During the recession, electric lift trucks surged to two-thirds of the overall lift truck market, says Jeff Rufener, president of Toyota Material Handling USA. While that share has slipped some as U.S. manufacturing, with its preference for internal combustion trucks, has rebounded, electric trucks still account for about 60 percent of sales, up from 55 percent in 2005. Rufener expects that this trend will continue.
On the product side, the biggest challenge facing the company are new Tier 4 Environmental Protection Agency regulations for diesel lift trucks. Rufener says that Toyota will announce a new product in the category later in the year that will offer better fuel efficiency than what is presently available. This new product will help offset the higher acquisition cost for the new lower-emission engines.
He says that customers are also asking for products that can handle heavier loads and are seeking some customization in their vehicles. About 40 percent of lift trucks produced by Toyota for the North American market now have some customization. Cesar Jimenez, national product planning manager for the company, says he does not expect that to change much, as Toyota has a process in place for standardizing options once demand reaches a certain critical mass.