The current economic downturn has been particularly hard on the aerial work platform market. We talked with leading manufacturers about the state of the industry and its future. Here's what they had to say:
Q: The past couple of years have been challenging for the aerial market. How would you characterize the current state of the industry?
A: Tim Ford, president, Terex AWP - While things have stabilized, the market is still trying to find the right level of equipment equilibrium to drive time utilization and increase rental rates. In some geographies, there are signs of potential growth over 2009, while in others, we might see continued softness.
A: Melinda Beckett-Maines, national marketing manager, Toyota/Aichi - We feel the market is slowly starting the recovery process. We feel fortunate that we've planned for slow incremental growth at Toyota and have been able to adjust our production with minimal impact.
A: Craig Paylor, president, JLG - Currently, the market is leveling and at a position just off the bottom. Used equipment prices are still very depressed and rental fleets are aging. The limited demand for access equipment tends to be for short-term projects with few long-term jobs available.
A: Alexandre Saubot, chief operating officer, Haulotte Group - After three years of strong growth, the worldwide market for access equipment was adversely effected in the second half of 2008 by a severe crisis that has spared none of the participants in our industry and also affected the worldwide economy. Our entire industry is facing a challenging year. Small industry players will have the difficulty of staying close to their customer, while stronger leaders who have made the decision to be stronger will get to measure the results of their strategy.
A: George Fitchett, vice president-sales, Snorkel - A sharp and sustained downturn is always going to cause a lot of pain. However, it has allowed our industry to become more lean, more focused, and I think much stronger. This is still a relatively young industry and if you look at the last downturn at the beginning of this century, there were a lot of casualties - both manufacturers and rental companies. The industry has proven itself to be much more resilient this time and that, for me, is a very positive sign that we are a sector built on strong foundations.
Most of the major manufacturers were left with a lot of machines on their hands when their big rental customers stopped buying back in 2008. Then, as the construction downturn intensified, those rental companies began selling off large numbers of aerial lifts. It has taken about 18 months for the industry to absorb this influx of used machines and the excess stock held by the manufacturers.
Q: Rental houses have traditionally been a primary market for aerial equipment. Is business picking up at all in this area?
A: Beckett-Maines, Toyota/Aichi - On the forklift side of the industry we have seen some return to interest in purchasing from the national rental companies, but less for the heart-of-the-line AWP products.
A: Paylor, JLG - There are some small increases in demand in a few pockets across the United States. In the global market, Canada is doing slightly better than the U.S., while Latin America, Asia and Australia are showing much more dynamic growth.
A: Saubot, Haulotte - In this period of crisis, all of our customers, suppliers and competitors have been affected and no signs of recovery can be seen so far.
A: Fitchett, Snorkel - I would expect most of the large rental companies will continue to keep a tight control over capital expenditures during 2010. They all bought big during the boom years, so have relatively young fleets of lifts.
However, we are still experiencing strong interest in Snorkel's unique and innovative products; those machines that are the clear market leader, or there simply is nothing like it available anywhere else.