For your motive power needs, it's easy to get caught up in your battery and charger options. However, you have choices when it comes to your forklifts, too. The propane vs. electric debate is a real one, and you can find varying opinions across the industry, and across the Internet. We'll be honest upfront: we lean towards electric. Still, today we'll touch on the pros and cons of each by focusing on three key categories.
Cost: Advantage, Electric
For most customers, the most important factor in choosing the type of forklift for their fleet comes to down to total cost of ownership (for a more mathematical breakdown, check out this detailed cost comparison example). In most situations, electric forklifts will be lower when compared to propane. Keep in mind, this assumes that you're using your electric forklift fleet in a proper application, and in an efficient manner. But while electric forklift fleets come with a higher upfront investment due to the need for batteries and chargers, you'll still typically come out ahead overtime due to propane's fuel costs—and those costs can fluctuate, creating uncertainty.
Safety: Advantage, Electric
While propane forklifts offer great performance for indoor applications, the use of fuel will always constitute a liability. With propane, there is always the chance of a leak, not to mention the need to store fuel onsite. While battery storage and charging stations may take up more floor space for electric forklifts, the lack of fuel concerns makes that a more than fair trade-off, especially considering they have no tailpipe emissions. Throw in poorer rearward visibility (due to the location of most propane tanks) and potential injuries during propane tank changes, the scale in this category tips definitively toward electric.
Both electric and propane forklifts require maintenance. Much like with a car, a propane forklift comes with the need for planned and repair maintenance on the engine, which also includes fluid waste disposal (for engine, transmission, or coolant fluid). With electric vehicles, the focus turns to the batteries, which must be cleaned, watered, and charged appropriately to keep your operation running. If we based this on lifetime cost, you already have a winner. But if we're going head-to-head simply on maintenance needs alone, it's hard to give an edge to one over the other.
Choose the Best Fit for Your Motive Needs
Keep in mind, we've only discussed a few of the differences between propane vs. electric forklifts (if you want a more comprehensive list, here's a good one). We have, however, discussed the factors that matter most to many of our clients when making such an important decision. Ultimately, the kind of forklift that will work best for your operation will be solely decided by which is the best fit, which can be dependent on fleet size, the type of materials you're handling, or the environment you work in. If you're not sure what kind of forklift you need, the right motive power partner can point you in the right direction.