Valuable shows, sustainable growth?

17 May 2018

I write this month's comment shortly after returning from Intermat in Paris. As I wrote in my pre-show comment six years—two Intermats—ago, the purpose of the French show is at times unclear. It is at once too big to be a tightly-focussed national lifting show, and too small (and overshadowed in the triennial trade show cycle) to be a global launch show.

At this year's show, there were some notable companies who chose not to take part, or to take part in a more limited way than at other events. Terex were only represented at the event by their Genie access line.

Manitowoc made good use of limited space, focusing on their Potain tower crane line as it celebrates its 90th anniversary, and squeezing one of the company's Hup self erectors into an indoor space.

That's not to say the show received no positive attention from manufaturers. Liebherr, a reliably strong presence at events like this, had an extensive display of equipment.

Wolffkran, marking the establishment of its new French subsidiary, exhibited for the first time in many years, at least since it was owned by MAN. Locatelli's Michele Mortarino and Kobelco's Jos Verhulst both told me of a series of sales.

But enthusiasm and cranes were sparse. Putting together this month's show highlights spread, I looked for a general overview to open the piece. Typically, at an event like this, there would be a thicket of crane booms and masts from dozens of manufacturers. In Paris, there was nothing like this.

Beyond Bauma and ConExpo, the shows that I find most productive, and that my contacts speak most highly of, are those like the UK's Vertikal Days (taking place this month) and—I am told—France's JDL, that bring together a select group crane buyers and sellers, in a compact show ground.

That might be a starting point for Intermat 2021: a compact, dedicated, area where cranes are the focus, rather than a light dusting of cranes amongst all the construction equipment. This would at least make a visit to the event more efficient for rental fleet owners and other dedicated crane buyers.

Another way of strengthening the show's draw may be to play to its reputation as the 'French and Francophone' show. Many, but by no means all, of the sales I was told about at the event were to customers in the broad EMEA region. Perhaps, by focusing on European exports to this region, and having a compact area dedicated to lifting, Intermat could serve these customers more effectively. There are plenty of crane buyers within a four or five hour flight from Paris who might welcome the chance not just to see the newest cranes, but to be able to meet with a diverse range of manufacturers on an overnight trip.

One thing that made the sparse display in Paris so stark, was that the industry has over the last year been recovering relatively well.

Three or six years ago, a limited display at the Parc des Expositions could be understood as being a symptom of a struggling industry. Today, while the industry faces ongoing challenges, sales are stronger than they have been.

It is still unclear to me what the future holds. In this issue, we report on Liebherr's recent announcement of record-breaking group turnover. A glance at the two charts on that page makes clear though that, outside of the tower crane segment, there has not been a dramatic rise in crane sales.

Conversations I had in Paris suggested that excavator and duty cycle equipment sales remain good. There's a common sense rule that crane sales follow site preparation and foundation equipment sales, just as cranes follow this equipment onto the job site. On that basis, we should expect the industry to continue to grow, for at least a year or two.

In our features this month, Julian Champkin notes a fairly robust secondhand segment around the world. This too suggests to me that there is durability to the sector.

But, it takes only a glance at the news, to see that the world is increasingly unpredictable. In many of the strongest urban markets for lifting equipment, growth is spurred by international investors. It might not take many shocks to scare this money away.

Will North, editor