Market Trends

Optimism Spotty for Lift Truck Markets

The sale of material handling equipment is a good reflection of economic health in markets around the world. Attendees of the fall meeting of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) received a comprehensive picture of global economic conditions from the presidents of three of the world’s major industrial truck associations. On the whole, the picture is gloomy for 2003. There are some bright spots for the U.S. Here are highlights from each speech presented at the Presidents’ Forum. — Tom Andel, chief editor

Akira Yokoi, president, JIVA, the Japanese counterpart to the ITA, and chairman of Toyota Industries Corporation, reported a high demand during the first half of 2001 from companies changing over from internal combustion (IC) trucks to electric trucks had kept the overall market moving. This trend, however, began to decline in the second half of the year. This was because much of the demand for battery-operated lift trucks was satisfied, and that the Japanese economy as a whole began to head into decline.

“Despite this, we were able to achieve better results than our predictions had initially shown for the year,” he said. “Classes 1 and 2 grew significantly, but Class 3 trucks, even though they are electric powered, did not perform as well in Japan as they did in the U.S. and Europe. We expect to see growth in this area in the future.

“The general opinion of JIVA member companies is that there is unlikely to be any improvement in the market conditions during this year. The prediction is for an overall drop in sales of 8 percent.”

Hans-Peter Schmohl is president of FEM/IT, the European counterpart to ITA. He has 30 years of industrial experience, most of those in material handling:

“Our latest European market figures per country from January to August 2002 show a total of 167,500 units and a drop of 7 percent against the previous year,” said Schmohl. “Germany remains, with 34,500 units, the strongest market in Europe but lost more than 19 percent. France is, with 32,000 units and a decline of almost 10 percent, the second largest market followed by Italy with 24,500 units. UK and Spain gained some volume by more than 2 percent. Extraordinary strong growth of almost 17 percent is seen in Middle and Eastern Europe.

“In view of the economic problems in Germany, we expect for this year a drop in all market segments by 14 percent to 16 percent. Next year the industrial truck industry will be faced with a further decline of 3 percent for warehouse trucks and 5 percent for counterbalanced trucks.

“The only cheering prospect in Europe seems to be UK with an expected growth of almost 4 percent in 2002. Next year the markets for warehouse trucks and electric trucks will move slightly up by 2 percent while the IC truck market will remain on the level of 2002.”

Jim Moran, president of ITA and a senior vice president at Crown Equipment Corporation, started with the company 37 years ago. Jim was named an officer at Crown in 1985. This is his second term as ITA president:

“U.S. lift truck bookings have seen an upward trend through the first three quarters of 2002. Keep in mind, I chose to use factory orders from all market segments (USA, Canada, Mexico, government and export) rather than retail orders primarily because the regular members of this association are manufacturers and because historically in a recession what is booked at the factory level often represents the selling activity as well.

“Bookings started on a down note during the first quarter. This was to be expected as a carryover from the last quarter of 2001.

“In the second quarter, however, the industry saw positive growth of 13.5 percent over all five classes. You may notice that Classes 1, 2 and 3 [electric motor rider, electric motor narrow aisle and electric motor hand trucks] did not have the double-digit growth that was shown in Classes 4 and 5 [internal combustion engine trucks and internal combustion engine trucks, pneumatic tire] during the quarter.

“In the third quarter, however, all five classes saw double-digit growth with the industry growth rate hitting almost 25 percent. You probably will want to recall that the 2001 industry bookings were down significantly from 2000, but we view this as a very positive indicator.”

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