In a recession from which there is still no full recovery, UK forklift users have moved in recent times more towards buying/hiring second-hand trucks, though some suppliers believe the pendulum is swinging back to new machines. But whether buying new or used, identifying the correct trucks is the easy part of the process. Buyers should, perhaps, place more value on how closely their prospective supplier will work with them to assess their real business requirements and identify the best fit for the business based on the customer’s operational and financial needs.

If choosing used trucks, buyers should pick a supplier with the credentials to support the purchase and supply equipment that is durable, with quality built in. For fleet users in particular, after sales support should be world class with fast response times and high level first time fix rates in the event of an emergency. Preventative maintenance is key to reliability, and firms like Toyota offer tailored packages to meet every business need to minimise down time.

In these uncertain times it is also important to choose a supplier that will support trucks users through every economic cycle. Many UK suppliers, particularly dealers, have gone through many changes and even big name manufacturers make no guarantees of their continued presence. When the current recession finally ends, the industry can expect far fewer dealers.

The rental market remains as competitive as ever, believes Toyota, with market forces dictating selling prices, but there is a clear requirement that product quality, reliability and service levels are critical to repeat business, and suppliers have only one opportunity to get it right in this climate. But the really successful suppliers will work with their buyers to drive down costs, which Toyota believes is their key differentiator in the market. That is not to belittle the need to manufacture excellent products to stay ahead of the competition, but product excellence alone is not enough.

Suppliers must think beyond the hardware. The highest costs in forklifts remain the operators and damage to products and assets. Leading suppliers like Toyota, Linde, Briggs and Barloworld have the tools and support to help analyse these costs and focus on helping customers to reduce them. Toyota says that time and time again, significant reductions can be made in these areas by improving drivers’ technique, analysing the operation and supporting damage control initiatives. “In one company alone,” says Toyota’s Marketing Services Manager, Chris Cave, “we have helped reduce their costs by hundreds of thousands of pounds by using our supporting tools in fleet control operator training and workplace safety.”

Buying the trucks is the first part of the process, but a clear focus on running costs are by far the best way of making MHE more affordable, says Mr Cave. In addition to running costs, however, another very significant costcutter is reducing interface costs. These are the costs a forklift can reduce by making better use of valuable space, which bequeaths so many other benefits like lower rents and rates, energy and truck numbers. Such trucks include the articulating machines of Transflift Bendi, Flexi Narrow Aisle and Aisle Master.

So what of the future for forklifts in these uncertain times? Toyota expects the market to grow in the UK this year, but they are talking the lower end of a market of 20,000 trucks, as opposed to 30,000 or so before the economy’s downturn. Jungheinrich is also upbeat, especially on the global picture. But a key ingredient in any upturn is the support of financial institutions, especially in the regrowth phase where cash flow is key. On the banks’ willingness to help the industry adequately the jury is still out.

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