chaz6The recession has certainly added to the fork lift industry’s problems but the turmoil has some positive aspects. For instance, it should encourage truck manufacturers and dealers to work towards more meaningful, longer term relationships with customers, in which the supplier advises the customer how to survive these challenging times and maintain best fork lift practice.

Briggs Equipment, main dealer for Caterpillar fork lifts, is already seeing signs of this approach coming into its own as customers look to reduce total truck costs rather than sweating pure truck prices. Briggs also say customers are looking for a long-term partnerships with their truck suppliers for years to come.

Suppliers like Briggs are doing their bit in terms of commitment. A good example is their recent launch of BE Fleet, an online asset management tool. Easy to set up, with no software installation, it offers complete fleet visibility, including real-time reporting, consolidated invoicing and the ability to review fleet statistics across multiple sites and different service and truck providers, generating real-time accurate costs for fleets or individual trucks.

The more pro-active suppliers are also being more flexible over long-term, five-year leases by allowing one-year break clauses. Suppliers do not like these terms, but truck buyers can hardly be expected to commit themselves for five years when they cannot see the outlook for their business further than six months ahead. If suppliers eschew this flexibility, buyers will simply move towards short-term rental.

The recession has also spurred more concern for fuel efficiency, whether electric or hydrocarbon, and there is a move by larger corporate buyers to give more than lip service to environmental concerns. Smaller customers, however, are still very much focused on survival in a still very tough economic climate.

Just how tough things are can be gauged by a number of major manufacturers reputedly sitting on huge amounts of trucks, many of which they are selling below cost, a business model that cannot be sustained for long.

The problem of achieving a desirable selling price could be made worse for the fork lift suppliers if Chinese manufacturers, whose quality has been much improved to acceptable European levels in recent years, decide to set up shop in low-cost, East European countries to reduce their carbon footprint and supply chain disruption risks. This will make life even more competitive for everyone involved in selling ‘normal price’ fork lifts, but it’s good news for anyone thinking of buying or renting.

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