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12V Max Vs 10.8V Lithium-Ion Battery & Cordless Tool Platforms

Edit:ShenZhen Dingkangda Technoloy Co., Ltd      Date:Mar 29, 2016

Every so often I receive emails, usually from European and Australian readers, asking about the differences between a particular 12V Max USA-model tool and the 10.8V models found at their regional distributors.


There is no difference! Well, at least not usually. It is difficult to look back and pinpoint the exact time “12V” became the new standard. When Bosch spearheaded the compact cordless Li-ion tool market, their tools were marketed as 10.8V. Sometime later, after other manufacturers released tools of their own, Bosch switched to 12V nomenclature.


When you charge up a 10.8V battery, it very briefly measures as ~12V. But under load and during use, the batteries output 10.8 volts. In a similar sense, rechargeable AA batteries are 1.2V cells. But immediately after being charged and before being used to power a device, these batteries may be rated at higher voltages.


So why are USA-models now marketed as “12V Max” and international models “10.8V?” Mostly, it’s out of necessity. Once one brand markets their compact cordless tools as 12V, they all pretty much have to.  Some brands, such as Makita, resisted this trend as long as they could, but ultimately the shift is necessary in order to be competitive.


A few months ago I asked a European tool makers about the differences between two of their levels that were identical but with different shape profiles. Their reply was, in short, “Americans strongly prefer the larger levels.” I have heard similar declarations in the past, that Americans like things bigger, and the such.


But you know what, it’s a pretty fair stereotype when you consider tool trends. Let’s say there are two identical drills, except that one is blue and one is green. Both drills are priced the same and are placed on the same shelf. The blue tool is marked “12V Max” and the green one “10.8V”. Realistically, which drill do you think will sell better?


We’ve been trained to look at numbers and specs such as torque, battery power, and motor amperage. So is it really a shock that most tool brands now market their compact cordless tools as “12V Max” in the USA? If they didn’t, imagine how much of a competitive disadvantage they would suffer.


So why is this not the case in Europe and elsewhere? I cannot really answer that. A quick check shows that Bosch and Dewalt’s lineups are still marketed as “10.8V” there. The only brand marketing their new li-ion tools as 12V there is Milwaukee, with their M12 lineup. Although there’s no way to tell, I suspect that Bosch’s move to switch from 10.8V to 12V nomenclature was due to increasing competition from Milwaukee back when they introduced their M12 tools in the nascent compact cordless tool market.


As a society we’re still completely obsessed with numbers. We want more GHz, more megapixels, higher torque, more clutch settings, greater voltages, more apps, more horsepower. You get the picture.


What I really, really don’t want to see in the future are “20V Max” tools that nominally run at 18V. I’m not sure about the size of current lithium ion battery cells, but I believe they’re 3.6V each, given that 3.6V x 3 = 10.8V and 3.6 x 5 = 18V. It is NOT possible to built a 20V lithium ion battery with 3.6V or even 1.2V cells.


While “20V Max” tools would be consistent with current 10.8/12V Max naming trends, it could create more confusion as competing manufacturers play the numbers game and adjust their own marketing practices.