Given the material handling industry's lackluster sales performance over the last 18 months and the sluggish economic recovery, this might not seem the best time to introduce new equipment to the market. But at least one forklift maker sees it quite differently. Now is "a perfect time to launch a new electric truck line," said Toyota Material Handling USA (TMHU) President Brett Wood at a recent event celebrating Toyota's 20th anniversary of forklift manufacturing in the United States and the debut of its 8-Series AC electric forklifts.
Wood cited several reasons for his bullish outlook. For one thing, he said, electric trucks are outselling internal combustion (IC) equipment. Electrics now hold 67 percent of the market, up from 60 percent in 2008. For another, improvements in electric trucks' performance, high gas prices, and environmental concerns are making electric vehicles more attractive than ever to buyers. Furthermore, demand for lift trucks of all kinds is exceeding expectations. Manufacturers now forecast sales growth of 26 percent in North America for 2010, up sharply from earlier predictions of just 3 to 5 percent, he added.
The mood was upbeat throughout the event, which was held at the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) plant in Columbus, Ind. In addition to celebrating two decades of U.S. manufacturing, the company staged a "line-off" ceremony for the 8-Series that was attended by U.S. and Japanese executives, including Toyota Industries Corp. President Tetsuro Toyoda, and all 600-plus associates who work at TIEM. They had something else to celebrate, too: Despite the past year's lull in sales, TIEM has not laid off a single employee. To keep its experienced associates working until sales revive, TIEM has brought more parts fabrication in house, installed new machines to increase manufacturing capacity, expanded and improved sections of the facility, and revised work processes to reduce costs.