Investing in Europe

17 June 2021


Zoomlion Europe has opened a new plant in Italy, where its cranes will be manufactured. Sotiris Kanaris speaks to the newly-appointed general manager Petre Babiceanu about the new factory as well as the company’s current and future crane offering.

Chinese construction machinery manufacturer Zoomlion Group has been expanding its international presence in recent years. It has established R&D centres in Europe, Brazil and the US, as well as sales and service branches in Africa and the Middle East.

In 2018, the Chinese group chose Italian concrete machinery manufacturer CIFA (acquired ten years earlier) as its hub for the production and distribution of various Zoomlion-branded product lines in Europe. This led to the creation of Zoomlion Europe. Earlier this year, the company opened a new 10,000sqm plant in Solferino, in the North of Italy.

It will host the assembly and manufacturing activities of tower cranes, mobile cranes, truck-mounted pumps, forklifts and aerial work platforms by Zoomlion intended for European customers. This will be the only site in Italy, where the company’s cranes will be manufactured.

Petre Babiceanu joined Zoomlion Europe in April as the general manager. He previously worked for Terra, a sales and service company for construction and industrial machines with presence in Central and Eastern Europe, where his last role was general manager for lifting machinery.

Babiceanu says Zoomlion Group’s management sees Europe as a strategic market for the expansion of its international business, and this was the reason behind the decision to invest in a new European plant in Italy.

CIFA was instrumental to the creation of the new facility and helped secure funding from the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and from SACE, through Garanzia Italia, the instrument of the Liquidity Decree intended to support Italian businesses to face the Covid-19 emergency.

At the plant, the workstations have already been set up, and overhead and jib cranes have been installed. Babiceanu provides details about the new facility: “The structure is completely wired to allow the connection of the most advanced 4.0 technology machinery; the environments are organized according to the logic of lean production and the safety systems—such as the sensor system for the gas leak that allows to locate and automatically block the leakage—comply with the highest standards.”

He adds that the reduction of the environmental impact was a key consideration when designing the new plant. A solar panel system has been placed on the roof, which will power the production activities, while LED lighting will be used for the entire site.

CRANE OFFERING

The company took the decision to enter the all terrain cranes market in Europe in 2017. Babiceanu said at the time the best-selling capacities were the 60t and 100t machines, and that is why they chose those capacities for their first models. The industry had the chance to take a first look at the 60t ATC960 and 100t ATC1000 demo units at Bauma in 2019.

“The two models are preordered by top Italian clients,” says Babiceanu. “We decided to put our first steps in Italy in order to stay closer to the units and follow them on the field. Testing phase for all terrain crane is really a sensitive phase, therefore we are still under internal commissioning as we wish the units to be truly reliable supporting our customer’s business. Both models ATC960 and ATC1000 obtained full homologations and are CE certified.”

When it comes to the components, the company opted for European suppliers. “As we are a fresh new company in this competitive market arena, we strategically decided to source all the components in Europe from premium brands. This will help us to back-up our products with high levels of aftersales services for our customers and to supply warranties and spare-parts directly from our suppliers, as we found this aspect very important for our customers.”

In terms of the market for these cranes, Babiceanu says: “Mobile crane business is really challenging in Europe, as it is the most demanding market and our competitors hold very strong positions. Nonetheless we see customer segments in the market where we can penetrate, meeting customer’s demand and needs with our units and services.”

Zoomlion Europe is planning to expand its mobile crane portfolio even further in the near future, with various models in the pipeline. “We are under homologation phase for a new two-axle city crane with 40t capacity and a totally brand new 45t rough terrain crane. These two models are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy.”

Babiceanu says the next step will be to launch a new five-axle all-terrain machine. He adds that the company is considering offering to the European market cranes manufactured by Zoomlion in China, more specifically telecrawlers and lattice boom crawlers.

Since last year, Zoomlion Europe has been offering two flat top tower cranes to the market, the T7020-12 and the T6515-8. The T7020-12 has a maximum capacity of 12t and 70m jib, while the T6515-8 has a maximum capacity of 8t and a 65m jib.

They find that the tower crane market in Europe is performing well, despite the effects of the pandemic. Babiceanu says the strongest market for the brand’s tower cranes is currently Poland and sees positive signs from other European countries.

The manufacturer is planning to launch two more tower crane models this year, the W6522- 10 (205mt) and the W7025-12 (270mt). “From September, the development of the second phase begins, which among others includes the introduction of heavy flat top cranes, in order to have a full range of flat tops in 2022,” Babiceanu adds.

As to whether there are thoughts of introducing luffing jib tower cranes, he says: “We are aware of the importance of having a complete range (flat tops and luffers) in order to be able to introduce the Zoomlion brand throughout Europe and achieve excellent market share, even in countries such as the UK where the luffing jib crane is king. The Zoomlion R&D is working on it.”

To the question whether it is easier to penetrate the tower crane market rather than the mobile crane one in Europe, he answers: “Introducing a new brand is not an easy activity. We believe that product development is very important in collaborations with important players in the rental sector. In fact, this strategy is bringing the expected results. At the end, we can say that there is room in the market for both products.”

The company has been looking to establish a dealer network and Babiceanu says they have already signed many distribution agreements. “It is important for us to create bonds of trust that last over time.”

The Zoomlion ATC1000 all terrain crane.
The T7020-12H tower crane.
Zoomlion Europe’s new plant in Solferino, Italy.
Inside the new facility. It will host the assembly and manufacturing activities of tower cranes, mobile cranes, truck-mounted pumps, forklifts and aerial work platforms.