You’ve heard the hype, but you also have lots of doubts – and maybe even downright disdain – when it comes to electric construction equipment.
On this episode of The Dirt, we get to the heart of your concerns about battery-powered machines – runtime, charging, available electricity, performance – with guest Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation for Doosan Bobcat. Honeyman has overseen the company’s electric breakthroughs in excavators, the world’s first electric compact track loader, and a new prototype skid steer unveiled at ConExpo 2023.
He goes beyond the sales pitch to reveal just what these machines can do, who can benefit from them, who can’t, how soon you’ll start seeing them on jobsites and the potential they offer to the construction industry.
He also dispels misconceptions about runtime, which has many contractors concerned. Though a diesel machine can run as long as it has diesel in it, much of its time on a worksite is not actual work. The engine is often idling. But with electric equipment, there is no idling. It only drains power when it’s actually in operation.
So if you want to get beyond the hype – and misconceptions – of electric equipment and find out more about this fledgling technology, check out this episode of The Dirt.
Equipment World serves up weekly videos on the latest in construction equipment, work trucks and pickup trucks – everything contractors need to get their work done. Subscribe and visit us at equipmentworld.com!
In This Episode:
00:00 - Is Electric Construction Equipment Currently Viable?
00:45 - Electric Construction Equipment Runtime
05:01 - How Will Manufacturers Help Charging Infrastructure Improvements?
06:30 - The Power of Electric Equipment
07:09 - When Will There Be More Electric Equipment on Job Sites?
09:50 - What Are the Benefits of Electric Equipment Over Diesel Equipment?
13:33 - The Lifetime and Used Marketplace of Electric Equipment
15:17 - Final Thoughts
Bryan Furnace (00:00):
Today, we're here to talk about electric equipment again, but we're not here to show you just another piece of equipment that runs on electricity. We're actually here to talk about what electric equipment's going to look like and really how viable is this technology. As some of you may recall, we interviewed Bobcat a few months back about their electric skid steer, but this time I'm coming at Bobcat with a whole new angle. What are they doing as manufacturers to help make this a viable technology for our job sites? At the moment, this technology doesn't seem very practical to us on the front lines, but here we're talking with Joel Honeyman, who may change our minds on that.
To a lot of bus guys on the frontline, we're all very familiar with a lot of the iterations that are, "You can run this machine for four to six hours hard and then it's got a 10-hour recharge time." And so my question is, as manufacturers, first of all, is this a misconception? And if it's not, what are we doing to improve that?
Joel Honeyman (01:03):
Yeah, that's a great question. And we read the blogs, we know what people are talking about, so we hear that too. Let's talk about runtime for a minute on an electric machine because it's really important that we explain what that means. And so with an electric machine, what happens is you're only consuming power when you're stroking the joysticks. So there is no idle on an electric machine. Now, what you might find interesting and your users might find interesting, and you know this because you operate equipment and so do your listeners, a lot of idle time on the job sites.
Bryan Furnace (01:34):
Joel Honeyman (01:34):
So when we looked at our telematic data, about 30% of all compact loaders across the country are at idle or at less than 1,350 rpm. So you have a lot of time in there where in an EV machine would not be consuming energy and so you have to think about that. And again, you think about you get in on the cab, you're doing a job or whatever it is, and so it's that idle and it's consuming on the hour meter but you're actually not using energy. The other thing is we look at our data, the average skid steer and track loader runs about three hours a day, of which about a third of that is at idle, so you've got two hours.
Now that's not everybody, clearly, I'm not trying to paint that picture. But what we would say is even at four hours, which doesn't sound like a lot, four hours is enough time to get a full day's work done. That's what we're about, is trying to get that full day of work done for somebody who's out there. And again, an EV machine just acts differently because it just doesn't have all these dead times in between that you might experience with a diesel machine.
Bryan Furnace (02:31):
So to kind of rephrase that so it hits differently, even though you've got four to six hours of run time, as we think of it on our side of the table, realistically what you guys are saying is that's four to six hours of under load, that machine is running run time? It's not including everyone sitting around waiting for the labor to shovel some gravel around the pipe. It is dead straight run time is what we're talking?
Joel Honeyman (02:59):
I would even say it this way, it's work time. It is the work time of the machine, that is correct. It is only when that machine is actually being activated, like you're activating the drives of the work group of the machine. That's the only time you're consuming electric energy. And so what's kind of interesting, in our early testing, what we found was some of our early customers, they told us the same thing. Like, "Oh dude, we got to drive this thing back, we got to pull this thing back to our yard every night." You know what we found, they were charging it once every three days or in some cases once a week.
Bryan Furnace (03:30):
Joel Honeyman (03:31):
Because they weren't consuming as much energy. Again, not for everyone. My proviso here is there's obviously lots of people out there who run long hard hours, I get it. But for a lot of people early on, this machine will cover a full workday.
Bryan Furnace (03:46):
And I will say that does strike me as one of the limitations. Kind of where we are from an infrastructure standpoint, this is really going to be geared for a return to base type scenario for most contractors. Am I correct in that assumption?
Joel Honeyman (03:59):
Yeah. It depends on the work that people are doing. A lot of the people who are calling us, and today I literally get an email or a call once a week from somebody wanting this kind of product. It's typically at a site where they've already pulled in the rough power, they're doing some other things at the larger site. A lot of times in a new construction site, they're actively pulling like 50 amp power and they're roughing that in, so they have a place to being able to set up to do the charging. Certainly it's not as good for a way off site or somewhere that's pretty isolated and we're working on solutions for that like portable battery storage that might come on site to be able to recharge different vehicles. And so there's a number of companies are working on that to bridge the gap, again, for those sites that are just so isolated.
But yeah, it's an overnight charge our product is, it's a 10 hours if it's completely drained, but the technology's going to get better over time and there's going to be fast charging, there's going to be some other things that'll take place here in the future that'll significantly knock that down. But today that's what it is. It's a big battery that's on these products, and so it just needs a lot of time to charge.
Bryan Furnace (05:00):
So my next question for you is, as EVs have entered into the marketplace, we're starting to really see the limitations of our current infrastructure. As manufacturers, what's the plan there to kind of aid in this rollout of this technology without totally overloading our grid?
Joel Honeyman (05:18):
Yeah, I think that's where portable storage is going to come into play. I think the other thing is, us as manufacturers, we can't produce tens of thousand of these machines tomorrow. Our pace of manufacture probably is going to match what the grid is going to have to do along the way here as well. I would say the companies that are really interested in this technology, that really want it, they are being very proactive in looking at the sites, looking at where they're going to charge. They're coming ready and prepared for being able to use this technology, which we can appreciate. Again at lower volumes where we are today, that's a great place for us to start as we continue to grow it up and advance more applications for it.
Bryan Furnace (05:54):
It's been interesting. So my father just recently purchased one of the new F-150 Lightnings and that's been our family's kind of big introduction into EVs. And one of the things that you initially do is you go, this is going to be the most inconvenient process to figure out where we're going to charge and how we're going to plan around the charge and everything. And one of the things that we found is it absolutely takes a little bit of planning, but it's a little bit, it's not nearly to the extent that you think it is and it's not nearly as inconvenient as you think it is. It occurs to me that's probably going to be pretty similar with this as well.
Joel Honeyman (06:28):
Yes, it will be. But I got a question for you. What was the coolest thing he said, "Look at this," when he got it?
Bryan Furnace (06:34):
I don't know if it's going to be where you're going, but it was the zero to 60 time.
Joel Honeyman (06:39):
That's exactly where I was going.
Bryan Furnace (06:42):
The power, unbelievable power.
Joel Honeyman (06:44):
The power, exactly. This is why Tesla and all these other companies, "Hey, look at my buddy, look and I can pin his head back against the seat and I didn't even put the accelerator all the way down." That instantaneous power and torque is so amazing, and that's what we discovered in our platform, the same thing. And like we tell people, that's why probably you and your father bought it was for all these other things. And oh, by the way, it's sustainable and does not consume petroleum product.
Bryan Furnace (07:08):
So my next question for you is, as a manufacturer, knowing what you know on your side of the table, realistically, what is a goal for you guys seeing these on regular job sites where it's not a unicorn anymore, it's not just, oh, there's one of those new electric machines where this is a really, it's a here technology, what is that in your mind?
Joel Honeyman (08:48):
Well, it's going to take years, and I'm quick to point out, we're going to do both for a long time. Diesel hydraulic is not going away tomorrow, we're not ending it, we're not making any statements about a timeline. We're building hundreds, so to speak, in an industry that builds hundreds of thousands. And so if you think of that math, it's going to take some time and our supply chains have components to be able to build more and get more batteries and all these other things. So it's going to take some time.
What I think our strategy is in the calls that we've received is there are select customers who are really wanting this. Large fleet customers, larger companies who have ESG messages, and those are the ones that we are starting with. We partner with Sunbelt Rentals who's going to get the first batch of these units. A lot of the first ones are going to the state of California. They've got some strong initiatives there. Again, it's select customers, it's transfer stations, it might be interior demolition, it might be some larger plants, where they don't want exhaust or fumes. Those are the places that people will start to see some of these pop up. You'll go, "Hey, is that one of those electric loaders or excavators?"
Bryan Furnace (09:50):
Yeah. Well, we've come at this so far with this negative connotation about the whole electrification of the industry, but the reality is there are a lot of unforeseen benefits to electrification that a lot of contractors, they don't even get that far mentally because they've already written it off. Can you talk about some of the true benefits of running an electric piece of equipment over its diesel counterpart?
Joel Honeyman (10:12):
Yeah. The first one I mentioned was just this whole aspect of power, but instantaneous torque. We essentially say full torque at any rpm, and so you don't have to rev up a machine anymore to do that. And so you have this torque when it's ultra, ultra quiet. That's the other thing, people get on the machine, you know this, the noise, the vibration, the hydraulic whine, all those things, they're gone.
Bryan Furnace (10:32):
That's right, because you guys aren't using any hydraulics.
Joel Honeyman (10:34):
We're not using any hydraulics on the loader. So yeah, it's all electric. And then the other thing is all these software features we can do. We can do things with software on an electric platform that you can't do a diesel hydraulic. We have what's called a beast mode. So when you're going into a pile and you're digging deep in, you can hit the joystick button and you can get full current to the drives and really just power through it.
Bryan Furnace (10:55):
Joel Honeyman (10:56):
It's essentially giving a hundred plus horsepower to the drives, you can't do that with diesel hydraulic machine, and so that's one example. We have a bucket shake feature. You hit a button and it violently shakes the bucket so you can get material out. At Con Expo, we introduced the concept machine, which is coming. This is our S7X. This is a skid steer loader, and literally today I drove it and the software on it made it go 17 miles an hour.
Bryan Furnace (11:19):
Joel Honeyman (11:21):
I drove a skid steer that went 17 miles an hour. Now I'm quick to point out, it's a prototype machine, will we launch it that way? The full disclaimer here.
Bryan Furnace (11:31):
But just the capabilities...
Joel Honeyman (11:32):
Just the capability. Again, the playbook just opens wide open where you can have this capability to do just really, really new and interesting things that the paradigms of our current technologies just don't allow us to do.
Bryan Furnace (11:45):
That is one thing, and this goes again back to the automotive industry as well as the equipment industry. It occurs to me just every time we have this large leap forward technologically, everyone's knee jerk is to write it off. That's that magical smoke and mirror stuff that they're trying to sell me, it's never going to work. And then when people start to kind of understand, we just opened up a whole new sandbox of things that we can do with these machines that you're in this mental box of how you can use it in its current iteration. You haven't even started to unpack the potential of what you can do with this if you would just give it a chance. And I feel like electrification is one of those that the industry, they haven't even made it past the initial knee jerk. Everyone's still knee jerking at this point.
Joel Honeyman (12:29):
Yeah. Like we tell people, you got to try it. We've brought in a group of customers, real skeptics. We brought them into one of our facilities. We didn't tell them anything about what they were going to drive, but we interviewed them about their perceptions of EV. It matched specifically with a lot of comments we see online and people who they think... All of them, after they drove the machine went, "Wow, I can't believe it. I would actually own one of these. I didn't realize." Again, it's just innocent, right? People don't know, it's all new. And so again, it's just a matter of experience along the way.
Bryan Furnace (12:59):
It does occur to me too, there is one thing that I would almost switch over to EV tomorrow just because of the fact that you do away with all of the emissions. There's no more [inaudible 00:13:08], no DPFs, there's no more of any of that stuff. It just all goes away overnight.
Joel Honeyman (13:14):
The operating costs of an all electric machine is one 10th that of a diesel machine, a 10th of the cost. We've even factored in electricity pricing against that. So yeah, there's a significant savings in there when you think about that oil changes and maintenance and all those things that are gone with an electric machine.
Bryan Furnace (13:32):
And one of the interesting mental exercises I've been going through with the Lightning, and it's exactly the same on this side of the table, is we're mentally so trained to think about vehicles by miles or hours simply because that's when mechanical components start to wear out. And so on a truck, you're talking about the engine, transmission, you're talking about some major driveline components that you're probably going to have to replace that get very expensive, and so you just don't buy a high mileage vehicle.
And similarly over here in the equipment world, you've got hydraulic pumps, you've got your engine, you've got all of these other components that are going to wear over time, and so you don't want a high hour machine. But when you start switching over to this electric conversation, now all of a sudden, as long as you know that the battery pack is good up to this many hours and the previous owner did a battery pack change on it, all of the scariness of getting into a high hour machine kind of goes away because you don't have any of the mechanical parts that are going to fail on a traditional machine.
Joel Honeyman (14:33):
Yeah, that's correct. And we haven't launched all of our commercial programs for warranties yet, but certainly warranties on batteries are probably going to be longer than your current powertrains that you have on your current products.
Bryan Furnace (14:45):
Joel Honeyman (14:45):
I mean, that's just the life of these things are just so much longer. They're rebuildable. There's all kinds of different things we can do with a battery pack. And so, yeah, I suspect those types of components, they might well outlast the physical components, the mechanical components of some machines as well.
Bryan Furnace (15:02):
The resale market on these machines is going to be very interesting to watch as this technology continues to develop. Well, Joel, thank you again for the time and thank you for this. This has been a really interesting conversation and you've kind of given me new perspective on this. Thank you.
Joel Honeyman (15:15):
Glad to be on here. Appreciate it, Brian.
Bryan Furnace (15:17):
While the technology is still quite a ways out and we've got a long way to go before it's truly viable for the majority of contractors, this technology is also a lot closer and there is a lot of potential in the electrification of equipment, and so it's really intriguing and it's got my gear spinning. So as always, I hope this has been helpful to you and your business. You guys have a good one, and we'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.