Haulotte has started the manufacture of aerial platforms at its factory in Changzhou, China. The first machine off the production line was an Optimum 8 7.76 m working height electric scissor lift that was exhibited at this week's BICES show in Beijing.

Electric scissor lifts are an unusual product in China, where the bulk of what sales there are focus on large boom lifts. Haulotte's rationale in launching this line is to capitalise on its reputation in this sub-sector, according to chairman, Pierre Saubot.

China is an immature market, but according to Mr Saubot, it is big in regional terms. "China is the second largest market in Asia after Japan," he said.

Relatively big it may be, but its immaturity is also apparent. Compared to a fleet size estimated to be 1 million platforms in the US and 350,000 units in Europe, Haulotte guesses - and the company admits it is a guess - that there are only about 1,000 platforms currently at work in China. That is for a country with almost twice the population of Europe and the US combined!

But Haulotte feels that with Chinese domestic manufacturers now entering the sector, things are on the cusp of taking off. Mr Saubot said, "There are at least six significant Chinese companies producing platforms now. That shows us there is a market."

With its new factory up and running, Haulotte identifies itself as a serious and local player in China. "The market will exist very soon in China because you have manufacturers here, including Haulotte," said Mr Saubot.

For the moment the company is producing machines to the same specification as products made in Europe. However, this is something that it expects to change as it learns more. "We want to understand the Chinese market and supply exactly what it wants," said Mr Saubot. "The only way to meet the requirements in China is to be there as a real manufacturer," he added.

In time Haulotte wants to build a much wider line-up of equipment in China, but again "Adapted machines," as marketing and customer service director Thibault Mouillefarine describes them. It also expects the Changzhou factory to serve other countries in the Asia Pacific region.

But the key question for China, as Haulotte sees it, is how long (not whether), the benefits of aerial work platforms will be understood and accepted. It expects the key driver to this to the development of safety standards, as Mr Saubot explained, "Even with the production of access machines, we know that the only way to develop an access market ix with regulation," he said.

Another key will be the rate at which the Chinese rental sector matures. "Rental companies are a necessity to growth in the aerial platform business, but they don't really exist at the moment. There are some, and there is growth, but it is slow," said Asia Pacific managing director Damien Gautier.

One area where powered access does seem to have caught on in China is in shipbuilding, driving demand for big boom lifts. However, it is not an area that particularly excites Haulotte. "I don't think there is much growth there now. It will be a renewal market, and it is very competitive," said Mr Gautier. Mr Saubot added, "For us it is a niche market."

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