The market for cordless power tools may be feeling the effects of a soft economy, but a clear bright spot has been the advance made in lithium-ion battery technology, which has given new vigor to this category.
“Some of our customers have reported that it’s like their old tool is on steroids,” said Kevin Spicer, store and purchasing manager for Moynihan Lumber, of North Reading, Mass.
The introduction of lithium-ion technology has been a significant leap forward for the power tool industry, experts say, in that it has allowed manufacturers to develop cordless tools that better meet end user needs. Today, power tool suppliers and battery manufacturers are working to tap into the full potential of lithium-ion, which means continued lithium-ion chemistry development, battery cell development, electronic power management improvements, extreme temperature performance, run time, technology-user interface and storage and cycle life. The result is a spectrum of choice for users: the same power with less size and weight, or the same size and weight with significantly more power.
“The market for lithium-ion continues to expand dramatically, mostly at the expense of NiCd,” said Paul Fry, group product manager for Milwaukee Electric Tool. “Milwaukee is experiencing unprecedented growth in its cordless business, and the majority of this growth is due to lithium products.”
For years, power tool users relied on 18-volt NiCd batteries as the primary source for powering cordless tools because it was said to provide the best balance among performance, weight and price. But progress marches on.
Waters True Value, based in Salina, Kan., has seen the demand slowly move from NiCd and NiMH to lithium-ion. “Our customers look to us for the latest in power tools, and they have been looking for lithium-ion products,” said Berkley Buhrle, merchandising manager, noting that the compact series from Makita has been the most successful for them. “We also carry the regular lithium-ion products, but I believe customers like the price points of the lighter Makita items.”
For Moynihan Lumber, the new lithium tools have been a bright spot in the category, Spicer said. “The plus for selling these tools is that they are lighter, will run longer and can be charged or cycled more times,” he said. “These features are easy to sell to the contractor who may own the older tools with batteries that are