In early December, BYD (Build Your Dreams) was surprised to win an order for 259 electric buses from Keolis. This summer, this public transport company will operate buses in Apeldoorn, Lelystad and Zwolle, among others. It is not BYD’s first success in the European bus market. 80% of electric buses in London bear the BYD logo and the Chinese company with its European headquarters in Schiedam now has 1200 electric buses on the road across Europe.
In the forklift market, BYD’s development is not as fast as in the bus market. “The awareness of our brand in the mobile domestic transport equipment market is still low. But success in the bus market helps a lot. Many have heard of Keolis prescription. Or they know our buses from visiting London or Schiphol”, says Feng.
The batteries were burned and burned
The synergy between the two BYD units is more than just brand awareness. Buses and forklifts use the same battery management system and the same types of batteries: lithium metal phosphate batteries. “Since 1997 we have been making batteries with different compositions. The production of lithium batteries has increased dramatically since the advent of tablets and smartphones. The batteries in these devices must be more integrated, at the same time providing more capacity and, of course, they must be safe.
The lithium iron phosphate batteries that BYD uses in buses and forklifts are safer and more durable than lithium-ion batteries in laptops and smartphones. “We tested lithium iron phosphate batteries under extreme conditions. We dropped them, punctured them and set them on fire, but they didn’t explode. Safety is very important in a bus with 60 people and 300 kilowatt hours of battery power. That also applies to forklifts, says Feng. “In addition, the life span of lithium iron phosphate batteries is much longer than lithium-ion batteries. Like safety, service life is an important criterion in handling the material.
8 year warranty
Most lift trucks and warehouses still use lead acid batteries, but lithium batteries score better on a number of points. First of all, Feng mentions the long life span. According to him, lead acid batteries last 500 to 1500 charge cycles, lithium batteries 20,000 cycles. “Then they still have more than sixty percent of the original capacity of the battery. No other party offers a long-term warranty for the battery like we do: 8 years or 10,000 working hours.”
Another big advantage is the loading time. Lead-acid batteries typically take more than eight hours to charge, and lithium batteries an hour or two. “Furthermore, these batteries can be charged at the same time, for example during a break. Just like we can connect our phones in the middle. With lead-acid batteries, in-between charging will destroy the battery.
In addition, lithium batteries are safer, cleaner and more durable. Maintenance such as topping up the liquid level on lead acid batteries is not necessary. No flammable gas is released during charging, so that special charging chambers and air extraction are no longer needed. “All these advantages add up to a lower operating cost than lead-acid batteries. The problem is that the purchase cost of lithium batteries is higher. That’s why we are in talks with rental companies to be able to offer attractive rental construction. Due to the long lifespan, lease contracts for a period of eight years are possible.
Better weight distribution
Ten years ago, BYD was almost the only forklift with lithium batteries. Currently, almost every forklift manufacturer can supply machines with this battery technology. Feng: “But we are the only ones who manufacture and supply the entire battery, including the battery management system, in-house. Thanks to ten years of knowledge and experience, not only with forklift trucks but also with buses and passenger cars, we know exactly how our batteries work and what performance we can expect. Therefore, we can provide customers with solutions that will still be satisfactory not only now, but also in five or six years. In addition, we can not only support them in the field of trucks, but also in the field of batteries.
Because BYD only produces forklifts with lithium batteries, the machines are designed for this type of battery. Unlike lead-acid batteries, for example, the battery compartment does not have to be opened every day. Like electric vehicles, forklift trucks have a simple connection on the charging side. “Manufacturers who simply replace the forklift’s lead-acid battery and leave the design intact will have stability problems because the lithium battery is lighter. Our forklifts are designed around the battery. They may be more rigid because the battery takes up less space, but more importantly, these machines are still stable due to better weight distribution.
A lot of forklifts in the portfolio
Big breakthroughs for lithium batteries are yet to come. What does it take to achieve it? “First of all, more knowledge in the market about lithium batteries. Many companies that have forklifts on the road have not yet realized the benefits,” says Feng. “And as far as BYD itself is concerned, we must continue to work on our brand awareness. We will have to expand our scope in Europe. Now we have more than 50 dealers in 11 countries, but we want to expand that so that we can also serve international customers everywhere. There are still opportunities ahead, especially in Northern and Eastern Europe.
Another challenge concerns BYD’s product portfolio. In addition to the series of forklift trucks, the company has also sold reach trucks, electric pallet trucks and stackers. An upright truck has recently been added to the lineup. “In particular, we need to further expand our range of warehouse trucks. That is also what our customers are asking for. They can expect a large number of new products.