ConExpo buzzing but caution remains

23 April 2008

This month's Conexpo-Con/Agg may have set records for attendance and exhibitor space - visitor levels up 16% to 144600 and exhibit space more than 20% higher than 2005 - but there was no disguising an uncertain outlook for the US rental sector.

Erik Olsson, president and chief executive officer of RSC Equipment Rental, told IRN at Conexpo that the company was seeing a "deceleration of the non-residential sector this year" and that it would half its capital expenditure this year; "If the market turns out better, we can buy more. If it's worse, we can buy less."

Jay Sunderman, senior global accounts manager at Vermeer, told IRN that "It's definitely a lot softer across the board. [Rental companies] will be holding their equipment longer, transferring equipment between stores, and concentrating more on high-utilisation equipment."

Alexandre Saubot, chief operating officer of aerial platform manufacturer Haulotte Group said the US market for aerials would be down; "I have no doubt that the US will be down significantly in 2008 - 10 to 15 to 20%"

Not all the signs are bad however. Scott Carnell, vice president portable air business line for Atlas Copco Compressors in the US, told IRN that the customers it had spoken to at Conexpo were not anticipating a dramatic fall in the US market; "In fact, here at Conexpo, it has been just the opposite. Construction equipment dealers and rental companies are cautious, but still optimistic about where the year will go."

Barry Natwick, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Rents, said the franchise rental business was still getting a good level of enquiries from investors; "That hasn't fallen off yet, and we expected it to fall off. We're still getting a steady level of enquiries." He said the business still hoped to reach 100 stores in North America this year, up from the current 78; "It's going to be a tough target, with the economy, but I think we can do it."

Part of the reason for the success of Conexpo was the growing number of international visitors. Around 28000 visitors from outside the US attended the show, which represented almost a fifth of all visitors and 30% more than in 2005. There was a particularly good turnout of visitors from countries like Brazil and Russia.

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