Brimming with confidence, Mannesmann Dematic describes 1998 as “a tremendously good year”, perhaps the best ever, with sales up 10%. Orders received worldwide rose by 34% in 1997 and by more than 40% in 1998. Projections indicate that the upward trend will continue this year.

Says Eberhard Kuhn, managing director of the mobile crane company: “Such is our backlog that we are sure to increase our market share.” He adds: “High innovation, new types of cranes, new technology – this is the basis of our success.” Marketing director Roland Schug reckons that Mannesmann Dematic will have nearly 25% of the German mobile crane market by the end of the year.

Behind the impressive figures lies the success of the 25t and 40t city class models, the AC 25, introduced in 1997, and the AC 40-1, launched last year. Profit margin may be better on the bigger cranes with which Demag made its reputation, but volume production centres around these two models, and the “international and domestic market share success” of these models is expected to continue this year.

The effects of last year’s Bauma exhibition are still feeding through for Mannesmann Dematic and Van Seumeren has taken delivery of its second AC 650 (which was launched at the show). In the first week of May Van Seumeren Germany began using the nine-axle AT for refinery work in the east of the country. German rental companies Brandt and Wiesbauer are due to receive their AC 650s this month or next.

Scholpp, another German rental company, was the first to place an order for the forthcoming AC 500-1 due for launch alongside the AC 100 and the CC 2500 crawler in October. Mannesmann Dematic will be the first to market with a five axle 100t AT. Almost a hundred orders have already been received for the AC 100 of which more than 50% are in Germany.

A feature of the AC 100 particularly relevant in Germany will be the total weight without counterweight of less than 48t which means that fewer road travel restrictions apply. Maximum counterweight will be 25t but within the 12t per axle limit it will still be able to carry 14.3t. Carrying 3.1t of counterweight, axle loading will be under 10t which is important in for example Poland and some Scandinavian countries.

Another feature of the design is a compact carrier at 10.995m long. This compares with 11.5m for Liebherr’s forthcoming LTM 1100/2. The carrier engine and transmission is a Daimler Chrysler package like the one used in the Mercedes Actros truck. There is electronic shift control for the 16 gears and no clutch pedal. Gears can be shifted manually by just moving the selector lever or left to automatic operation so the arrangement combines the advantages of manual and automatic systems. Compactness and reduced weight are additional benefits and Mannesmann says it will be first to the market with such a system.

The company claims a similarly innovative approach with its AC 500-1, also due for launch in October. It will have crab steer, unusual on this size of crane, to improve manoeuvrability on restricted sites. This is also helped by a compact carrier which, Dematic says, at 17.1m is again shorter than Liebherr’s 18.37m LTM 1500. Dematic claims that the AC 500-1 will also have better lifting capacity than the LTM 1500. A small counterweight radius of 6.1m means that it will stay within the outrigger base spread, unless fitted with superlift. The AC 500-1 has the star shaped outrigger configuration, because Mannesmann Dematic does not consider the ‘H’ shape design preferred by competitors to be suitable on this class of mobile crane.

Aside from assuring the successful launch of the new products in October, a second essential task facing Mannesmann Dematic is sorting out its US operations. It lost its US chief, Roland Hammer, just before Conexpo, who walked out claiming a difference in strategy. (The subtext appears to be that he felt he lacked support.) His former employers insist he left for entirely personal reasons. Either way, to make matters worse he immediately joined Liebherr’s mobile crane dealer Schiller International. Kuhn plays down the departure of Hammer. “We’ve got a good team [in the USA]. There’s no leakage,” he says.

Hammer’s departure came straight after the collapse of discussions with Sumitomo of Japan about a tie-up with Sumitomo’s US company, Link-Belt. Talks collapsed after a failure to agree terms “on the last 10%”.

No other deals or marketing agreements are being sought, Kuhn says, but he still has big plans for the USA, with Dematic standing on its own feet. “Our commitment is to be strong in the USA,” he says.

  The first step is finding a new location, probably in Charleston in the south. “Cleveland is not very suitable for the mobile crane division,” he says. “We need to be nearer a harbour.” As for the future, he does not rule out the possibility of assembling cranes in the USA.

Mannesmann Dematic is considering marketing the nose-down AC 25 and AC 40-1 models in the USA. They were not shown at Conexpo, where only a single (although huge) AC 650 was displayed. And they are expensive compared to rough terrain or truck cranes. But there are some jobs in which they really come into their own. “We think there are possibilities in the large cities,” says Kuhn. “In fact, we are sure.” In spite of the health of the mobile crane division, speculation continues in the financial press about the future composition of parent company Mannesmann AG which is increasingly a telecoms company, rather than an old fashioned metal-bashing engineer. Even the core tubes business, on which the entire enterprise was originally founded, is now being disposed of.

Kuhn is a mechanical engineer who started on the Demag drawing board. He has been with the company 33 years, is now aged 60, and is planning on staying for some years to come. He totally refuses to accept that Mannesmann may sell its mobile crane business. “Mannesmann AG absolutely will not get out of mechanical engineering and automotive. They want to be diverse. There is absolutely no question that the mobile crane division will be sold or split off.” German public companies are more protected from shareholder pressure than is the case in certain other countries, such as the UK, but analysts believe that in order to satisfy shareholders Mannesmann will need to demonstrate that there are synergies between the diverse business units such as telecoms and cranes. With cranes becoming more technological, this may not prove impossible.

The crane people in Mannesmann Dematic say that a sale would make no sense as the mobile crane division is doing so well.

Others may take the view that that is the best time to sell. And there would be no shortage of bidders, with certain US crane manufacturers particularly keen.