Feature story


Thursday, 23 October 2003 ( #130 ) - CANBERRA, Australia
This week Forkliftaction.com News presents the second and final instalment of its feature on the Australian forklift and materials handling industry. Thank you to the Australian companies that contributed to the editorial showcase of the industry down under. And thanks to the advertisers that took advantage of the spotlight on Australia to market their companies and products. In this special feature, chief reporter Damien Tomlinson spoke to Howard Grant, secretary of the Australian Industrial Truck Association (AITA), and Paul Bennett, AITA president and managing director of BT Lift Trucks Pty Ltd, to discuss the industry. An advocate and representative of forklift manufacturers, suppliers and ancillary companies, the AITA has been at the forefront of developments in the Australian market since its inception in 1961. Mr Grant, who has administered the AITA for "a very long time", said the association held member meetings, hosted seminars and supported industry exhibitions around the country. "Our biggest role is being a central community for the industry in Australia. We also act as a statistical reference for the market," he said. "Companies contribute their business figures, and we keep track of the 'health' of the industry and the performance of individual companies." AITA reports, which track sales, orders and other information, are not available to the public. Mr Grant said the Australian market sold more than 1000 forklifts a month across various product segments. They included straddle carriers, container handling machines, counterbalance electric, internal combustion and rough terrain forklifts, electric warehouse machines and hand pallet jacks and walkies. Mr Bennett, speaking from BT Australia's HQ in Melbourne, said 55% of all forklifts sold in Australia were IC forklifts. With 12,000 forklifts sold in Australia a year, the market was comparable with the European and US markets. Adding to the theme from Forkliftaction.com News's first article on the Australian market, Mr Bennett, who was elected president in 2001, said the market was very self-contained. "Despite global events like September 11, 2001, the war on terror and, more recently, the bombings in Bali, the negative effect on sales in Australia has been relatively minor," he said. While he did not detail specifics, Mr Bennett said there was a "slight dip" in sales of IC and electric forklifts early in 2002, but the recovery had exceeded the negative effect. "Last year the US market sold 30% less forklifts than in 2001, and it is only now beginning to recover from that. It was a similar situation in Europe. We've put our slight fall in sales down to buyer hesitancy but we've completely recovered," he said. All manufacturers represented in Australia are members of the AITA, though none builds forklifts down under. Kalmar Industries has just opened a shopfront in Melbourne. TCM, whose products are distributed Australia-wide, is the only major forklift manufacturer lacking a branch in Australia. Mr Bennett said the AITA was working closely with state health and safety authorities to develop Australia's first forklift industry code of conduct. The code is being developed with reference to the stringent European and US codes, and in conjunction with the membership, to address issues such as safety features, stability and maintenance. "We've consulted various groups, and are nearing completion of a final version of the proposed code. This is most important in delivering the safest materials handling products we can to the public," he said. The AITA is also working with the Australian Government to implement an apprenticeship scheme for forklift technicians through Technical and Further Education facilities nationwide. The training courses are designed to attract young people to the industry and to have them consider forklift maintenance as an alternative to entering the automotive industry. "It's very important to cultivate the talent pool to ensure we have sufficient stocks for the future. Unless we inject more personnel into the industry, there will be a critical shortage of quality technicians in the next few years," Mr Bennett said.