Truck cranes under pressure
By Euan Youdale03 March 2009
The global market for truck cranes is wavering under economic pressures but manufacturers are meeting the challenges head on. Euan Youdale reports.
Truck crane sales in China account for 57% of the global market and make up 80% of the country's construction crane industry, according to Bauma China show organisers. XCMG has more than 50% of the market, with Zoomlion Puyuan taking another 20%. In the first half of 2008, total sales in the Chinese truck crane industry stood at 13,052 units, showing a year-on-year increase of 32.41%. Although 8 to 25 tonne capacity models are traditionally the mainstay of the industry, larger capacity machines, up to 130 tonnes, are becoming more popular, including in the export market. For example, say Bauma China organisers, in the first half of 2008 exports of 100 tonne models and above stood at 16 units, showing a year-on-year increase of 77.8%. Before 2005 no 130 tonne truck cranes were manufactured in China.
Manitowoc showed two of its three new Dongyue truck cranes at the Bauma China 2008 exhibition in late November. On show were the 18 tonne capacity GT18 and the 25 tonne GT25-4. They are manufactured at the Manitowoc joint venture factory in Tai'an, China.
Gilles Martin, Manitowoc Asia-Pacific executive vice president, said the launch of the truck cranes is a message to the market. "Although the new truck cranes from Manitowoc Dongyue are currently for the Chinese market only, by launching them at Bauma China we are sending a message that we are on the road to building international quality truck cranes at this facility," he said. "This show is a great opportunity for our customers to learn about our intentions in the truck crane market in China and beyond."
Manitowoc started the joint venture with Tai'an Dongyue Heavy Machinery Co., Ltd. earlier in 2008. The new business and products resulting from the partnership are known as Manitowoc Dongyue. Gilles Martin, Manitowoc EVP Asia Pacific, gave an update on progress at the Dongyue factory. He said that there is a programme in place "to improve the cranes, make them better quality, with higher performance and increase reliability." Largest in the range at the time of writing in late November was 50 tonnes capacity.
In his opening speech at Bauma China, Martin expounded on the theme. "Since the establishment of the JV, we have already implemented many initiatives to improve product quality, operation efficiency and engineering technology. We have also leveraged the engineering expertise from Grove to improve the development of our new products."
New from BQ Tadano in China was the GT-750E. Capacity is 75 tonnes at 3 m radius and the five section synchronised boom extends from 11.5 to 44 m long. Boom telescoping takes 145 seconds to 32.5 m. Swing away jibs of 9.9 and 17.7 m are available and can be offset at 3.5, 25 or 45 degrees.
The four axle carrier is built in China by Keijyo Heavy Machinery, parent company of the BQ part of the joint venture with Tadano. It has a 10.8 litre six cylinder turbocharged Cummins diesel with direct injection, rated 283 kW at 1,900 min-1. Transmission is a 16 forward and two reverse speeds Eton driving the rear two axles. The GT-750E is for sale only in China.
Tadano is also part of the established truck market in Australia. James Equipment recently sold its 100th Tadano GT-550EX model since becoming Australian distributor for the manufacturer in 2004.
It was the fifth GT-550EX to be delivered to Goldfields Crane Hire in Kalgoorlie, which has a fleet of 27 cranes. "Crane companies and industrial operators the length and breadth of Australia have purchased the GT-550EX," said Peter Shelton, James Equipment group general manager.
The Tadano GT-550EX has a 55 tonne lifting capacity, a 42 m main boom with 14.6 m fly jib. It includes Tadano's own four axle carrier with a Euro 2 compliant six cylinder turbo diesel engine and a top road speed of 83 km/h.
"We have noticed a return to the truck crane market in Australia. The all terrains were all the rage but maintenance costs and the enormous distances that many hirers travel to and from jobs in Australia has seen the truck crane enquiry increase significantly," adds David White, James Equipment crane purchasing and sales manager.
Speaking about the economic situation in Australia, White said the truck crane, along with other crane types, has been heavily affected. "This has been due in the most part to the huge shift in exchange rates not necessarily an economic downturn, especially with the stronger Yen and the weaker Australian dollar."
Another issue is new emissions rules, which are driving developments to truck cranes designs globally, but could see Australia missing out on larger capacity models.
"In Australia we are very hamstrung by our road licensing laws and issues, so although the market would love to see and embrace larger truck cranes, the rules here stifle that development," says White.
"I do feel though that due to the increase in pricing of new cranes caused by our exchange rate issues, that the Australian crane hire industry needs to take a good look at the low hourly rates still being charged, and increase them significantly if they expect to be able to renew and upgrade their fleets as they have been doing in the past," White continues.
Elsewhere, the pressure of market conditions has hit some manufacturers. In November 2008, Kato announced it had dissolved the Euro Rigo partnership with Italian truck crane producer Rigo. This was due to delays in product development, along with the difficulties in achieving sales and profit, compounded by the world economy, it said. Kato now plans to use its available management resources to improve profitability in the increasingly difficult business environment at home.
Home and abroad
This plan of action was being demonstrated at the show by a new Kato prototype, the 30 tonne capacity NK-300VR truck crane which is due to roll out the factory in 2009. Maximum boom length is 34 m, plus fly jibs of 8.3 or 13.8 m. Total length of the machine is 2.65 m, height is 3.8 m and turning radius 11 m. A feature, says the company, is the crane's flexibility in confined spaces. Maximum derricking angle is 81°. The fly jib has three offset angles: 5°, 25° and 45°. It has a new engine, a FAW CA6DL1-29E3 which conforms to Euro III emission regulations. The company was also showing its latest production model, the 55 tonne capacity NK550VR, launched in July 2007.
Kato told IC that the cranes on display were designed for the Japanese market and would not be imported to Europe, however, the company said it would like to return to the continent in the future, but CE compliance was also a problem.
In the US, Link-Belt has been upgrading its engine to meet export standards. "Due to different sulphur content requirements for diesel fuel throughout the world, we added a new export engine option to our 60 ton (45.3 tonne) HTC-8660 Series II, 75 ton (70 tonne) HTC-8675 Series II and 90 ton (81.6 tonne) HTC-8690 truck cranes," says Rick Curnutte manager, telescopic boom cranes.
A number of these machines have already been shipped to the Middle East, among other markets. In addition, CE marked versions of the HTC-8675 Series II and HTC-8690 will begin shipping to Europe in the first quarter of 2009. One of them will be at UK construction show SED in May, 2009, in conjunction with Link-Belt's UK distributor NRC Plant.
Short lead times
So far, the economic situation has had a marginal impact on truck crane sales, according to Curnutte. "What slowdown we have seen to this point has allowed us to shorten lead times in our backlog. Over the past several years, demand so outpaced production that it was difficult for us to respond to the market. Now our lead times are shortening to a more manageable length. We feel 2009 will be a very good year - maybe not as strong as 2008, but still a good year."
Sales of Manitowoc Grove truck cranes, manufactured at its Shady Grove facility in Pennsylvania, US, have seen a slight decline in some applications in the country, says the company, especially where there is a need for bigger cranes. "All terrain cranes are now filling that role. In the past, truck cranes were the only choice for many customers who needed a large crane that could travel via roadways. However, in several markets abroad and here in the US the truck crane is still the lift solution of choice, mainly for its price and simplicity," says Ruben Olivas, Manitowoc global product manager for boom trucks, truck cranes and industrial cranes.
The largest markets for truck cranes worldwide are China and Russia, confirms Olivas. But sales in these markets have not evolved as quickly as those in North America. "The upgraded technology and innovation of truck cranes manufactured in North America puts them at a disadvantaged price position against truck cranes manufactured locally in markets such as China and Russia. This is one of the main reasons Manitowoc has focused on having locally manufactured truck cranes through the Dongyue joint venture in China - to offer products suited to the local markets."
Another challenge for the US arm of the company is the introduction of engines for compliance with Tier IV legislation. "Tier IV engines require additional space and cannot simply be mounted in the same place as previous generation engines. Chassis frames, weight distribution, tank locations and other factors are being revisited," explains Olivas.
Overall, the worldwide market is facing an uncertain 2009. Olivas sums up the situation. "Because North America is our prime market for Shady Grove truck cranes, there has been a slight downturn caused by the current financial turmoil and a weak construction industry. However, the Chinese market continues to have high levels of demand. Other regions like Australia continue to have acceptable levels of work; however current exchange rates are affecting new crane purchase decisions. Projects worldwide have a need for additional cranes, but finding credit lines to finance new projects is proving difficult for customers."