50 years of International Construction part 5 - the 1980s

By Helen Wright31 May 2012

Construction equipment exhibitions often provide a barometer for the industry's health, and such was the case through the highs and lows of the 1980s.

The early part of the decade was a difficult time for the industry, with the world in the grip of a recession. As such, the big exhibitions in 1980 - Bauma in Germany, Samoter in Italy, ConAgg in the US, Rockstore in Sweden, and the Brno trade fair in former Czechoslovakia - took place against a troubled backdrop.

iC's report from the Rockstore show gave a real flavour of the times, "Overcrowded cities, inefficient transport and storage systems, the threat of nuclear war, energy shortages, concern for the environment - they all point towards the use of underground space."

The situation had improved little by 1985, when the Expomat show in Paris, France came around. By this point, everyone was looking for signs of a turnaround in the market.

It was also the first time that Expomat - the forerunner of Intermat - was held at the then-new Paris-Nord exhibition centre, and the show was completely restyled with a focus on innovation. But, despite all the high hopes, it was a flop.

"Expomat '85 could well be remembered as the one conspicuous by absence - absence of some of the major manufacturers, absence of visitors," iC wrote at the time. The official visitor figures of 88310 were far lower than the over 100000 forecast.

This was in stark contrast to the Conpex Asia exhibition that had taken place in Singapore in 1981, during a boom in the Asian construction market. Although the show was far smaller, iC reported that machines were being sold as soon as the show opened, and the pace of sales continuing throughout.

Two excavators, a wheeled loader and a jaw crusher were sold by Kobe Steel (Kobelco) to local companies in the opening minutes of the show.

Asian opportunities

Indeed, the downturn in the West had turned the attention of many European and US manufacturers to Asian markets. John Deere used Conpex Asia to signal a push into Asia, with a depot in Singapore.

By the time ConExpo '87 came round in Texas, US, the market in the West was still stagnant, and the industry's equipment manufacturers were now talking openly of their business being a "mature" one, with little growth seen in the short term.

"Manufacturers put together an interesting array of technology - although little could be described as really innovative," iC lamented in its report on the show.

However, just two years later, Bauma '89 coincided with a rebound in the construction industry, with Europe's economy finally firing on all cylinders, and robust conditions in the US and Japan. Tickets and exhibitor space for Bauma sold out months in advance, and well over 250000 visitors attended.

iC wrote, "There's never been a trade fair quite like it - it is the most successful in Bauma's 22 year history."

And with 28% of visitors coming from outside Europe, exhibitors were delighted, with many reporting orders secured at the show running into millions of Dollars.

German wheeled loader, excavator and compactor manufacturer Hanomag, reported orders for no less than 500 machines at the show - sales that more than recouped the cost of the stand.

So it was that a decade that started in such gloom ended on a bright note for the construction equipment industry. But the fact that Hanomag was acquired by equipment giant Komatsu that very same year demonstrated the change was still coming thick and fast, and the roller coaster ride would continue.

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