chaz2Following, perhaps, the sharpest slump in UK forklift history experienced over the last 18 months, the market for 2010 shows tentative signs of recovery but convulsions can still be expected among top suppliers, with many over-borrowed, middle-ranking dealers merging or closing.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign of green shoots emerging is the switch from buying used trucks to buying new. One UK truck manufacturer reported that 90% of its sales were for used trucks last year but so far this year the sales split between new and used is 50-50, though truck volumes this year so far remain unchanged on last year. Even so, this suggests that market confidence is returning as buyers invest for the longer term. Niche market supplier, Cooper Specialised Handing, also sees market confidence returning. “Our forecast is the strongest it has been for the last two years,” says MD, David Cooper.

Another interesting development is that China, a country to which much UK manufacturing has been outsourced, may be shooting itself in the foot over poor quality and delivery issues. Simon Brown, MD of Translift Bendi, believes that it is cheaper to produce in the UK to the acceptable quality levels than in China. There are also signs that global corporations have had enough of Chinese quality and delivery problems and are looking to rely on production facilities back in their main European markets.

The recovery, however, such as it is, looks widespread. This year is expected to see moderate growth in bookings for both counterbalanced and warehouse trucks, reports the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA), with 2011 and beyond expected to grow more strongly. Even at the pedestrian truck end of the market, Wilmat Handling reports encouraging signs. From being on a 3-day week last year it is now back on a 5-day week and sees no likelihood of that changing, says director, Teresa Hunt. In particular, it reports strong sales and interest  in its stacker trucks converted for morgue work to reduce manual handling injuries over lifting obese cadavers.

Lest all this sounds even mildly euphoric, it should be said that much depends on global economic recovery. BITA concedes that recovery will be bumpy and slower than normal recessions, with the likelihood of a double dip recession as the initial growth phase is followed by a downward correction before a more sustained recovery emerges.

For the UK economy, in particular, there are extra snares on the recovery road that could derail forklift revival. The fall of 7,000 in unemployed for the three months to November, the first such quarterly fall in 18 months, for example, should not be seen as particularly encouraging because the full time jobs among men are still falling sharply while most of the increase in jobs is part time for women.

The Government must also deal with its unprecedented debt mountain, which inevitably will include sharp spending cuts and tax rises, which can only bode ill for employment and thus consumer spending. If the Government is not seen to be taking firm enough action then international confidence in Britain’s sovereign debt rating will collapse, leading to a sharp Sterling fall, much higher interest rates and therefore higher inflation, all of which, on balance, will be bad for jobs and investment.

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