Germany's Mittelstand

Battery problems threaten success of forklift firm

Jungheinrich AG
Raising the bar. Source: dpa

Germany’s vehicle makers are notorious for having arrived at the e-mobility party very late indeed, with most now scrambling to make up lost ground against agile new rivals such as Tesla. Yet one Hamburg-based engineer has been specializing in battery-powered vehicles for 60 years, giving it a distinct advantage over the likes of VW, Daimler and BMW. The one difference: Jungheinrich makes forklift trucks, not cars.

Last year, 95 percent of its forklifts were electric, with 5 percent powered by lithium-ion batteries and the rest fitted with conventional lead acid batteries. But that marks significant growth in the technology at the core of most electric cars: Jungheinrich’s sales of lithium ion vehicles reached some 5,800 units in 2017, a 10-fold increase in just two years, even though they are far more expensive.

But now the warehouse supplier, which is the world’s third-largest producer of forklifts and is listed on Germany’s MDAX mid-cap index, faces the same dilemma as the auto industry. The lithium-ion cells come from a limited number of suppliers in South Korea, Japan and China, meaning Jungheinrich, like Germany’s automakers, must rely on foreign suppliers.

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