered Forklifts

Full Power: Propane-powered forklifts can run 24/7, unlike many electric models. Propane tends to shine where it’s heavy loads constantly moving because they can run almost non-stop. A simple cylinder swap can be done in three to five minutes versus up to eight hours it may take to recharge an electric battery-powered forklift.

Less Emissions: Propane forklifts produce 16% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, and 76% less SOx site-to-source emissions than electric. Because they operate so cleanly, they can work outside on loading docks and inside a properly ventilated warehouse.

Greater Productivity: With fast refueling, less maintenance, and indoor/outdoor use, they keep a business moving.

Safety: Propane helps forklift operators bypass many potential hazards. For example, operators can avoid electrical hazards from the daily use of recharging equipment for electric forklifts, hazardous spills from gasoline and diesel fuel equipment, and chemical spills from lead-acid battery-powered forklifts.

Less Cost: “Typically, upfront costs are $5000 to $10,000 lower with a propane-powered forklift than an electric-powered forklift,” Wishart said.  “It costs 10% to 25% more to buy an electric forklift out the box,” Reding said. In addition to the forklift, there is the cost of the charger and crane. “If you run a 24-hour shift, every eight hours need to charge. If you want to run 24 hours, multiply costs by three.”
PERC Logo Clean Amer Energy cmykLess Storage Space: Propane-powered forklifts require less storage space because they don’t need a charging or lifting station. “Storage for a standard propane forklift is about the size of a broom closet with room for about 30 cylinders,” Reding said. — Karen Massman VanAsdale