Alexandre Saubot, chief operating officer of Haulotte Group, shares his views with Euan Youdale about bauma, anti-entrapment, training and the global marketplace.
In its financial results for 2012, Haulotte reported a “relatively strong” final quarter of the year with 15% growth in revenues to €82.2 million, taking its full year revenues to €355.7 million, an increase of 16% over 2011.
The French manufacturer is forecasting an increase of 10% this year, driven by the need for fleet renewal in Europe and a continued positive situation in developing markets.
Bearing this in mind, it would come as little surprise that Haulotte is opening a sales and services subsidiary in Mumbai, India. “It is a difficult legal process when it comes to India. We now have to get all the right stamps on the documents, but timings could be between early next year and the end of 2013 for opening,” says Mr Saubot. The site will initially offer services and sales, but, “Depending on the local cost and importation rules, and so on, we may offer local stock for distribution.”
India has been chosen thanks to the potential size of the market and its developing rental sector. “With the level of support they are asking for, if you do everything from Singapore or Dubai, which is not that close, you cannot achieve the level of support and grow the business.”
Ultimately Haulotte will offer the complete range there: “It usually starts with diesel booms and then moves to scissors and electric scissors. That is the normal process, but you can never say that for sure, and it is not specific to India; in another country you may go down another path.”
The manufacturer opened its China production facility, based in Changzhou, in 2009, where it produces electric scissors – the first step in what may become a full product offering.
Thanks, in part, to these additions, Mr Saubot says the company now has a relatively extensive global coverage, the only exception being South America. “We are probably lacking something in Latin America but that is a complicated area. If you produce in one part, you still have duties to pay in the other countries. So, which country would it be in, Brazil, or another country. But that’s under review and I would not make any more commitment before I found out the advantages and weaknesses of each area and we are not in a hurry to make any new moves.”
Haulotte does, however, now have a sales and service subsidiary in Santiago, Chile, along with others in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Mexico and is seeing growth, but Mr Saubot is sceptical of the assumption that lower import duties and taxes in Brazil, and other South American countries, would help the market. “Would it be much different with new rules? Timings would probably get a bit faster, but would it increase the market? No one really knows.
“Rental companies there have an absorption capacity in terms of, not only cash, but management of service and transport? When you look at it that way, you cannot necessarily say with less tax I could be twice as well off; that would be a tricky assumption.”
Strong in Europe
Turning to Europe, Haulotte closed its manufacturing plant in Santander, Spain last year, but Mr Saubot says the company’s market share in southern Europe, where it is traditionally strong, has not been dented. “The rationale behind the closure was the length of the crisis, the decrease in the Southern European market. We needed a bit less manufacturing capacity, as the recovery has been slower than it was in previous crises.”
Following the closure of the factory, the company split the products produced in Spain between remaining European factories; namely in L’Horme and Le Creusot, two its three France-based plants.
“It is a big change in that we have one less factory, but Spain was mainly dedicated to the production of telehandlers, and the rest of the machines were coming from other factories, so there’s no big change in Spain.”
Saubot places Haulotte as market leader in Europe, and number three overall, but concedes that the US has its difficulties. “Competition is a good thing, but I would say the US is the most difficult challenge because they [the competition] are playing at home.”
Haulotte did not have a stand at bauma 2010, but has decided to show again at the exhibition this year. The stand will be smaller at 592 square metres, compared to its bauma 2007 offering of 1,000 square metre, and there is good reason for this, says Mr Saubot.
“There are a limited number of customers in Europe and we know all of them. We are not going to a show to meet the customer; we can meet them one-by-one at specific events and at smaller national shows, and so on. For the moment you still have to show your products at those big exhibitions and you still have to show your image. When the market is tough and it remains tough I don’t see the reason to spend crazy amounts of money just to show your image.
“We have not changed anything that we provide at the booth; we are ready to receive any customer coming in, so why spend four times the amount for exactly the same results. It’s always the same question: where do you put your money.”
Mr Saubot continues on the theme. “It really depends on the maturity of the market when you are in a market like Europe or the US where everyone knows the brand. If you go to emerging nation exhibitions and other national shows, you are meeting people you don’t know; you are showing a product to people that don’t know it exists. You have an obvious benefit in terms enlarging the product awareness, not just the brand awareness, and you contribute to making the market bigger.”
"bC India and bauma China are an example, but in five years bauma China will be the same; you will see less and less new customers because you know everyone and you just sell the image.”
The challenge in China, “is to prove that you can provide standard Haulotte quality. What you find is that when you make a low cost machine, which is possible, you just don’t have the same spec. But if a Chinese manufacturer wants to make the same machine as us they will make it at the same cost; if you want to create a 20% or 30% lower costs then you have to discount [reduce the specifications] of the machine.”
Chinese manufacturers are players to be considered very seriously, says Mr Saubot. “They have a lot of resources and they are able to do a lot of things, but wherever are, you need to be able to address customer needs.”
Mr Saubot adds, “So, okay, I get 20% discount but that machine might only be in working order half of the time, your cash will be halved for only 20% discount on the asset purchased.”
Haulotte has been completing testing on its HT23 RTJ telescopic boom, ready for the first deliveries at the beginning of 2013.
Over recent months customers in North America and Europe have been putting the machine through its paces. According to Haulotte, the HT23RTJ has the best working envelope in its class, with a working height of 22.5 m and 18.1 m horizontal outreach. Full height can be reached in 54 seconds. The machine is officially being introduced into the market in the first quarter of this year. A second new machine is the HT21RT, which is the same model as the HT23RTJ, but without the jib.
Mr Saubot says, “It has been a good opportunity to show all our customers, mainly telescopic boom costumers, the new standard of quality and performance, and all the progress we have made because the machines we are offering were developed probably 15-20 years ago.”
The company’s telescopic boom range currently includes the HT21 RT, HT23RTJ, H28TJ+ and H43TPX, “So we still have a hole in the middle between 28 and 35 that probably needs to be addressed one way or another. But it’s not only this range, we also have the articulated boom, electric scissor, diesel scissors, vertical mast, you cannot do everything every year, you have to make your priorities.”
There are also plans for a 16 m boom, to be launched later this year. “It’s an intermediate one in that range. It will replace the existing products, we have a 16, 18, 20, 26. It will be case of improvement and bringing new technology on board.”
When it comes to use of AWPs, safety features have been the topic of intense debate, particularly when it comes to anti-entrapment devices. Towards the end of last year AEM and IPAF released a joint statement on the subject, “Prescribing one specific method of mitigation for all instances is not an appropriate strategy to ensure the safety of operators, occupants and bystanders.”
Mr Saubot agrees, “We are selling safety so anything related to safety has to be addressed very carefully by every manufacturer. But, you know, the only safe machine at the end of the day is one with a cage surrounding the basket, but no one can work like that - your machine is useless. Thinking that one tool will solve all the problems of entrapment when operating is, to me, a silly idea. It’s not a bad idea to have that equipment, but it is a silly idea to think you will solve a 100% of the problem.”
Operator training is a key part of the debate. “It’s not the lack of trained operators being available; if you want a trained operator you find one. It is about how you make sure that no one who is not trained is getting on the machine. The machine is so easy to use that someone on the jobsite will jump in and go for it without understanding the three-dimensional environment. For someone who has gone through an IPAF training programme, or French training programme, or a few others, the risk of having an accident plummets.”
Mr Saubot concedes, however, that not all Western countries have a structured approach to training, one of them being the US.
“In the US the product is very well established, even if the people are not formally trained, they are effectively trained: the product has been there a very long time, you find machines everywhere, so the risk of having someone using the machine and not being trained is lower than anywhere else. So that’s probably where organisations like IPAF have a challenge; the operator says, ‘why should I get a card and pay for it if I have been working on this kit for 15 years?’”
“It’s like trying to establish a driving licence in a country where 90% of the people there have been driving for 20 years.”