Materials Handling

How do you choose your lift trucks?

By Mark Nicholson

March 2022

Forklift buyer survey

When deciding on which new forklift truck to buy or hire, from the many brands and models available, what are the most important factors to consider? To help explore the issues, Eureka has surveyed truck buyers’ views and approaches. Mark Nicholson summarises the results.

A total of 48 respondents from an assortment of businesses responded to the survey in 2021. One of the study’s clearest findings was that safety concerns and quality-related considerations ranked as the highest priorities overall.

At the same time, there were interesting variations in attitude between different groups of buyers. Analysis of the survey data also led to observations and conclusions on the importance of drivers’ opinions and user experience in forklift selection.

Willingness to change

A question on whether respondents always replaced their trucks ‘like-for-like’, or if they were open to changing from one truck category to another, gave the answers in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Do you replace trucks ‘like-for-like’ or do you consider changing to a different truck category?

Overall, more than half said they always replaced like-for-like. Those running very small fleets (between one and four trucks) seemed even less inclined to consider changing their truck category, with 79% ticking the ‘always replace like-for-like’ box. The danger in such an approach is that businesses may miss out on major opportunities to improve their operations.


Would you consider, for example, replacing a platform stacker with a stand-in/stand-on stacker? Being open to alternative solutions allows greater scope for operational improvement.

Most important factors in truck choice

Figure 2 shows the percentage of respondents rating each factor as being of high or highest importance.


Figure 2. How important are these factors in your truck choice? (Percentage of respondents ranking each factor as high or highest.)

Quality/durability/reliability and safety emerge clearly as the highest priorities. At the other end of the scale, innovative and advanced features are not necessarily attractive to buyers. These matter only if they deliver specific advantages, such as extra performance, efficiency or ergonomics.

Variation in priorities

For further analysis, the respondents were divided into various ‘types’ to see whether their views differed in any significant ways.

Those with very small fleets (one to four trucks) made up 40% of the survey base. In Figure 3 we see their priorities.


Figure 3. How important are these factors in your truck choice? (Percentage of small fleet respondents ranking each factor as high or highest.)

This can be compared against Figure 2, which reflects the views of respondents as a whole. We see that quality and safety are the highest priorities in both cases, while for small fleet managers there is even less inclination to spend on ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’. They also seem less interested in performance, and much less in energy efficiency, ergonomics and comfort. One interpretation of these differences may be that companies with small fleets have relatively little interest in a truck’s specific features and benefits. As long as it is safe and robust, and can be relied upon to do the job, they are satisfied.


Safety emerged as a top priority in our buyer survey, especially amongst respondents with all-electric fleets. Electric products like this Cat® 5.0 tonne counterbalance forklift benefit from a variety of automated aids helping to control speed and stability, for instance.

Respondents with all-electric fleets (electric counterbalance and/or warehouse trucks) made up 44% of the survey base. The others each had at least one IC engine counterbalance. All-electric fleet operators’ priorities are summarised in Figure 4.


Figure 4. How important are these factors in your truck choice? (Percentage of all-electric fleet respondents ranking each factor as high or highest.)

These results can be compared against Figure 2, which reflects the views of respondents as a whole. Safety appears to be even more important for this group, while quality again ranks highly. Easy maintenance and high energy efficiency score higher for all-electric fleets than for those including IC engine trucks. There is also a little more interest in the idea of innovative technology.

Driver and operator input

Respondents were asked whether they consulted their drivers and operators for opinions before seeking new trucks. This might mean asking, for example, what they don’t like about the current trucks, and what features they would like the new trucks to have. Figure 5 summarises the answers.


Figure 5. Do you ask your truck drivers/operators for their opinions before seeking new trucks?


Quality/durability/reliability was ranked highly by respondents in all groups within the survey base. Unless a truck can be relied upon to do its job consistently, day after day, however harsh the application, its other capabilities mean little. Pictured forklift: Cat 3.5 tonne diesel counterbalance.

Surprisingly, a quarter of the businesses looked for new trucks without first discussing issues with the staff who would be using them. Amongst companies with small fleets, a larger proportion (37%) said they did not ask for driver or operator opinions. Relatively few (14%) of the respondents running all-electric fleets chose trucks without consulting the users.

Here and elsewhere in the results, there is a suggestion that managers of larger fleet operations and all-electric fleets have a more rigorous and inclusive approach to truck selection. This may possibly be related to the scale of management resources available in their companies.

Asked if they gave their drivers an opportunity to examine and test-drive new trucks proposed by suppliers, respondents’ answers were as shown in Figure 6.


Figure 6. Do you give your drivers an opportunity to examine and test-drive new trucks proposed by suppliers?

Most (56%) did involve drivers in this way. However, amongst small fleet operators the proportion was lower (32%). For all-electric fleets it was higher (67%).

A question on the degree to which drivers’ and operators’ opinions influenced truck choice produced the results in Figure 7.


Figure 7. How much do the drivers’/operators’ opinions and preferences influence your truck choice?

In total, 65% of respondents agreed with one of the top two answers, which give most weight to the drivers’ and operators’ views. For businesses with small fleets the proportion was considerably lower at 53%.

The importance of user experience

To get some idea of how the truck users might be influencing their employers’ choices, we looked specifically at companies which always consulted their drivers and operators before seeking new trucks. The respondents in this group were those who answered yes in Figure 5. If this consultation does affect their choice, we might expect to find some differences between their priorities (see Figure 8) and those of the respondents as a whole (see Figure 2).


Figure 8. How important are these factors in your truck choice? (Percentage of most consultative respondents ranking each factor as high or highest.)

The comparison suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that truck users are often more interested than their employers in a truck’s comfort and ergonomics. More obvious still is the very high importance of safety to this group. The users’ influence also seems to accentuate the importance of performance.

From this we may reasonably conclude that users want a lift truck that is comfortable, ergonomic and satisfying to operate; that helps them to do their job effectively and productively; and – above all – that keeps them safe.

For the designers at Cat® Lift Trucks, the science of user experience is a key strategic focus. (This is explored further in a previous Eureka article.*) The productivity and profitability of a forklift truck’s use in any business depends on an effective combination of user and machine. What’s more, the user is by far the biggest investment in that partnership. He or she needs to be protected, nurtured and given the optimum conditions to perform well. This should be at the heart of your research, consultation and decision-making when choosing a truck.•

We are very grateful to the 48 respondents who took part in the survey. We also wish to thank UK and Ireland Cat® lift truck distributor Impact Handling and French distributor Aprolis for their help with this project.

* ‘User experience’.