Editor's Comment: Murray Pollok looks at the European and US rental industries.

By Murray Pollok11 March 2009

For all the similarities between the North America and European rental markets there are still some big practical differences.

Take aerial platforms, for example. In the US, the largest aerials fleets are considerably larger than those in Europe - compare United Rentals' 70000+ fleet with the largest 15000-strong holdings in Europe.

There are historical reasons for this: the US fleets have been built up over the past 10 to 15 years and have been highly dependent on the construction of hundreds of massive retail stores and warehouses. Europe has these buildings as well, but not as many, and typically without the same number of aerials used in their construction.

This was great business for the US rental companies for many years, but these same firms are now experiencing some of the disadvantages of having invested so heavily in aerials. The recession has had a major impact on non-residential construction in the US - typified by shopping mall and retail ‘big boxes' - and the demand for aerials has gone down.

Over 40% of United Rentals fleet comprises aerials, and many of the other massive US rental firms have similar or even higher proportion of aerials in their fleets. The Access-50 survey by our sister magazine Access International reveals that the top 10 US renters have over 210000 aerial platforms in their fleets.

US rental consultant Dan Kaplan, writing in his RentalAdvisor publication for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), draws attention to this situation and says one of the bigger challenges facing US renters is how to scale down on these aerials fleets without being hit by low residual values. That is just one of the challenges currently facing the industry, of course.

In Europe, meanwhile, the European Rental Association's long awaited study into the region's rental market has finally arrived, bringing a flood of interesting numbers. For example, the market shrank last year by 2.8%; the average age of the European rental fleet is 3.8 years; and the total market is valued at €33.6 billion (including operated plant such as cranes).

See our March issue for a story for some of the highlights on the report, and also for a three-page article on the study by IHS Global Insight, the consultant who carried out the research for ERA.

ERA secretary general Michel Petitjean calls the study a major achievement and is justified in claiming that "it gives us a new vision of our industry and demonstrates ERA's unique value to the rental industry both in Europe as well as globally."

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