JCB chances its arm with lift trucks

JCB is attempting to break into a new sector and challenge rivals with its innovative Teletruk

Family firm and construction equipment manufacturer JC Bamford Excavators last week revealed it is to make a play for the £6bn industrial lift truck sector. Its first foray starts in October when its new vehicle, the Teletruk, goes on sale.

The Teletruk is an innovative vehicle which hoists loads using a telescopic arm rather than a platform that slides up and down. Traditional lift trucks are based around a high mast mounted in front of the driver which lifts goods using a hydraulically powered chain belt.

Teletruk’s telescopic boom is pivoted at the rear of the vehicle and moves up and down next to the driver. It can raise items of up to 2.5tonnes to a height of 4m and slide out to up to 2.3m in front of the vehicle.

The idea of using a telescopic arm has proved successful for JCB in other markets. It introduced telescopic handlers to the construction and agricultural markets in 1977. According to Ken Bainbridge, director and general manager of JCB Industrial, these ‘now outsell masted rough terrain forklifts by five to one in the world market, with JCB as the number one supplier’.

JCB has spent an estimated £5m on designing the Teletruk, which has been secretly trialled by 10 companies.

It believes it combines the traditional counterbalanced truck’s virtues of small size and tight turning circles with a versatility impossible with conventional masted trucks.

‘Our initial Teletruk development centres on the single largest sector -the 2 and 2.5tonne diesel and LPG machine in the UK. They will retail at the average price for the industry of £20,000. Three and 3.5 tonne models are planned for introduction next year,’ said JCB.

The new vehicle will be made at the special products factory at Cheadle, Staffordshire, and will create ‘some new jobs’.

Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman and managing director of JCB, wants to grab a 10% share of the European market for lift trucks, which is worth an estimated £2bn.

Teletruk is ‘the first step’ says Bamford. ‘Our ultimate aim is to be a major player in the total industrial vehicle market.’

It is an ambitious plan. Breaking into any market is difficult, but a mature, highly competitive one with strong, established suppliers and a conservative customer base is one of the hardest.

Winning new customers will not be easy, said one industry source. Technology in the sector has not changed for 40 years and JCB will have a large acceptance factor to overcome. Existing players have well established distribution outlets.

‘It is about to take on the most competitive sector within the industry,’ said Barry Lea at the Forklift Truck Association.

Although JCB has an established network of dealers catering for the construction and agricultural sector, one industry insider said it would find it difficult to win orders from multinational supermarket chains.

JCB disagrees and plans to use its existing network in the first instance.

The only way it can grab its planned market share is by taking customers from existing players – including Linde and Jungheinrich of Germany, Nacco of the US, and Toyota of Japan – which account for up to 60% of the European market.

Although the Teletruk launch will make JCB the only UK-owned manufacturer of lift trucks, others are built here.

Lansing Linde has plants at Blackwood, South Wales and Basingstoke; Boss has a plant at Leighton Buzzard; Nacco has plants in Scotland and Northern Ireland; and there are smaller operations in Wokingham for Crown and in Swindon for Haymech.

Looking at the UK market, the second largest in Europe behind Germany, JCB is gunning for a share of the counter-balanced market which is an estimated 58% of the total lift truck market.

JCB will offer diesel and gas powered vehicles, which account for 37% (23% and 14% respectively) of this total. It will not compete with the electric powered market, which accounts for the remaining 21%.