A reader asked a valid question the other day. In a comment to our post about How Cordless Power Tool Brands Started 2020, Popgun42 wrote:
I have Milwaukee M12 tools and I really like them. But with 18 and 20 volt getting smaller what will happen to the 12 volt.
In my opinion, nothing will happen to Milwaukee’s M12 lineup.
It’s a valid supposition. Quite a few brands have neglected their 12V-class cordless platforms over the years. With 18V-class cordless power tools so popular and even widely preferred, why put any emphasis into poorer-selling 12V-class tools that aren’t appreciably smaller?
But that’s the thing – Milwaukee’s M12 cordless power tool system is so broadly developed and mature that there isn’t a lot overlap with M18 tools.
We talked about this a couple of months ago, in my One of the Design Philosophies Behind Milwaukee M12 Cordless Power Tools post.
M12 is about Portable Productivity, designed to speed up manual processes.
You’re not going to find a lot of M12 cordless power tools in the M18 platform. Consider the M12 right angle die grinder. It’s compact, lightweight, and tries to mirror the size and performance of air-powered tools. In the M18 system, such a tool would be larger and heavier, and likely less ergonomic and comfortable to use.
Yes, there’s some overlap when it comes to cordless drills, drivers, and other core tools, but there’s not as much overlap for the M12 platform to give much ground to the M18 platform.
If Milwaukee’s M12 system only featured a couple of core tools and few specialty tools, then there might be a risk. But if you consider the breadth of the system, sure some tools could be redeveloped into M18 tools, but at great compromise.
A year and a half ago, a reader asked for advice on cordless caulk guns, as he couldn’t decide between the Milwaukee M12 model and Dewalt’s 20V Max. There’s also an M18 model with more power, but he was shopping based on the cordless systems he already bought into.
If you’re looking to replace a manual caulk gun, the Milwaukee M12 model provides matching power and in a compact size. If you need more power, you can step up to M18, but there’s also a cost to do so, monetary and in regard to size and weight. There’s not much that can be done to make that M18 size smaller, and so there’s a place on the shelf for M12 and M18 models.
Milwaukee has expanded their M12 cordless system over the years, and because of this there are tools to suit all kinds of user needs. For a lot of users, even those with large M18 or 18V-class cordless power tool kits, there are still needs that are better met by M12 tools. That is why the line will continue to grow and succeed.
Here’s a link to our Milwaukee M12 post archive (sorry, feel free to skip the expired deal links). There are so many tools that make sense for M12 but not for M18. For instance:
- Milwaukee M12 soldering iron (review)
- Milwaukee M12 Fuel cut-off tool
- Milwaukee M12 Fuel right angle die grinder
- Milwaukee M12 Fuel installation drill/driver
- Milwaukee M12 cordless torque wrench
- Milwaukee M12 cordless rivet tool
Also keep in mind that M12 heated jackets fit better with M12 batteries (but can be equipped with M18 if desired), and the worklights are smaller.
In regard to core tools, such as cordless drills and drivers, yes, 18V-class brushless drills and drivers are getting smaller and smaller. But M12 tools maintain a cost benefit, at least in most cases.
During holiday season promos, and sometimes in between, you can buy an M12 compact drill and impact driver combo kit for $99, sometimes less and other times with an additional battery. M18 drill and impact driver kits start at maybe $149 (once or twice a year), and it’s at $189-$199 where you can get a compact brushless combo kit, and that’s double the price.
It seems that all brands’ 12V-class cordless power tools are usually developed as compact and lightweight solutions that are also more budget-friendly than 18V-class equivalents. But M12 is different. Their vocalization of how M12 tools increase productivity by speeding up manual processes is fairly new and recent. However, it seems this has been their internal philosophy (or close to it) for quite some time.
Yes, M18 and 18V-class developments could influence the direction of future M12 developments. But, Milwaukee M12 is its own cordless power tool ecosystem, and as such, I would think that M12 tools and developments are not going to be very affected from 18V-class industry trends or size reductions. Things might be different if M12 were a smaller platform with just a handful of offerings.
I am sure that Milwaukee’s “big picture” includes M12 having a long future full of steady new tool releases and developments.
There is one uncertainty, however: How will the M12 battery pack geometry change if 18650 Li-ion cells skyrocket in price, making 21700 a better de facto standard? I’m sure they have a plan – or plans – for that. But for now, although more brands are offering 18V-class 21700-equipped cordless power tool battery packs and even designing higher powered tools around them, we haven’t seen any brands migrating away from 18650-equipped batteries, at least not yet.