Well its official DEWALT has announced its new line of 20V Max Tools. Although unlike the name might suggest there is no more voltage available to these tools than their current 18V line or any competitors 18V for that matter. These will be the first tools DEWALT has ever made in the 18V category that will not be compatible with all the previous tools dating back to 1996. That selling point has been a big one for the yellow team and could be hard to overcome. Currently there are roughly 63 million Ni-Cd or Lithium DEWALT batteries in use worldwide on this 18V platform. So why is DEWALT moving toward this new 18V 2.0 platform?
The Tools Themselves
The new line of DEWALT 18V (20V Max) consist of a core group of 10 products: compact drill/driver – DCD780C2 ($219, Amazon), compact hammer drill - DCD785C2 ($239, Amazon), premium drill/driver – DCD980L2 ($279, Amazon), premium hammer drill - DCD985L2 ($299, Amazon), impact drivers – DCF885C2 ($219, Amazon – 1.5Ah batteries) & DCF885L2 ($269, Amazon – 3.0Ah batteries), reciprocating saw - DCS380L1, circular saw - DCS391L1, SDS rotary hammer - DCH213L2 ($469, Amazon), right angle drill/driver - DCD740C1 ($199, Amazon) and LED pivoting head worklight - DCL040 ($49, Amazon). Most of these tools are based off their old 18V counterparts with modest speed & power improvements. All of the tools did get improved ergonomics because the 20V slide batteries allow for a more comfortable handle now that the battery stem is not in the handle of the tool. The new 20V tools also move the electronics to the tool (lithium XRP 18V are in batteries) which will cut down on the problems & costs of the lithium battery. Currently the 20V Max 3.0Ah are targeted at $99, 1.5Ah at $69-79. The new 20V batteries will also share the same charger as the DEWALT 12V Max making for 1 less charger on the jobsite.
The New 20V Battery
The simple fact is that all tool batteries are made up of lithium ion cells that when fully charge “Max” out at 4 volts, however on first trigger pull voltage drops to 3.6 usable volts. At that point they produce a fairly consistent power output until the battery is near drained. These new “20 volt” batteries contain the same number of cells (5) as do all other 18 volt tools. These new DEWALT cells do have a higher Amp Hour rating than their current 18V XRP batteries with ratings of 1.5Ah & 3.0Ah (most commonly others rated at 1.3Ah or 2.6Ah). This high Amp hour is not necessarily unique to DEWALT as Milwaukee also switch to a high Amp hour cell with their new Red Lithium batteries as well as Bosch’s current European batteries, coming to US soon.
The Marketing Juice
Just like any car company, tool companies launch new versions of their products every few years. This gives them opportunity to make improvements but also to get some new customer interest and press coverage… like you are reading right now. DEWALT creating a new line of 18V tools that is not compatible with their 15 year tradition of 100% compatibility is big news but it goes beyond that! Recently we watch a great movie called Beer Wars (IMDB, watch full movie online) where beer manufacturing juggernaut Budweiser actually worked to deliberately create many more varieties of beer to fill up the premium spots on grocery store shelves with more of their own products. Since they have the largest market share, they also have the most product reps who actually stock store shelves for the stores making it easy for them to place their products prominently at eye level.
Perhaps the folks at DEWALT watched the same movie we did and might not think it such a bad idea to have a full line of 18V & a full line of 20V tools on the shelves at say Home Depot for the next several years. DEWALT certainly has the most reps setting up their own displays in the stores perhaps they wouldn’t exactly view that as a bad thing pushing the red, blue and green tools to the side. The good news is we really do believe them when they say, there will be no rush to push customers to convert to the new 20V tools on their side.
But How Does this Help DEWALT Faithful?
The DEWALT faithful with their 63 million batteries floating around out there may not take this departure of compatibility as good news. In using the new 20V tools along with the old 18V and several other competitors in each case the differences were certainly not earth shattering, maybe a few ounces lighter or milliseconds faster but nothing game changing in terms of speed or performance. No question the 3.0Ah will add more runtime to each charge but this seems to be the trend right now for several main tool companies, we will have to wait to see which of these new 3.0Ah batteries really lasts the longest.
No matter how long DEWALT claims they will continue to support the 18V line the inevitability of the situation is at some point all the new yellow tools will be developed exclusively on the 20V Max line and users who want the most up-to-date tools will need to switch. While DEWALT dealers will probably carry the 18V Ni-Cd batteries for another decade or so, we can promise you none of them are going to be too thrilled to stock twice as many yellow tool SKUs for very long. DEWALT even has the transition charger (see above) for that period where you still have old tools but want to move into some of the new ones. Eventually dealers and users will all switch over and at that point we can see the master plan unfold. It will be very convenient to have cross over between the 12V & 20V “MAX systems”. Currently the shared MAX platform is just on the charger but there is no reason that might not apply to radios, lights and other accessories
Only time will tell if the DEWALT fans embrace the change or revolt in the streets.