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Komatsu to mass-produce electrified excavators with US partner

Electric-bus maker Proterra brings expertise on decarbonizing heavy-duty vehicles

Komatsu's electric mini-excavator, seen here as a prototype, is already available for rental use in Japan. Plans call for developing larger models. (Photo courtesy of Komatsu Europe)

TOKYO -- Komatsu has teamed with a U.S. maker of commercial electric vehicles to produce electrified heavy machinery, looking to start mass production ahead of rivals as early as 2023, Nikkei has learned.

Proterra designs and manufactures electric buses. The company, founded in 2004, went public this month. Komatsu, Japan's top construction machinery maker, hopes to combine in-house components with Proterra's batteries and peripherals -- built specifically for heavy-duty vehicles like a bus -- to get to market faster.

Komatsu is thought to be focusing on small to midsize hydraulic excavators with an operating weight of 10 to 20 tons. Field testing may start within the year.

The Japanese machinery builder debuted a 3-ton, fully electric mini-excavator in April, based on lead-acid battery technology used in forklifts. But midsize models, which are usually a strength for Komatsu, posed a bigger challenge in terms of battery capacity, output and operating time per charge.

Komatsu has been a front-runner in adopting environmentally friendly technology, such as by launching the world's first hybrid hydraulic excavator in 2008. Demand for such machinery has increased amid stronger environmental regulations. Still, it is unusual for the company to work with an outside partner.

"Our goal is to electrify all heavy machinery," Komatsu President and CEO Hiroyuki Ogawa said, adding that he wants to pick the right partner for each type of product.

The Japanese company launched a team dedicated to electrification in April. Additional partnerships may be formed to tackle areas like large excavators and mining equipment.

Some countries, mainly in northern Europe, extend tax benefits tied to electric machinery and prioritize contractors that use such equipment in public projects. Given that roughly 90% of lifecycle carbon emissions from heavy machinery are produced during operation, electrifying them could improve the environmental impact of the construction industry as well.

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