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In this exclusive additional content to accompany the interview in Advanced Lift-truck Technology International 2015, IVT speaks with Jean-Pierre Guérand, Manitou’s VP of global industrial sales, about future plans and market trends.

What changes have you noticed since the Toyota distributor agreement finished in 2013?
After 40 years of working together, it leaves some scars, but it was mutually decided to call a halt. Toyota wanted to have the same distribution system as it had in other European countries, while we wanted to introduce our MI and ME models into France, which was the only country in the world in which we were not authorized to sell them due to the distributor agreement.

The advantages have been twofold, the first being how many trucks we’ve sold in France. Toyota re-signed with 70% of our dealers, but 30% of the dealers did not take the Toyota brand; and guess what – those guys are selling more Manitous, even if they have another brand sometimes. So France is now the country where we sell most volume. We carefully positioned our product not to compete with the big players in the market, price-wise as well as in terms of the message we put out – and it works!

In the past, for example, German dealers would come to France and ask “Why do you want me to sell Manitou Industrial, when you are selling Toyotas in France?” Now we have the design, aftermarket sales and promotion, and everything is clear, we are not somewhere in between. It was the right thing to do. It did decrease our sales in the short-term, because Toyota was a different level of turnover, but we increased Manitou industrial sales and have now compensated for the sales difference.

Our strategy today is to become a full-range player. This year, we’ve launched 5-10 tonne models, and will launch 4-5-tonne models next July, so we’ll have more or less what the major players have. And up to 5-tonne electrics are on the drawing board too, so we’ll be a full-on player, although we are not planning to get into the niche markets of VNA trucks etc.

Do forklifts have the most potential for growth in the Manitou range?
They have the biggest potential because the market is a million units a year. Turnover is not quite the same, but the potential is huge. We are not trying to go head-to-head with the big players, but if we can grow quickly we will. The aftermarket business is good and strong, and we are developing a new division called Services and Solutions covering everything from telematics to service contracts, full service financing and so on. So the earth is good, the seeds are planted and it will definitely grow.

What sort of success are you having in Asia?
Our product is not designed for China, so we’re not planning to get into China any time in the future. We can rule Japan out as well, because it’s a very, very closed market, but the rest of Asia has 200 million residents. We don’t get there directly with our industrial trucks, but with products sold by the Manitou dealer. And the telehandler is still not common out there – we have a mission to convince those customers of the benefits of using telehandlers in construction and in agriculture.

We have successes, but coming with a more traditional product gives our dealer network more footprint to be successful in the marketplace. But we are using the Manitou name and the reputation of European brands to sell, rather than using price. We have the most success in the places where our dealers also have a rental fleet to manage. Before you get somebody to buy a machine at what they may think is a high price, you can say, “Why don’t you rent it for three months and see if it does the job?” And usually they immediately see the benefit. It’s the same for industrial trucks, too.

When we first started working with Hangcha in China it was as a supplier of industrial trucks, but today we have an R&D partnership and are co-developing products. The Chinese electric truck market is growing, whereas it was practically non-existent four years ago. So they are using the requirements we have for European trucks to understand how, by working with us, they can do better than other Chinese producers.

We have a design team working out there which allows us to work with our own design engineers on a daily basis. As soon as we can mount the first prototype it becomes a Manitou process. Usually the prototypes come to France, where they are tested with our customers, as is the case with pre-series as well. As for production models, initially we had some rework to do in Europe, but not anymore – we do end of line control ourselves, before the machines ship.

Do you still see the BRIC regions (Brazil, Russia, India and China) as having a lot of potential?
We have plans to develop our presence in India, although on the industrial side, the mechanization there is very, very low. We continue to import into Brazil – which is not so easy – and as for Russia, it is not the right time to sell there. We have to make sure somebody is going to pay us before we can deliver a machine…

So I’d rather say that Middle East and Africa is working well for us on industrial trucks – they’re a good product for this region, as they’re simple and easy to use.

In terms of customer satisfaction, are there any particular areas where you feel you’re doing better than the competition or any areas that you could do better?
What I see we’re achieving here is that we have very few returns due to quality issues. A lack of technical complexity means you have no electronic faults.

And we are starting to get into the renewal process now, so people who bought machines in 2012 are starting to come back into the market. All of them are happy with the products. Our dealers are getting keener, and our machines are selling well in the used market. I think the marriage between the simple product and the Manitou network, and the Manitou name and the Manitou competence, gives very satisfied customers.

Is it possible to make further significant reductions in TCO when an operator is by far the biggest expense over a truck’s lifetime? Firstly, I dispute the figure of the operator being 90% of the cost – once you include the cost of financing, insurance, repair and the maintenance package, it’s probably closer to 60%. But our Easy Manager fleet management solution offers an advantage in terms of access control – it may not reduce the cost of the operator, but it will ensure they are properly trained and authorized to work on the truck, which is better for safety and preventing damage. It also enables better optimization of servicing, periodic maintenance and eventually repair, by downloading the error codes so that the mechanics have the right parts in the van before they arrive at the machine.

What trends are you seeing in market preferences for IC and electric trucks? I think electrics will grow rapidly in all countries. In mature markets there are more constraints in terms of emissions, and the use of IC trucks indoors is already forbidden in some European countries, even in non-food applications. I think this trend will continue.

In less developed countries, electric models are becoming better isolated so they can work outside without any issues. And surely for use in food applications, they will also have to forbid the use of IC trucks inside.

In China, the percentage of electrics versus IC is still very low but growing rapidly. The more we can source economically acceptable batteries, such as lithium-ion, the more we’ll move towards electrics. When you do away with the limitations of batteries, such as charging every night, the gas emissions etc, this leads to easier usage.

So the chance will be there, but IC trucks will always perform better in specific applications. If you look into developed countries, such as in Europe, I think we will reach a level of around 35% for IC trucks – forklifts rather than warehousing – which will probably be the lowest limit. In those countries, their use is forbidden inside so then you’re moving towards use in rough-terrain or outside applications where electrics are not as suited to the application.

August 5, 2015

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