Going up

19 March 2008

This great shot shows a specially modified 2000 kg Scanclimber SC2032F hoist being used on the const

This great shot shows a specially modified 2000 kg Scanclimber SC2032F hoist being used on the construction of a new cooling tower at the Neurath Power Plant in Germany. Contractor Wiemer & Tracht

You need only look at the growth in Europe's access rental fleets to have confirmed both the continuing popularity of aerial platforms and the generally high level of construction activity in the region.

In fact, the top 30 European access fleets – extracted from the global Access-50 listing compiled by CE's sister publication Access International – shows that the biggest European fleets grew on average by a quarter in the 12 months to this summer. The top 30 access renters now have a combined access fleet of almost 0,13 million units, up from just over 0,10 million a year ago.

The UK's Lavendon Group, which operates the Nationwide business in the UK and the Zooom companies in France, Spain and Germany, is still one step ahead of the rest, with a total fleet of around 13700 units.

Lavendon's growth reflects one of the big current trends in the European access rental sector – consolidation. The company has made several big acquisitions in the past year – including Gardemann of Germany and Wizard Workplace in the UK – and you can expect more from the company in the coming year.

Of course, Lavendon is not alone in acquiring companies. The general rental companies seem to have decided that access equipment is a good business to be in, with the result that several rental generalists, including Loxam of France, GAM and Euroloc of Spain, and Ramirent and Cramo in Scandinavia, have been targeting access renters in their acquisitions. The growing fleets of the biggest renters means that around 60% of the top 30 total fleet is held by the largest ten companies.

It is worth highlighting several companies that are either being extremely aggressive or which have very particular strategies. Riwal in the Netherlands, for example, is becoming a kind of 'alternative' Lavendon – a pan-European player but with an eye for developing markets. It is establishing rental businesses in several countries – most recently Norway and France – and is also developing new markets in south eastern Europe in states of the former Yugoslavia. Italy's Venpa is similarly entering these new markets.

The UK – one of Europe's most developed access areas – is home to several fast growing companies who are giving Lavendon/Nationwide a run for their money, most notably The Platform Company and AFI-Uplift.

Spain's two biggest general renters – GAM and Euroloc – have recently invested heavily in powered access with big acquisitions. GAM acquired access specialist Vilatel – adding as many as 4000 platforms in the process – while Euroloc bought the Spanish operations of Nacano, boosting its access fleet from 500 units to over 2500. Madrid-based GAM now owns the third biggest aerials fleet in Europe after Lavendon and Ramirent.

If some of the biggest European fleets look impressive, it is worth keeping in mind that in global terms they are still modestly sized. The top five fleets in the world are all based in the US, with United Rentals owning over 73000 aerials, and RSC and Sunbelt Rentals both with over 30000 units.

US companies make up seven of the world's top 10, and these are not all giant rental firms. Ahern Rentals in Las Vegas, for example, is a big independent with well over 10000 units.

For contractors, this growth in rental is a good thing. It helps provides security of supply – particularly at a time when the access manufacturers are having trouble meeting demand – as well as a greater choice of supplier.

The next step for the market will be the creation of a genuinely pan-European access rental market, where major contractors or industrial companies will be able to choose between a number of big national and supranational players.

For now, you have the choice of domestic national players or small local companies. In five or ten years time – depending on progress with consolidation – expect to have more companies knocking on your doors offering national and international rental agreements, whether you think you need them or not.

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