Will Electric Lift Trucks Replace IC Models in California?

The Industrial Truck Association's (ITA) Air Quality Subcommittee had a conference call recently to discuss a controversial California Air Resources Board (CARB) proposal, offered as part of the South Coast Air Quality Management District State Implementation Plan (SCAQMD SIP). It would require that lift trucks having a capacity of 8,000 pounds or less and purchased after January 1, 2005, be electric. It would also phase out all rentals of all internal combustion lift trucks having a capacity of 8,000 pounds or less between the period 2005 and 2010. If the proposal is approved as part of the SCAQMD SIP, it would then become a CARB regulatory proposal.

This essentially provides two opportunities for comment: first on whether the idea should be included in the SIP and then on whether it should be adopted as a regulation.

It was the unanimous view of this group that ITA should oppose this proposal and any variation on it that would require mandatory electrification of lift trucks. Although the regular members who were on the call sell electric lift trucks, none favors a regulation requiring that lift trucks of a certain capacity be electric only. The general sentiment is that customer needs and capabilities are so varied that a rule permitting only electric lift trucks in certain capacities would leave customers' needs unmet and would cause significant dislocation and economic hardship. A regulation requiring electric trucks based simply on lift capacity ignores the complexity of the real-world factors that determine whether a customer needs an electric or internal combustion unit (or both). The impact on short-term rental customers, who would need charging stations and special facilities to handle electric units, might be especially acute.

In addition to providing a full explanation of the customer impact, the participants noted the following points that might be developed in trying to dissuade CARB:

• The emissions savings that CARB claims may be overstated, because companies selling internal combustion units may certify earlier than required and may achieve emissions levels significantly below the requirements;

• Lift truck owners may continue to rebuild internal combustion engines rather than switch to electric;

• Customers may demand more diesel-powered units if they cannot obtain spark-ignited units (the electrification proposal applies only to spark-ignited lift trucks);

• There are air emissions costs associated with generating the electricity used by electric trucks;

• There are serious battery-disposal issues;

• California already has electricity-supply problems (which are causing businesses to procure engine-powered generators as back-up protection); and

• CARB may lack the legal authority to ban this entire category of lift trucks.

There are two other proposals that would affect the sale and use of IC trucks: one would apply the 2007 EPA emissions limits to these trucks and the other would require retrofit of large spark-ignited engines that were manufactured before the regulations became effective. The ITA Air Quality Subcommittee will discuss all of these proposals further. For more information, go to www.indtrk.org.

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