Grove’s difficulties in recent years have been well documented in this magazine, reaching their lowest point when sales actually fell after it displayed its new product at Conexpo 99. Only six months ago major crane buyers in Europe would happily explain why they would never buy a Grove crane. The main reason given was that they felt the products were not sufficiently reliable, but the underlying concern was that Grove had developed a poor image which impacts on residual value and resale prices.

Today those same European major purchasers now say they are seriously considering buying Grove’s all-terrain cranes. They have been persuaded that Grove is making a comeback and is once again becoming a strong brand. Perhaps surprisingly, part of the reason that they have been won over is the new bright yellow colour scheme and logo. Cynics might suggest that new colours were purely a cosmetic change, perhaps designed to camouflage lack of progress elsewhere. But one of the biggest fleet owners in France says that he sees it as a sign that the company cares about its product and about its image, and he happily accepts the Grove corporate line that the new look symbolises a genuine revival.

Revival has centred on three aspects: making the business more efficient, integrating the US and European operations, and accelerating new product development.

As previously reported, manufacturing is being reorganised. Grove Worldwide chief executive officer Jeff Bust, who joined the company in June 1998, says: “When I started we had 12 or 13 different cab designs for RTs. Now there’s one, though we may get another one for the bigger models.” Since acquiring Krupp in 1995, Grove has struggled to get the full benefit. The GMK all-terrain product line has sold well in the USA, but synergies were not much in evidence. They remained two separate companies, it appeared. Now a degree of technology transfer and co-operation is emerging. Grove is producing European-style ovoid booms in the USA for its new RT 700 series of large rough terrain cranes. These booms were designed in Shady Grove, and have thicker wall sections than the booms of the German GMK product.

GMK ATs are also now being assembled in Shady Grove from kits shipped over from the Wilhelmshaven factory in Germany. This year Shady Grove will assemble and deliver eight units of the GMK 5180 (designated 5210 in the USA – 210 US ton capacity). The next step is to decrease the amount of componentry shipped across the Atlantic and increase the US input.

Bust reveals that Shady Grove and Wilhelmshaven are jointly engaged in developing a new AT crane which will have a capacity of around 450t, making it Grove’s biggest model. It is likely that the carrier will be built in Shady Grove (for the US market at least) and the upper in Wilhelmshaven. We can expect to see the prototype at Conexpo 2002, he says.

Bust acknowledges that this kind of co-operation has not happened before because of internal politics, bureaucracy and battles for personal fiefdoms within the corporation. That has now been broken down significantly, but by all accounts vestiges remain and internal wrangling has not completely gone.

As for other new product, new RTs out of the USA were detailed in last month’s issue of Cranes Today. From Germany this year come two new ATs: the all-new 100t GMK 5100 and the upgraded GMK 5300.

Next year, at Bauma in Germany, we can expect a new four-axle machine to replace the GMK 4070 and 4080 which are well past their prime and have been long overtaken by the competition.

“Product development and new product are the most important part of our strategy,” says Bust. “It gives our distributors something to sell.” The growing acceptance that Grove now builds large cranes of quality has resulted in the Wilhelmshaven plant reaching capacity. Production of the two-axle machines is now outsourced to GRC in Italy, the company that used to build the 25t Krupp cranes. After a difficult 1998, related to problems implementing the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) management system, Wilhelmshaven had a record year in 1999 and is likely to do even better this year. (Shady Grove also had significant problems with ERP.) Sales forecasts are now so bullish at Wilhelmshaven that it is planning to increase capacity to shorten lead times, which average six months.

Not only is the product taking shape, it seems that the battle with finances is being won too. According to chief financial officer Steve Cripe, cashflow is strong, debt is down to $450m at an operating level, and by next year the company should reach its target of having $50m to $60m operating income. In fact, says Cripe, if the market stays strong, Grove’s finances should be straight again within the next three or four months.

Recent evidence suggests otherwise. The good news is that for the six months to 1 April 2000 (first half of fiscal 2000) net sales were up 9.3% to $383m. The bad news is that pre-tax losses continue to mount – $23.6m in the first half (compared with 1999’s half-yearly loss of $19m). And adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell from $19.3m to $12.3m. These figures include a $6m hit for restructuring charges, however, which should clear the decks considerably for the second half of the year.

New GMKs shown at French open day

Grove decided against exhibiting at Intermat last month. Instead it held an open day for 300 French customers at its Cergy-Pontoise facility in Paris a couple of weeks beforehand. The event offered a preview of two new AT cranes and two Manlift telescopic boomlifts. Alongside these the RT 530E, a 30t-rated rough terrain crane, was shown for the first time in Europe. Also on show were scissor lifts made by Skyjack, with which Manlift has signed a marketing agreement. Each will sell the other’s aerial work platforms to “targeted customers”. Initially the deal extends only to the USA, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Agreements for the rest of the world will follow, the companies say.

The new cranes on show were the 100t five-axle GMK 5100 and the 300t six-axle GMK 6300. Both feature Grove’s latest U-shaped MegaForm boom and the Twin-Lock single-cylinder, double-pin boom extension and locking system, as featured on the GMK 5180.

The GMK 5100 (5120 in the USA) has a five-section 12.8m main boom which extends to 51m. It carries 11t of counterweight in 12t per axle road-going configuration, with which it can lift 100t at 3m.

When fully rigged with 31t of counterweight it can lift 2.2t at maximum reach of 46m.

Swingaway extensions of 11m and 18m are available, plus inserts for 26m and 34m lengths, with offsets up to 40°. This gives a maximum hook height of 85m, the highest in the class by a clear 3m. The 18m bi-fold swingaway can be carried on board along with a 20t hook block and 16.00R25 tyres, and the crane stays within 12t per axle.

From January 2001 the hydraulic luffer that has proved such a popular feature on the GMK 5180 and 6200 will also be available as an option on the 100t model.

Grove says that it had registered more than 100 advance orders for the GMK 5100 even before its launch, on the strength of the design specifications. Deliveries began in April, and it is the first GMK crane to carry Grove’s new colours.

The GMK 6300 is an upgrade of the 1998 model 6250, the 250t AT which itself was the first GMK product after Grove took over Krupp, and the first to feature the Twin-Lock boom pinning system. The GMK 6300 is the new flagship of the fleet and is directly up against both the Demag AC 300 and the newer Liebherr LTM 1300/1.

Rather more work has gone into the 6300 than one normally associates with upgrades. As well as having bigger cylinders on the boom and outriggers, it has also been given a MegaForm boom, which is lighter, stronger and more U-shaped than the standard Krupp boom that features on the predecessor GMK 6250. The new shape not only eliminates the need for internal stiffeners, it also makes possible a wear-pad arrangement which Grove claims is smoother and self-aligning.

The result of these changes is a chart that is improved by 20% or more in the mid-range. The five-section boom of the 6300 extends from 15.5m to 60m and can lift 29t at maximum lift height of 59m. At maximum 56m radius it can lift 5t.

An A-framed luffing jib from 21m to 61m can lift 2.8t up to 108m high, or 4.1t at a 74m radius. Also available are 19m to 51m fixed jibs that can be offset at 3° and 25°, as can an 11m to 19m telescopic swingaway that lifts up to 15t at 11m radius.

All new GMK carriers have Grove’s MegaTrak all-wheel independent suspension. The carrier on the GMK 6300 is 12x6x12 (12x8x12 optional) and has a turning radius of 13m which, according to Grove, is the best in its class.