Forklift truck sales up 8.2% year-on-year – with retail distribution sector demand up by 40%

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BITA’s latest forklift truck Market Index shows how key industries drive growth

BITA’s forklift truck Market Index shows that sales of trucks rose by 8.2% year-on-year, reaching 33,407 by the end of the third quarter of 2017, continuing the improvement on 2016 levels.

This is the third successive quarter of growth, painting a picture of a sector that can withstand short-term economic fluctuations. Sales into manufacturing sectors were again high, with a 5.9% improvement on the previous year’s figure, reflecting the growth in UK manufacturing output this quarter.

BITA Secretary-General James Clark commented: “Despite the uncertain economic environment, forklift sales have continued their recovery from the downturn seen during H2 of 2016, particularly in the retail distribution and manufacturing sectors.”

However, the positive picture for construction sales at the beginning of the year, which had shown a 26% increase in annualised sales compared with 2016, has subsided – with the latest figures pointing to a 3.4% reduction on the previous year’s deliveries. This mirrors the contraction in the construction sector over the last two consecutive quarters.

Retail distribution remains a major growth area, and the dip registered in  2016 has since been replaced by a strong recovery, sales up 40% on last year. However manufacturing remains the largest single sector user of industrial trucks, making up over a third (32%) of sales.

Commenting on the role of forklifts within the UK economy James Clark said: “Despite the continuing uncertainties around the economy and growth forecasts over the next three years, forklifts continue to be in demand, fulfilling their role as enablers of business expansion and supporters of the UK economy.”

Find the release in PDF form here and infographic here.

Former BITA Technical Manager receives US award

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Bob Hine’s contribution recognised by the Industrial Truck Association

Bob Hine, who recently retired after 10 years as BITA’s Technical Manager has been presented with a Special Industry Award from BITA’s sister organisation in the United States, the Industrial Truck Association (ITA).

The award was presented by Brett Wood, President and CEO of Toyota Materials Handling North America, and outgoing Chairman of the board of the ITA, at their recent annual meeting held in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA.

The award pays tribute to Bob’s work in the development of international forklift safety standards, with the citation reading:

‘In grateful recognition of his many contrbutions to the worldwide industrial truck industry during his career. His leadership and diplomacy in the development of international forklift safety standards are recognised by his peers and assocates as major accomplishments in a global industry.’

David Goss, Bob’s successor as BITA’s Technical Manager, will be continuing and extending his work in co-operation with the ITA’s Chris Merther, and presented a liaison report on European standardisation and legislative activities at the annual meeting.

James Clark, Secretary-General of BITA, said: “Bob is widely respected and gave many years of valued service to BITA and our members. I know that David will continue to work closely with Chris Merther of the ITA in pursuit of our mutual interests, building on and extending our relationship with them in the years to come.”

BITA Market Index – Strong forklift truck sales growth bucks uncertain economic trend

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BITA’s forklift truck Market Index shows that sales for trucks rose by 6% in the first half of 2017, recovering from a dip in 2016.

So far, 2017 has seen two quarters of growth with annualised sales in June of 32,189 units. BITA Secretary-General James Clark commented: “Despite the uncertain economic environment, forklift sales seem to have begun their recover from the downturn seen during H2 of 2016, particularly in the retail distribution sector.”

Downward trends in consumer spending have contributed to the continued fall in sales for forklifts for wholesale distribution (down 9.7%), but sales into the retail distribution sector have seen a large spike in demand (up 35.7% over the last 12 months) exceeding the year-on-year growth in online shopping.

Manufacturing remains the largest single sector user of industrial trucks and has seen a slight increase in market share with industry now making up over a third (34.9%) of sales. The increased output of UK manufacturing towards the end of 2016 helped the improving picture after a downturn in Q3.

Commenting on the role of forklifts within the UK economy James Clark said: “The economic mood has seemed increasingly uncertain with a number of factors casting doubt over UK growth. Despite this, forklifts continue to be in demand, fulfilling their role as enablers of business growth and supporters of the UK economy.”

Find the release in PDF form here and infographic here.

BITA members’ mood rises as optimism around economic prospects and orders improves

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Latest Oxford Economics forecast reveals increased confidence as fears ease around Brexit – survey undertaken before General Election date announced

The latest Forklift Truck Market Outlook for 2017, produced by Oxford Economics on behalf of BITA, reveals that member confidence has improved since the last survey in Autumn 2016 – with 85% of respondents feeling general prospects for the coming 12 months remain unchanged.

None of respondents in this latest survey said they felt ‘less optimistic’ for the next 12 months, compared to half of respondents who said this in the Autumn survey – and 15% felt prospects had improved.

However levels of optimism now, compared to the equivalent report in May 2016, are not as high. Taken across the last three Outlook reports, overall optimism was high in May 2016, taking a dip in the Autumn report, with optimism now returning in the current report, albeit at a lower level.

Attitudes to sales have also improved, with 85% of respondents saying they expected sales to either ‘rise modestly’ or ‘rise significantly’. Views on orders have also remained positive with 70% expressing that their order books are ‘modestly better than normal.’

This could reflect the strong order position prior to the referendum – as now only 15% feel their order books are ‘significantly better than normal’, down from 50% who thought this was the case in the Autumn survey.

Concerns around pricing have eased, although the expectation continues to be that prices will rise, driven by the devaluation of sterling. Only 30% now hold the opinion that prices will ‘rise significantly’ in the coming 12 months, compared to 66% who thought this previously. Prices are expected to ‘rise modestly’ by 70% of respondents.

One area where expectation has changed significantly is ‘which customer sector will show most sales in the coming 12 months’. In the Autumn survey no respondents chose ‘Retail and Wholesale firms’ as a key growth sector – in this survey 30% of respondents think this is the case.

Counterbalance orders have recovered a little after major falls registered last year, growing 3.6% year-on-year in Q1 2017. However it is not anticipated this will continue as investment – crucial to the performance of the Counterbalance market – struggles.

The warehouse segment has performed better, growing by 36% in the final quarter of 2016 – and by 5% year-on-year in Q1 of 2017. However, within Classes the picture is much more mixed. Class 2 bookings fell by 20% year-on-year in Q1. Class 3 performed much better, rising 21% in Q1 – and it is the strength of Class 3 that is holding up overall warehouse orders.

The Oxford Economics forecast for growth anticipates household consumption will rise by 1.5% this year, and just 0.5% in 2018. This will be compensated for to an extent by the weak pound increasing the competitiveness of exports, meaning GDP growth is forecast to be 1.8% this year and 1.4% next.

Jeremy Leonard, Head of Industry Services for Oxford Economics, said: “Various risk factors cloud the outlook around this report, particularly of course Brexit and the outcome of the General Election. The tone of negotiations around Brexit appear volatile – and the final outcome of negotiations will not be clear for some time.

“Market specific risks remain of secondary importance compared to Brexit, while innovation still provides grounds for optimism. Here struggling orders may create new impetus for novel product offerings or new technologies.”

James Clark, Secretary-General of BITA, comments: “The previous Forklift Truck Market Outlook and members’ survey showed our members’ mood moderating as Brexit uncertainty continues – and forecast overall weaker economic sentiment as the industry digested the referendum.

“However this latest Outlook and survey has demonstrated a degree of confidence among our members, with none saying they felt less optimistic for the coming 12 months. This coupled with an improved attitude to sales makes for quite an optimistic picture overall. But we shouldn’t be complacent, there is still the great unknown of Brexit to come – and there are issues around investment which are affecting Counterbalance orders which are a potential cause for concern.”

The Forklift Truck Market Outlook includes a detailed overview of sector by sector performance, both in terms of forklift product categories and customer business divisions. It is prepared for BITA by independent economic consultancy Oxford Economics and is available exclusively to BITA members as one of the key membership benefits. The next Outlook report will appear in Autumn 2017.

BITA warns against forklift truck modifications

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BITA and FLTA warn that unauthorised modifications can endanger staff and invalidate warranties

Forklift truck modifications are offered by many companies and are widely advertised, but they are far from risk free – and can have consequences for health and safety and invalidation of warranties.

BITA Secretary-General James Clark explains: “A recent presentation to our Truck Suppliers Group (TSG) clearly demonstrated the risks and dangers behind unauthorised modifications, making the point that assessment and implementation of truck modifications is a skilled task requiring detailed and specialised engineering knowledge.”

Truck modifications that are not factory approved may affect capacity, stability or safety requirements. Companies making modifications do not realise the consequences, or are not aware of their responsibilities and liabilities, should something go wrong with a modification at a later date.

There is a very clear standard for the safety requirements of industrial trucks, BS EN ISO 3691-1:2015, which states in paragraph 6.2.7.1 that ‘unauthorised truck modification is not permitted’.

“It’s not as if the regulations are hard to understand”, continues Clark. “However only the most cursory web search is required to identify companies advertising modification changes to forklift trucks, as if this were normal practice and presented no safety hazards whatsoever.”

But it isn’t only BITA that is concerned about such modifications. Fellow industry body the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) is equally concerned: “This is an important industry-wide issue, and is especially important when trucks are leased,” said Peter Harvey MBE, FLTA Chief Executive.

“Unauthorised modifications or repairs – even changing tyres – could invalidate rental contracts or manufacturer warranties, leaving users to foot repair bills. So it is crucial that  those utilising lift trucks understand what they can and cannot do. Failure to do so puts them at risk of unexpected repair bills and much more. Before making any changes to the original equipment customers must consult the manufacturer or authorised dealer.”

Examples of modifications commonly being offered include mast reductions, drive-in racking modifications, and perhaps most disturbingly, truck head guard modifications. BITA’s TSG  has been provided with some examples of real concern:

  • A cab-pillar section was removed and re-welded as part of a drive in racking modification. Without knowledge of the exact material grade used in manufacture, it would be difficult or impossible to certify the welding and it is extremely doubtful whether the modification would pass an ISO 6055 impact test
  • A counterbalance truck fitted with extended 15ft-long forks, dangerously reducing stability
  • Fork-mounted ‘safe’ access platforms, advertised as though permitted for routine use
  • Hoists mounted to overhead guards, reducing strength, impeding operator visibility, and applying loads outside the design limits

These are just a few examples, in addition there are more ‘informal’ modifications such as adding additional weight (in the form of drums full of water or toolboxes filled with concrete) to increase the lifting capacity of counterbalance trucks.

“We are sure there are many more examples out there, and accidents and deaths have been linked to making unauthorised modifications that affect the safe operation of trucks”, adds Clark. “Those undertaking such work should understand that, depending on the modification, they may have inadvertently taken on the responsibilities of being the equipment manufacturer, with all the risks of prosecution and redress this entails.

“Modification of a forklift truck without the manufacturer’s approval could invalidate the warranty and the CE marking, making it difficult if not impossible to re-sell elsewhere. This is an issue to which, as an organisation which cares deeply about safety at all levels, causes us great concern”, concludes Clark.