The year 2001 was one in which acquisitions were made, alliances formed and consolidation occurred against the backdrop of a dwindling world economy, highlighted by the tragic events of September 11. Forkliftaction.com News chief reporter Damien Tomlinson reflects on 2001 in the world materials handling industry.

The inaugural International Materials Handling Exhibition in Birmingham, which saw huge crowds pass through the gates, showcased what makes the industry great, yet across the world in Illinois, USA, Nacco Materials Handling Group fired 680 workers and closed its Danville production plant.

Dresner Investment Services, in a report prepared for Forkliftaction.com News, said the world forklift market was "boiling" as the once simple materials handling landscape transformed into a global battlefield.

Kalmar's strategic acquisition of Nelcon BV was a key event in a huge year for business performance and sales. Canadian rental company Finning International completed a USD425 million buyout of United Kingdom rental giant Hewden Stuart. But US rental companies Neff Corp and United Rentals Inc ended their talks, which would have seen a United Rentals buyout of Neff.

In the middle of this period, Irish forklift driver Paul Douglas got stuck in a super glue spill after racing to the aid of a woman who had also fallen in the spill. He settled his claim for respiratory injuries with his employer. And parking inspectors in South Africa took enforcement to new heights by employing a forklift to remove illegally parked cars in Cape Town.

Canadian National announced plans in March to build a USD40 million container terminal at Milton, west of Toronto, by late 2002. Later that month, a group of companies led by Lift Technologies Inc exited final discussions over a proposed USD320 million takeover of attachments company Cascade Corp.

China was signalled in a special Forkliftaction.com News report as the world's latest "hot spot", after a Chinaeco.com study suggested the forklift market there would reach one million units within years. Already the world's largest forklift and container-handling players had moved into the region through partnerships and acquisitions, and the relaxation of trade laws later in the year opened the way for the materials handling market to expand further.

In May, a United Kingdom farmer was jailed for two months after using his forklift to flip three council vehicles into a hedge. Council officers had refused to leave Brian Statham's property after serving enforcement notices to remove pallets.

Steinbock dealers in Hamburg, Germany, threatened to sue the forklift maker after a snap decision by parent Jungheinrich to terminate 50 dealership contracts in April. The company said it planned to handle delivery and dealership responsibilities inhouse. The dealers' claims looked grim though when a similarly-affected Portuguese dealer's claim was dismissed by the courts.

In Nigeria, with a container handling crisis looming following the introduction of strict new container inspection rules, a convoy of delegates from the country's port authority went shopping in Europe for additional container handlers.

In Portishead, United Kingdom, Joyce Eitelberg had an unexpected guest crash in for lunch when a construction worker careered through her wall in a forklift. In June, forklift driver David Grixti was fined for breaking wind near a police officer in an Australian police station. The convicting judge said Grixti's actions were "intended to cause anger and disgust".

In July, the oldest and largest forklift dealerships in Michigan, USA, merged to form one of the most diverse materials handling entities in the country. Forklifts of Detroit and Fraza Equipment joined forces to create Fraza Forklifts of Detroit, with combined annual sales of more than USD80 million.

Hyster announced planes to move its entire heavy forklift production line to its Nymegen, Holland, factory. Plans were also detailed to Forkliftaction.com News for expanding the factory floorspace and workforce.

Attachments manufacturers Bolzoni SpA of Italy and Auramo of Finland merged in August to form the second-largest attachments company in the world, behind Cascade. The merged company would see sales of more than USD72 million, the companies said.

Later that month, Linde, the world's largest forklift maker, said it had been severely affected by the world economic slowdown, saying demand in the USA had "strongly declined".

Tailift USA Inc, Narrow Aisle Ltd of the United Kingdom, and Tailift Co Ltd of Taiwan reached a deal for Tailift to manufacture and distribute Narrow Aisle's articulating narrow truck, the Flexi.

High-reach manufacturer JLG Industries announced it would close its Bedford, Pennsylvania, plant and open a new plant in Maasmechelen, Belgium, in early 2002. The closure of the Bedford plant saw 635 jobs cut "in response to the economic slowdown", a statement said.

In September, a report by Sigma said the European equipment sector grew eight per cent in 2000, but predicted a 10 percent decline in 2001. The report showed the sector had slipped five percent already in 2001, and said it could reach -16 percent by 2003.

Also in September, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington sparked a surge of community spirit across the world, and forklift companies got involved as well.

Many of the major players' websites featured a Red Cross donations tab, and Toyota Motor Corp offered forklifts and trucks for the clean-up effort at the World Trade Centre site. Nissan Motor Company pledged USD500,000 each to the Red Cross and the victims. The first allied casualty in the consequent war on terrorism was an army sergeant involved in a forklift accident in Qatar.

The forklift industry in the Philippines was suffering, with the world economic slowdown blamed for only 200 units being sold in the region between January and September. Paragon Trading & Services Corp general manager Amado Millan, the TCM distributor, said warehouses were replacing equipment less often, preferring to cut costs through improved maintenance.

In October, in Washington, USA, forklift driver Antonio Contreras tried to claim compensation from his former employer, saying injuries sustained in a 1995 accident meant he could have sex only twice a month. The case was dismissed.

Toyota announced it would focus more on Japan's domestic market, in a bid to gain a 40 percent market share. Senior managing director Morio Kawamura said the Japanese forklift market had grown seven percent in 2001.

The Hong Kong market was adversely affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the market has decreased 35 percent since 1998. BT Industries said, in its financial report for January to September, that the world market was affected by the US slowdown. BT's warehouse truck orders had decreased 30 percent in the north American market.

It was an eventful year in the world of materials handling.


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