RER recently spoke with Skyjack president Brad Boehler about the current strong North American market for aerials, new Skyjack models and product support and the importance of aerial safety.

RER: How do you assess the current market for aerial work platforms in North America and globally?

Boehler: The North American market has been strong. Market unit numbers have surpassed the peaks of past cycles and although average fleet age is not as low as it was pre-crisis, it seems to have leveled off over the last 12 months. Growth seems to be taking place amongst the “nationals,” and the “independent” sector seems positive as well with new start-ups a common theme. For Skyjack, the belief in simple robust machines dedicated to the rental sector has brought rewards as we have seen new records set for our production levels in both scissors and booms

Where is the market trending upwards and where is it trending downwards?

The market has exhibited strong growth in North America, Australia and the UK – with good sales and market share numbers for Skyjack scissors and booms. After a year or two of strong growth Brazil has become quieter over the past year, although the sentiment at the recent M&T show was that the worst has passed.

In parts of Europe the markets are slow. France and Germany are more quiet than this time last year and Mediterranean areas continue to struggle. The Greek Crisis seems to do little to bolster any growth in Southern Europe and unfortunately it seems to dull prospects in more central European countries. That is not to say it is all doom and gloom. To some extent issues in Greece have been simmering for a while now and hopefully that allows these issues that may arise being factored into macro and micro economic futures. Specifically for the rental sector there is an underlying rise in fleet age, particularly in booms, that will demand some action in the near to medium term.

The market in Asia shows mixed fortunes, not because of economics but more because of the differing levels of penetration for construction equipment rental. From markets such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, where rental is strong, to the hidden depths of China where the whole industry need to get behind and promote the benefits of rental.

What is new with Skyjack in terms of products?

ARA saw the launch of the SJ 80T and SJ 86T telescopic booms. To date that product has been particularly well accepted and, to be truthful, has exceeded our expectations. Following closely on the heels of the SJ63 AJ, which itself proved a “class leader” the omens are good for our new boom products. I am particularly pleased to hear directly from customers that the philosophy and approach that we had developed on scissors is equally well accepted in booms. For example many customers delight in our unique axle drive not only for its all-terrain capability but for its minimal maintenance and low life cycle cost.

Any particular technological trends you would like to talk about, now or future?

When we discuss technological trends we need to bear in mind demands of the rental industry, which ultimately means that any development has to prove to be robust and reliable and ideally have a positive impact on acquisition, maintenance and life cycle costs. That is why when we recently set up a dedicated innovation team these areas were a core consideration. That team is now at work looking at new ideas for products in our up and coming portfolio plan and for separate ideas that will benefit rental companies – I would love to tell you more, but in time you will see what this team can deliver!

How about after-market support and safety initiatives?

Skyjack have been at the forefront of safety initiatives and a lot of that continues because of my personal past in product safety and a belief that ultimately the more safe the industry is the larger it will grow. Early this year we launched an initiative called the PAL pledge.

Skyjack’s belief in safety is one of the reasons we started the PAL Pledge campaign to encourage and promote the practice of aerial work platform training in North America. The PAL card is a Powered Access License initiated and tracked by the non-profit organization called the International Powered Access Federation or IPAF for short.  We received commitments from a variety of North American industry publications to help us encourage operators to become properly trained. Each person that, through those publications, pledges to complete IPAF training will receive a free custom jacket indicating they are a properly trained operator of aerials. 

In the area of after-market support Skyjack launched its ACCESSORYZERS brand. This represents a full line of accessories to enhance product versatility. These factory-approved accessories are designed to add functionality to aerial work platforms and convenience for the operator. Whether it is helping get materials to the work site, protecting equipment from the weather, or enhancing productivity, Skyjack believe that these accessories will become common feature on aerial work platforms.

Do you see any particular new growth markets, in terms of places and market segments where AWP usage is growing or has strong potential for growth?

My thoughts immediately turn to Asia and specifically China. As I mentioned above, the rental model needs to be nurtured. I think it is fair to say that the Chinese powered AWP market and more specifically the rental market is embryonic. In the last two years AWP sales have been growing and that is impressive even if it has been from a relatively small size when compared to mature markets. For the sector to thrive, that good foundation needs to be built upon so that a strong Chinese rental sector develops.  OEM’s like Skyjack have traditionally operated in more mature markets and certainly Skyjack recognises that we have a role to play in educating the market in a number of ways.

   The attractions of the rental business model per se – the aim is to increase the rental penetration index ( the rate at which people rent as opposed to making the decision to buy).

   The rental of AWPs specifically – Why AWP’s represent a very attractive rental product.

   The attractions of the use of AWPs – What benefits does the end user get by using AWP’s as opposed to other solutions…safety and productivity.

This does not mean that the Chinese market will become a “clone” of other mature markets. Skyjack recognises that it will develop its own character and practices that in turn may mean we offer different product, options or methods of doing business.

It doesn’t appear that oil prices are going to surge upwards any time soon. What kind of impact will continued softness in oil and gas have on the aerial market from your perspective?

This has been a theme for a year or so and I suppose developments with Iran, allowing for more oil to enter supply will keep the discussion going. In certain geographies where oil is a key industry the affects will be felt in local economies and the rental sector may well be negatively affected. However, cheaper fuel brings benefits for the national economy. So as deliveries of equipment to site become cheaper and more money in people’s pockets allows more discretionary spending, sectors such as construction may see increased demand that in turn increases rental demand.

What new trends of interest do you see in the equipment rental market?

I am not sure it counts as a trend, but one issue the rental industry will face is a new ANSI standard that governs the design and testing of aerial work platforms. In terms of time we anticipate the impact will be seen in early 2017. Basically the changes range from the need to have a gate versus a chain entrance to the requirement for load sensing to prevent AWP overloading. These changes will not only affect the machine itself they will have an impact of on how the machine is used. I see this being a big discussion topic in the coming months.

New developments in telematics?

With rental companies having diverse demands from telematics and with so many companies offering telematics solutions there is a myriad of possibilities. Skyjacks immediate priority is not to offer a Skyjack telematics solution. I think we need to see some commonality of approach and or demand before we embark on that journey…there are discussions in a number of forums such as AEM (Association of Equipment Manufacturers)…but I do not see too much developing in the immediate future. Hitherto, Skyjacks involvement in telematics has been focused on requested from rental companies to have telematics hardware fitted at the point of manufacture and we have happily worked with rental companies and their chosen telematics supplier to make that possible.