Maxon, the world’s largest manufacturer of tail lifts is becoming a more familiar name in the UK commercial vehicle industry, although the US giant has its work cut out to take market share in the highly competitive tail lift market.
There have been some notable casualties and takeovers in the tail lift industry – not so long ago, Scottish manufacturer of column lifts, Ross & Bonnyman closed operations, Ratcliff and MBB were acquired by Palfinger and Del tail lifts was bought by Cargotec. An earlier casualty in this industry restructure was the Ray Smith Group, (RSG) which went into administration in 2006 – it was through this route that Maxon first entered the UK market, acquiring the property rights to the RSG tail lifts.Maxon has spent the intervening years fine-tuning their existing products and those acquired from RSG to ensure their suitability for the UK and European markets. Since August last year, the company has been assembling a UK service network and has now started to market their tail lifts in the UK with a vengeance.
Concentrating on lifts between one and two tonnes capacity, the company has a range that covers cantilever, tuck away, column and slider systems for trailers.
Whilst UK Sales Manager, Roy Taylor is realistic about the prices he needs to compete at as a newcomer, he claims that his products are also engineered to last, he tells us; “The US market is in many ways more demanding than the UK, as greater distances are covered – plus the vehicles and ancillaries tend to be in operation for longer. Combined with the general U.S. paranoia regarding law suits when products fail results in a well designed and extremely reliable product.”
Not content with a well-priced, reliable offering, Taylor believes that sales will be driven by their $1 million levels of stockholding of new lifts and thousands of pounds of spare parts. This means that lead times for orders times are excellent – many operators and bodybuilders will often leave the ordering of the tail lift too late, delaying the completion of the vehicle build. A phone call should see the lift arrive in a matter of days.
Looking at the size of the company’s manufacturing operation in Mexico, producing upwards of 45,000 tail lifts a year, it is easy to see how the UK stockholding can be funded. To put the scale in perspective, the UK registered fewer than 43,000 trucks in 2011 and the annual UK tail lift market, including lightweight tail lifts at its peak is estimated at just 20,000 units. Economies of scale and manufacturing in Mexico, a low cost country, means that fairly realistic UK market share expectations at 15 to 20% should be achievable. Such is the recent success the company has been enjoying, a move to larger premises is due – the current 8,000ft2 unit will give way to a 15,000ft2 facility, which will enable the company to assemble knock-down kits from the US, giving Maxon further cost savings and a chance to compete more aggressively on price when required.
Some innovative touches help the Maxon products stand out from the crowd. The company’s slider lift for use on trailers that have to reverse to loading bays, yet still need a tail lift, have “Smartstow”, an intelligent control mechanism that prevents damage through the operator inadvertently crashing the lift into the vehicle itself.Although recent years has seen the cantilever and tuck away lift favoured over the UK’s traditional column lift, Maxon has their ‘Raillift’ a column lift offering that differs from the crowd, as it uses hydraulic pumps instead of a chain mechanism. This simpler design adds to reliability with a reduction in moving parts, the company claims.
The inventor of the tuckaway tail lift back in 1957, Maxon have been leading the development of this technology since then, having seen millions of units rolling out of the factory gates.
Although the company’s presence in the UK is limited at presence, with ex-Jost UK managing director, Roy Taylor heading up sales and ex-RSG technical wizard, Kevin Woods dealing with the technical side, there is a good chance that the company will achieve their market share objective.
Will the US parent be sufficiently patient to wait for these results? As a family-owned and run business that sees the first overseas expansion as a stepping-stone into the European market we think that it is likely they will stay the course.