Logistics & Materials Handling Blog

Forklift Classes Explained

by Paul Hinz
Filed under: Forklifts

Following on from our previous blog where we profiled the most common types of forklifts and materials handling equipment (MHE), this week we look to briefly explain the eight different forklift classes and provide examples of each class within our range of industry leading Hyster, Yale, Combilift and Liftsmart product range.

The Australian Forklift and Industrial Truck Association (AFITA) list eight distinct classes that forklifts and MHE can be classified under, classification of a forklift is based on factors including:

  • Application
  • Fuel type
  • Tyre type
  • Unit features

The eight classes a forklifts and MHE can be classified under are:

  1. Class I – Electric motor rider forklifts
  2. Class II – Electric motor narrow aisle forklifts
  3. Class III – Electric motor hand pallet jacks, stackers and tow tractors
  4. Class IV – Internal combustion engine cushion tyre forklifts
  5. Class V – Internal combustion engine pneumatic tyre forklifts
  6. Class VI – Electric or internal combustion engine tow tractors
  7. Class VII – Rough terrain forklift
  8. Container Handling

Below we profile each of the eight classification classes and provide examples of each from our product range.

Class I – Electric motor rider forklifts

Class I forklifts are battery electric powered forklifts, units can be either stand-on or sit down models.

These forklifts are ideally suited to the loading and unloading of tractor trailer, handling pallets and a wider variety of other applications across multiple industries from food and retail storage to factories and general warehousing.

Units can be fitted with either cushion or pneumatic tyres, with cushion tyres models suited to indoor operations travelling across smooth floors whilst pneumatic tyre models can be used in dry outdoor applications.

Class I forklifts are commonly used for applications where air quality needs to be considered, being battery powered they are a lot quitter when operating and create zero emissions making them ideally suited to indoor operations.

To help maintain a units lifting capacity the industrial battery powering the unit is incorporated as part of its counterbalance.

Unit Example: Hyster J1.5 – 2.0XNT three wheel battery electric forklift

With lift capacities from 1.5-2T Hyster’s three wheel battery electric XNT forklift series delivers class leading maneuverability and the best balance of energy efficiency and productivity to suit your application, with exceptionally low maintenance requirements.

Hyster XNT series battery electric forklift

Class II – Electric motor narrow aisle forklifts

Class two forklifts are specially designed and engineered for applications where space utilisation and maximised used are key criteria.

They are engineered for maximum maneuverability which allows them to operate in tighter spaces and narrow aisles.

Class II forklifts such as articulated narrow aisle forklifts and very narrow aisle turret trucks are ideally suited for applications that are looking to maximise the use of available vertical storage space and pallets or goods must be safely and efficiently lifted high up.

Unit Example: Aisle-Master articulated narrow aisle forklift

With lift capacities from 1.5-2T and lift heights starting at 4.5m and up to 7m the Aisle-Master articulated narrow aisle forklift can operate in aisle widths as narrow as 2m wide.

The units mast is able to articulate left to right independently of the counterbalance body allowing lifting and stacking of pallets and goods either side of the aisle, resulting in up to 50% more available storage space.

Class III – Electric motor hand pallet jacks, stacker and tow tractors

Class three hand pallet jacks, stackers and tow tractors are often referred to as warehouse materials handling equipment.

Battery powered these units come in both walk behind and ride-on variations.

They are predominantly designed and engineered to operate indoors in applications such as warehouses, making them ideal for unloading smaller deliveries or moving goods to staging areas where they can be handled and loaded by larger forklifts.

Unit Example: Liftsmart PT15-3 battery electric hand pallet jack

With the assistance of battery power and hydraulic raising and lowering mechanisms electric hand pallet jacks such as the Liftsmart PT15-3 are able to lift loads up to 1.5T.

The hydraulic raising and lowering mechanisms these units allow operators to effortlessly raise and lower loads to be placed with the simple press of a button.

These units lower the risk of operator injury, product and facility damage as operators do not have to strain to manually move heavy loads as the unit as the lithium ion battery provides 4-5 hours runtime on a fully charged battery (may differ based on application).

Unit Example: Liftsmart LS10 walkie stacker

The LS10 walkie stacker from Liftsmart has a lift capacity of 1.2T and can reach heights up to 3.5m high.

The units design allows the operator to walk behind the unit, steer and control raising and lowering operations from the unit’s multi-positional tiller handle.

Walkie stackers greatly increase safety in operation as operators are able to stand to the side of the unit improving their visibility when lifting loads high up whilst also ensuring in the event of an emergency operators are never trapped between the unit and racking.

Class IV – Internal combustion engine cushion tyre forklifts

Class IV forklifts are internal combustion engine forklift’s powered by either diesel fuel, petrol, LPG or CNG.

They are fitted with solid cushion tyres that provide a smooth operator ride when driven across indoor surfaces.

As the cushion tyres aren’t filled with air they are puncture proof making these types of unit’s ideally suited to operations where there is potential for sharp debris to be on the operating floor that could potentially puncture and damage an air filled pneumatic tyre.

Class IV forklifts are ideally suited for operation in warehousing, distribution and retails settings.

Unit Example: Hyster S135-155FT

With lift capacities from 6-7T and the ability to lift loads up to 6.2m high the S135-155FT forklift from Hyster is a versatile warehouse forklift designed for indoor use.

The S135-155FT series are ideally suited for a wide variety of applications such as primary metals, stone, clay, glass and concrete products, and industrial and commercial machinery.

The forklift offers improved efficiency, advanced dependability, and simple serviceability.

Hyster S135 155FT pneumatic tyre counterbalance forklift

Class V – Internal combustion engine pneumatic tyre forklifts

Class V forklifts are very similar in specification to class IV forklifts, with the significant difference being they’re fitter with air filled pneumatic tyres and designed primarily for outdoor use.

Strong and durable class V forklifts are ideally suited for applications including construction sites, lumberyards and other outdoor applications.

Unit Example: Hyster XT Series

Hyster’s H1.5-3.5XT internal combustion counterbalanced forklift offer lift capacities from 1.5-3.5T and lift heights up to 6m.

The unit sets the industry standard for quality, dependability and operational efficiency, boasting the lowest cost of ownership, maximum uptime, operator preferred ergonomics and unmatched performance.

Units are available with a range of standard and optional features.

Unit Example: Hyster XM Series

For heavy duty applications the Hyster XM series offers lift capacities up to 32T in a compact counterbalance design.

Due to the wide range of models and fuel types available these counterbalance forklifts are suitable for almost all general industries and applications.

Hyster XM series pneumatic tyre counterbalance forklift

Class VI – Electric or internal combustion engine tow tractors

Class VI includes both battery electric and combustion engine tow tractors.

This class of unit is predominantly used for towing loads rather than lifting.

Units in this class are commonly used on assembly lines or in airports for transporting loads on trolleys.

Unit Example: Hyster L05.0T Tow Tractor

Reliable, robust and durable; Hyster’s L05.0T to tractor offers a 5T pulling capacity.

The unit offers significantly lower costs of operation and energy proficiency.

This tow truck is well suited for general warehousing, storage, distribution centres with cooler and freezer applications along with line-feed operations.

Its wide variety of drive wheel options enables the tractor to work in numerous applications which can be tailored to specific use.

Hyster tow tractor

Class VII – Rough terrain forklift

Class VII forklifts are specially designed and manufactured for outdoor operations.

They are fitted with tough durable tractor tyres similar to those fitted to tractors to operate across rough and uneven ground.

Units are almost exclusively powered by diesel engines provided enough power for the units to lift and transport heavy loads across rough and uneven terrain.

Class VII units are often utilised in lumberyards, constructions sites and the agriculture and farming sectors.

Unit Example: Liftsmart rough terrain forklift

The Liftsmart range of rough terrain forklifts have lift capacities from 2.5T to 5T in both 2WD and 4WD models giving them the ability to carry even the most heavy loads of farm produce or building supplies.

The compact units are able to operate in narrow areas such as tightly planted crop fields, orchards or narrow warehouse aisles without causing damage to crops, trees, warehouse racking or the forklift itself.

Units come standard with a wide variety of features with an extensive list of optional extras that allow owners to create the ultimate rough terrain forklift specifically suited to a desired application.

Rough terrain forklift

Container Handlers

Whilst not specifically given their own class, AFITA does also classify materials handling equipment that are utilised to move containers.

There are three main types of containers:

  • Empty container handlers
  • Container handlers
  • Reachstackers

These units are specifically designed and engineered to lift ISO 20’ and 40’ containers and are most commonly utilised by freight and logistics companies and in container port operations.

Unit Example: Hyster H40.00–50.00XM–16CH

With lift capacities from 40-50T and lift heights up to 12.5m Hyster container handlers are large vehicles able to lift and manoeuvre loaded ISO 20’ and 40’ containers.

Units are designed and manufactured with large counterbalance’s to ensure depending on model specifications heavy containers can be safely and efficiently lifted.

They offer the ability for fast paced vertical container stacking and shunting.

Hyster container handler

Unit Example: Hyster H10.00–12.00XM–12EC

Comparatively smaller in size compared to container handlers Hyster’s empty container handlers are do not need as much power to complete their specific operations as empty shipping containers weigh significantly less.

Empty container handlers are able to quickly and efficiently manoeuvre around and stack empty ISO 20’ and 40’containers in storage and port facilities up to 6-7 container high depending on the unit, allowing the maximum utilisation of available storage space.

Unit Example: Hyster RS45–46

Hyster reachstackers able to lift ISO 20’ and 40’ containers up to weights of 45T.

The added benefit of a reachstacker is that they are able to provide increased stacking density as their boom allows operators to stack containers up to three rows deep, compared to a standard container handler that can only stack one row deep.

They also provide maximum flexibility as they are able to drive under any height restrictions and turn a container up to 180 degrees when working in narrow aisles.

In this week’s blog we have briefly explained the eight different classes the Australian Forklift and Industrial Truck association classifies forklifts and materials handling equipment under.

We have also provided some examples of each class of unit to assist you in choosing the correct forklift or MHE for your application.

If you would like help making an informed decision on which class of forklift or MHE equipment is right for your application contact our team of experts on 13 22 54 or fill out a contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Reference List

  1. n.d. Lifttruck Codes. [ebook] Australian Forklift and Industrial Truck Association, pp.1-5. Available at: [Accessed 19 August 2020].