Feature story

Forklifts still looking up Down Under

Thursday, 28 August 2008 ( #375 ) - Australia
Clean and green from Linde.
Clean and green from Linde.
The Australian forklift market is relatively small compared to the rest of the world, with the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) recording 24,000 forklifts sold in Oceania in 2007. While there is no official breakdown of sales within the region, there are reliable estimates that Australia accounted for around 17,500 of those. The sales include products from many of the top 20 global companies ranked by the ITA.

Members of the Australian Industrial Truck Association (AITA) include all major suppliers in the local market such as Clark, Crown, Hastings Deering, Hyster Asia Pacific, Kalmar, Linde, Manitou, MLA Holdings, Nichiyu, NTP Forklifts, Pacific Heli, Powerlift (Nissan), Toyota, OSKO (Task) and Red Australia. Together, they supply many of the top global brands in Australia.

AITA also have a number of associate members involved in supplying ancillary products to the market such as tyres, batteries, attachments and other forklift-related equipment.

Other players in the Australian market include dealers in new and used industrial equipment, as well as forklift fleet managers such as Adapt-A-Lift, one of the largest privately owned forklift companies in Australia, supplying a broad range of global brand forklifts.

AITA does not provide any statistics on sales or other market-related information in Australia to the media. Executive officer Howard Grant tells Forkliftaction.com News that the statistics it gathers on behalf of its members are confidential within the industry.

Part of AITA's role is to develop and maintain the standards of forklift equipment entering Australia and work towards unification of standards across all states, in conjunction with Standards Australia.

The biggest player in the local market is Toyota Material Handling (TMHA) which supplies Toyota, BT and Raymond brands in Australia. It claimed the national number one position for internal combustion counterbalance forklifts in 2007 with 2,719 machines sold and a 29.6% market share.

TMHA also figured strongly in the battery electric market, capturing the number one position in both the three-wheel and four-wheel ranges, with shares of 39.6% and 23.6% respectively. In addition, TMHA sold one in every three narrow-aisle order-picking machines in Australia.

Few forklift brands are manufactured in Australia; however, of note is heavy-duty forklift manufacturer Clark Equipment, whose Omega range are the only forklifts of this kind to be manufactured in the Southern Hemisphere and are the market leaders in Australia and New Zealand.

Forklift manufacturer Crown Equipment, which commenced operations in Australia in 1966, has also been at the forefront of developing the forklift industry in Australia by raising the standards of design innovation and engineering excellence.

Challenges and concerns within the industry

The economic outlook

Although Australia's strong resources boom has strengthened the market for forklift sales, the global credit crunch and accompanying slow-down have started to affect the local market, say some players.

Steven Stewart, general manager - Branch & Dealer Operations of Powerlift (Nissan), says the credit squeeze is affecting everyone. "Higher interest rates affect everyone, including those looking to purchase or lease a forklift, so the current climate promotes uncertainty. This causes many decision-makers to hold off on a major purchase or change - and in the end this means (fewer) lift trucks are sold."

Steven Stewart, of Powerlift (Nissan), says the credit squeeze is affecting everyone.
Steven Stewart, of Powerlift (Nissan), says the credit squeeze is affecting everyone.
Established over 20 years ago, Powerlift (Nissan), based in Milperra, is owned by the Zuellig Group, and is the Australian importer and distributor of the Nissan range of forklifts. The company also supplies the Powerlifter range of pedestrian lift trucks.

Recently, Powerlift expanded its company-owned operations and installed new dealers in key regional areas. "We will use the remainder of this year and the beginning of '09 to consolidate these new branches. Our aim is for profitable growth through our expanded network during 2009," says Stewart.

According to Tom Naffine, marketing manager of NTP Forklifts Australia, the past 12 months has seen significant price rises for imported equipment, precipitated by spiralling raw materials costs.

"Our industry has seen this, coupled with lengthening production times, on all imported equipment regardless of its country of origin. International demand (particularly from China) has been at the root of this. Now, with the apparent change or slow-down in the world economic outlook, it will be of interest to see how and what will change.

"Obviously there is a 'lag' effect and the real effects or change, if any, will be evident towards the end of the year," he tells Forkliftaction.com News.

Earlier this year, NTP received the sole Australian distribution rights to Jungheinrich and is now focusing on re-establishing the product in the Australian market.

Privately owned, the 25-year-old company is the importer and national distributor for TCM Forklifts (Japan) and Jungheinrich (Germany); importer and state distributor for Taylor Dunn (SA, NSW and Qld); and sole state dealer for Manitou (SA, VIC and Qld).

Earlier this year, NTP received the sole Australian distribution rights to Jungheinrich.
Earlier this year, NTP received the sole Australian distribution rights to Jungheinrich.
Carl Smith, managing director of Linde Material Handling, tells Forkliftaction.com News that while the current international economic climate is one that needs to be monitored closely, the effects on the local economy are lessened by resources sector growth in Australia.

Of greater concern, says Smith, is the lack of technician availability within the local market. Service technician availability has been tested by the mining and resources boom experienced in Western Australia and Queensland, which is attracting qualified technicians/mechanics to regional areas and out of the capital cities.

Another issue, says Smith, is the short-term thinking of materials handling equipment (MHE) suppliers in Australia who strive to achieve high market share percentages via low pricing strategies.

"This approach could have a long-term effect on the overall market in Australia with smaller players being forced to amalgamate or be taken over by the larger players. In addition, it may also lead to the MHE industry losing its professional image thus not being able to attract high achievers from other industries."

Established in the 1960s, Linde Australia sells, services and rents the Linde brand of forklift equipment to all sectors of the industry including the food manufacturing and warehousing industry, mining sector, and warehouse and logistics operations, and are heavily involved in the brick, cement and timber industries. The Linde range includes products from hand pallet trucks to pedestrian walkie stackers, electrical counterbalance, warehouse product and internal combustion forklifts from 1.6 tonne capacity to reach stacker product.

Red Australia's national marketing co-ordinator, Leonie Laarhoven, says with the American and European markets slowing, OEMs are moving their focus to the Australian market as it remains relatively strong.

She tells Forkliftaction.com News that one of the biggest challenges in the industry at present is maintaining an acceptable hire/rental rate to reflect the increasing costs of labour and manufacturers' materials and to allow tighter control of residual values at the end of the contract term.

Red Australia Equipment is the exclusive Australian distributor for Komatsu forklifts, PM truck-mounted cranes and Baumann sideloaders. Established in 1964, the company is owned by Sumitomo Corporation Japan, and operates 11 branches nationally, with the head office situated in Seven Hills, Sydney.

Red Australia Equipment is the exclusive Australian distributor for Komatsu forklifts.
Red Australia Equipment is the exclusive Australian distributor for Komatsu forklifts.
Chris Parkinson, regional director of forklift battery supplier, Philadelphia Scientific Asia Pacific, tells Forkliftaction.com News that the battery industry has also been hit hard by the global rise in commodity prices. "Profit margins have been minimised as the rise in the cost in lead has been generally absorbed by battery manufacturers," he explains.

"Labour costs are a growing consideration of the cost of operating batteries, mostly through the time it takes to change and maintain batteries. Added to this, we can expect to see the costs of climate change increasing power prices."

He says tenders are won and lost "by cents, not always sense". Suppliers are commonly squeezed so that there is no room to include the technology that will reduce the lifetime costs of operation.

According to Parkinson, the answer lies in operating more efficiently with the aid of tools already at our disposal at comparatively low costs.

"My hope for the future of the industry would be to focus on efficiency. We need to get more out of the assets, using them to their full potential and reducing the overall costs of operation, and recognise that different applications require differing solutions."

Less concerned by economic constraints is David Huisman, managing director of New South Wales-based company Orbit Communications, which specialises in applying leading-edge technology to solve industry-related problems.

Huisman tells Forkliftaction.com News that he's observed that a downturn in an area always seems to open up opportunity in another. "If we remain flexible to change with the ebb and flow of the business cycles, we should be able to roll with the punches."

He adds that every time there is a change in society or technology, it opens a whole new field of exploration of possibilities.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the company provides a range of proximity alarm solutions to the forklift industry to lower risk of injury, death or damage caused by moving vehicles that operate in proximity to personnel.

Wayne Franklin, managing director of Calibre Material Handling, says the general downturn in the building and infrastructure works is the biggest issue facing the forklift market.

He adds that a general lack of confidence due to tougher economic conditions forces some businesses to cut back on new and replacement machines. "This means we will see an increase in repair and rental expenditure over purchase of equipment," he tells Forkliftaction.com News.

Based in Victoria, the company is the national distributor for Mast Explorer rough-terrain forklifts and SAEZ telehandlers, and is the regional sales agent for Hubtex Australia, selling specialist sideloaders and load transporters to the building materials industry

Says Franklin: "We are continuing to release new models of the Mast Explorer range into the market, including the new Micro H13 and 16D machines and the range of large two- and four-wheel drive four, five, six and seven ton units. We are also launching the new range of SAEZ telehandlers into the market with the first units arriving this month."

He says the company's business model is based on distributing through a range of dealers across Australia and New Zealand which enables it to keep overheads low, while providing intellectual and spare parts support, and still allowing dealers to realise a decent margin on sales and rentals.

"We are keen to talk to interested parties who may be looking to broaden their product range," he adds.

It appears that the credit crunch has not yet affected prices for forklifts sold through online auctions, according to Graysonline general manager, industrial, Josh Sanders.

He tells Forkliftaction.com News that while some products have reduced in value over the past six to nine months, mainly due to tighter credit, the financial crunch has not affected forklift prices which have remained "stable in an unstable marketplace".

He adds that the market for forklifts is still relatively strong at auction. "End-users are still buying forklifts and they are still paying the right money for them. We are confident that with our buyer base, we could increase the number of units sold every month by 20-30% and see unit prices remain constant."

The company sells on average around 80-100 forklifts each month across Australia.

Clean and green

The growing oil crisis and the introduction of a carbon emissions trading system in Australia will impact on the costs of operation for businesses that run diesel, petrol or LPG forklifts, according to industry players.

Dean Rainsford, chairman of the Task Group of Companies, which has been making Sumi battery electric pedestrian-operated materials handling equipment in Australia for the past 26 years, believes battery electric forklifts have a number of benefits over other types of forklifts, including being more environmentally friendly and providing cost savings as well as significant staff health benefits.

The group's manufacturing company, OSKO Forklifts, manufactures the Sumi range of Australian-designed pedestrian forklifts at Dudley Park in South Australia, and imports the MAX range of dual fuel, diesel and electric ride-on forklifts.

Sumi forklift from Task Australia
Sumi forklift from Task Australia
Rainsford says many industries are insisting on a policy of electric forklifts only, especially in food supply and high pedestrian areas.

"The change is gaining momentum, with electric forklifts holding more than 50% of the Australian forklift market."

He adds that Sumi forklifts are the only forklifts manufactured in Australia to high Australian Quality Standards AS/NZS ISO 9001: 2000. "Our biggest challenge will be keeping our manufacturing cost globally competitive and remaining as industry leaders in design and use of technology."

Also seeing a trend towards battery electric forklifts is Riverina Lift Trucks of Griffiths, New South Wales, Australia's longest-serving Hyster dealer.

"RLT is already seeing a trend away from gas-powered units towards electric lift trucks," says managing director Robert Cappello.

He adds that those companies which support "Go Green" will tend to deal with those suppliers who are focused on the environmental issues of the future ..."and we will be one of them".

"Where the application for a forklift installation indicates potential for a problem with emissions (eg. indoors), we will promote the sale/hire of an electric-powered unit. Despite electric being the more costly alternative, more and more customers are choosing this 'greener' option."

The company, which sells new and used materials handling equipment and has a hire fleet of over 400 units, prides itself on being able to provide an excellent, on-time, repair service, 24/7.

It supplies a broad range of industries including wine producers, timber and forestry, engineering and manufacturing industries, retail, hardware and food producers.

Cappello says he's excited about Hyster's new technology, the Hy-Tel dedicated remote fleet management system. "This revolutionary system offers both dealers and our customers the ability to reduce operating costs through this cost-effective fleet management system which automatically provides remote, real-time monitoring of all the truck's operations."

Red Australia's Laarhoven says that manufacturers have been researching and developing technologies to reduce carbon emissions for the last couple of years, planning for the future impact on the market.

"Komatsu are well advanced in their emission control technologies and are committed to reducing their environmental impact including consideration to component recycling at the end of life.

"They have even changed the counterweight paint to reduce putty dust pollutants," she adds.

Carl Smith of Linde is in no doubt that the customer base that the MHE industry deals with is aware and keen to explore the benefits of a cleaner environment and what the industry can offer.

"To that end, Linde have manufactured prototype hydrogen and hybrid vehicles which were displayed at CeMAT 2008. These products clearly demonstrate our willingness to meet or in fact extend existing equipment performance measures and reduce the carbon footprint of our customer base."

Use of environmentally friendly solutions often goes hand in hand with efficiency, says Kalmar Australia's forklift sales manager, Prem Nath.

In recent years, Kalmar has modernised virtually its entire product portfolio with the environment in mind.
In recent years, Kalmar has modernised virtually its entire product portfolio with the environment in mind.
The company provides forklift trucks in a range of 5 - 50 tons, RoRo lift trucks and empty container lift trucks for four- to eight-high stacking and loaded container handlers (top loaders) up to five containers high. It is part of Cargotec Corporation, a leading provider of cargo-handling solutions used in local transportation, terminals, ports, distribution centres, and ships.

The company is launching Pro Future, a new concept encompassing all of its environmentally friendly equipment.

"Machines will be rated against five ecological decision-making drivers: source of power, energy efficiency, emissions, noise pollution and recyclability.

"Qualifying machines will carry a new green and white Pro Future logo, making Kalmar's eco-friendly products easy to recognise and providing proof for customers who also value environmental initiatives," says Nath.

He adds that with these solutions, customers can promote sustainable performance while also gaining from key benefits, such as direct cost savings with energy efficient engines in the light of rising fuel costs; the ability to prove an operation's eco-friendliness to stakeholders; and improved employee job satisfaction and attendance rates.

"The recyclability of decommissioned machines is also playing an important role in Kalmar customers' efforts to maintain more sustainable operations," says Nath.

In recent years, Kalmar has modernised virtually its entire product portfolio with the environment in mind, offering electric-, diesel- or LPG-powered forklifts in the 5- to 9-tonne range, zero-emission and E-One+ all-electric rubber-tyred gantry cranes, and the electrically-driven EDRIVE straddle carrier.

"Besides equipping its machines with the industry's cleanest engines even before new regulations required it, Kalmar has been actively involved in developing hybrid technology for some of its handling equipment. In hybrid machines, braking as well as other waste energy is utilised, dramatically reducing energy consumption and emissions," says Nath.

Toyota's advanced 8 Series forklift models is meanwhile cited as being among the world's cleanest forklifts, and the factories which produce them are world leaders in greenhouse gas abatement programs.

Toyota's advanced 8 Series forklift is cited as being among the world's cleanest forklifts.
Toyota's advanced 8 Series forklift is cited as being among the world's cleanest forklifts.
According to the president of Toyota Material Handling Australia, Steve Harper, Toyota has a simple three-point plan: it aims to curb global warming, use resources more efficiently and reduce environmental risk factors.

"In the material handling equipment field, we contribute to the curbing of global warming by actively working to reduce energy consumption and the output of greenhouse gases through the entire lifecycle of our products, services, and production activities.

"Toyota manufacturing techniques are acknowledged as world's best practice, not just because of the quality of what they produce, but because of the efficient use they make of raw materials and the high level of recycling achieved."

Steve Stewart of Powerlift (Nissan) says the carbon challenge is not yet impacting on the market, but says that the company welcomes stricter emissions regulations in the industrial machinery area. "Nissan already provides us with engines (based on automotive technology) that exceed all the worldwide requirements for reducing greenhouse gases," he adds.

According to Stewart, some machines built in developing countries and using old technology would fail to meet the Euro Tier 3 and US CARB requirements, but with no emissions standard in place for industrial machinery, they are allowed to sell these products cheaply without penalty, while the main suppliers (particularly those linked to car manufacturers) provide the latest clean-engine technology which comes at a cost.

The forklift battery industry is also affected by the clean-green debate. "On one hand, some companies are still pushing 'fast charge' which involves pumping massive amounts of electricity into the battery in short periods of time," says Parkinson, of Philadelphia Scientific. "This increases energy use and also contributes to increased replacement of the batteries as their lives are shortened. However, large battery users in Australia are increasingly considering the life time carbon footprint and recyclability of the battery.

Using touch screen control at Philadelphia Scientific.
Using touch screen control at Philadelphia Scientific.
"HF chargers, battery management and low maintenance batteries all increase the efficiency of the battery and are now major factors in the considered battery purchase."

Industrial battery supplier Exide Technologies believes its Motive Power products will help forklift companies to minimise their carbon footprint.

The company has awarded each of its core products an energy and recyclability rating using its unique grading system.

Its Total Battery Management programme, (an integrated approach to manufacturing, distributing and recycling of Lead Acid Batteries), has been developed to ensure a safe and responsible life cycle for all of its products.


Serious injuries and fatalities related to the use of forklift trucks still occur despite efforts to provide free education, tighten licensing requirements and prosecute companies which breach the law.

WorkCover NSW says the operation of forklifts must not pose a safety risk to operators and pedestrians, and it is important that forklifts are operated by correctly certified operators, along with the provision of appropriate training and supervision.

The organisation says effective traffic management procedures should also be in place in workplaces where forklifts are used, to help reduce the risk of injury to both operators and pedestrians.

"It is also important that forklifts are correctly maintained and operated in accordance with the designer's and manufacturer's instructions," says a spokesperson.

"It is the responsibility of every employer to address all workplace safety risks and ensure that workers receive adequate training in safe work methods. Workers should also work in co-operation with their employers and ensure workplace safety procedures are followed."

A range of guidance material for the safe operation of forklifts is available from the WorkCover website www.workcover.nsw.gov.au or by calling 13 10 50.

Over 2008, all states in Australia will introduce five-year renewable licences in place of the National Certificates of Competency (NCOC) which were, until recently, issued for life.

The new licences feature improved identification including photos, provision for a signature for the licence-holder and tamper-proof security.

There is no specific licensing requirement for pedestrian forklifts, which are excluded from the National Licensing Standard.
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