Hannes Roither, spokesperson for Palfinger, describes the European crane market as "still not satisfying."

In an interview with Hoist, Hannes noted that, before the crash of 2008, countries such as Spain, Portugal or Italy were on the verge of stabilizing and, in some cases, even showing a slight increase. But in 2013 market activity in these countries remains disappointingly low.

Hannes said: "For Palfinger the downside risk of these countries is therefore very small.

"As for now, Germany and France are the most important European sales markets for Palfinger.

"To reduce dependencies on single markets Palfinger is following its longterm revenue goal of 1/3 in EMEA, 1/3 in North and South America and 1/3 in Asia."

Wolfgang Beringer of Liebherr-Werk Ehingen told Hoist: "Spain and Portugal and also the market in Italy have decreased dramatically."

By most accounts, the related uncertainty in the markets has increased the volatility of incoming orders which, in turn, is reflected in a partially lower utilization of the European production plants.

In order to deal with this level of uncertainty, Palfinger reacted quickly through flexible value-creation processes adjusted to the market situation, as well as by utilizing new sales opportunities, for example, through manufacturing for third parties.

And, as the European market continues to consolidate, companies like Palfinger and Liebherr are well placed to reap the rewards.

Hannes said: "Externally we have seen a more consolidated market now and increased market share for Palfinger.

Customers that were opting for cheaper products from competitors in the past have changed to Palfinger as a strong partner that can guarantee a worldwide service network.

"A premium product such as a Palfinger loader crane with higher onetime costs at the beginning can save a lot of break down or standstill costs during its life-span."

The conventional wisdom is that crane manufacturers should be looking further afield towards the BRIC countries for signs of real growth.

Hannes said: "For sure the most significant growth over the coming years will be in the BRIC countries. Not only because of their infrastructural projects and events (e.g. football world cup 2014 and Olympia 2016 in Brazil), but also due to the enormous size and potential market volume like in Russia or China."

Hannes added: "There is good growth potential in the markets outside Europe. Against the backdrop of the uncertain development of the economy and of demand, the visibility of the business was reduced. Under the current economic conditions, we expect a moderate increase in revenue, coming primarily from the business areas outside Europe."

Wolfgang Beringer concurred: "Strong markets for us are Russia, Brazil, USA, Australia and Middle East," he said. "We see a growth in Central America and further growth is USA and Middle East."

Beringer echoed the thoughts of many crane manufactuters by stressing: "The basis for improvements in the South of Europe is economical growth. This is a political challenge."

With regards to technological developments, the smart money appears to be on the growth of mechatronic systems.

Hannes predicted: "In the future, mechatronic systems will be contributing increasingly to product differentiation. They make products more user-friendly and consequently also expand their range of application. As the use of mechatronics increases, internal quality management in this area comes to the fore as well.

"It covers development processes, the release of sensors and components as well as installation, setting and maintenance at the dealers. In general, systems that enhance operator, maintenance and service-friendliness combined with safe crane operations in context with product life cycle costs will be of upmost interest."

Liebherr pointed to the development of its PowerBoom as a key milestone for the industry.

The PowerBoom is a double parallel lattice boom system in the lower part of the boom of large crawler cranes.

Wolfgang Beringer also suggested that crane control systems which improve safety, capacity and economy of cranes will play a more vital role in the coming years.

With profit margins being squeezed and manufacturers looking to develop new markets, innovation has become the key factor in growth.

Hannes told Hoist "Palfinger always tries to be the leader in technology and innovation in its sector and has been recognized as such for many years now. One of the three strategic pillars, to facilitate the implementation of the groups objectives, is innovation. Palfinger’s unbroken pursuit of quality has made the company a long-term, reliable partner with a big service network of more than 4.500 partners worldwide."

With an eye to the future, Liebherr is optimistic about the opportunities ahead. Wolfgang Beringer said: "We are optimistic, as we sell our products worldwide and there is still a demand for energy, infrastructure, etc. For all these projects cranes are required."

Q&A with Palfinger and Liebherr-Werk Ehingen

Q: What, in your opinion, has been the most significant development in the crane market over the past 12 months?

A:Talking in terms of market penetration or M&As it was surely the two JVs with Sany, one of China’s industrial giants, in February 2012. This has been the biggest partnership in our history and will be since the country is expected to become Palfinger’s second domestic market. In a record time of only six months, the competent authorities gave their approval to this joint venture in the third quarter. As intense preparations had been made, operations were started shortly after approval, and the first truck mounted telescopic crane models have already been sold. At the end of 2012, the first three knuckle boom crane models adjusted to the regional market were launched. To see such a big project successful and ahead of its timeline is very pleasing.

Q: What new plans do you have as a business?
A:The uncertainty in Europe confirms our internationalization and enhanced flexibility strategy. Focusing on the BRIC area to decrease dependency on the European industry, and an order-based procurement, manufacturing and assembly will enable Palfinger to respond to order fluctuations quickly without locking up excessive capital by increasing inventories. Therefore we are going to continue to pursue this strategy course consistently.

Liebherr-Werk Ehingen
Q:What, in your opinion, has been the most significant development in the crane market over the past 12 months?

A:The PowerBoom development by Liebherr:A double parallel lattice boom system in the lower part of the boom of large crawler cranes.

Q:What has been your most significant achievement (as a business) in recent years?
A:The installation of a worldwide sales and service network.

Q: What new plans do you have as a business?
A:To expand our worldwide presence. One of our top goals is to offer our good service and fast spare parts supply to all customers worldwide.We have already an excellent reputation in this area but we work hard to even improve it.