UK forklift orders soaring

Rising confidence as business looks for a swift recovery from a succession of pandemic-induced lockdowns is generating unprecedented demand for new lift trucks across nearly all sectors of the market. However, as new data from the UK Material Handling Association (UKMHA) shows, manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with demand due to the ongoing shortage of critical components.

Following a 24% decline in bookings during 2020, orders have surged this year, with latest estimates predicting a 38% increase by year-end. Such a figure represents a 5.7% increase on the figures for pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

With industry demand expected to stay strong into next year, experts at Oxford Economics have predicted in their Autumn Economic Forecast, which has been produced for UKMHA constituent, BITA, a further 6.5% growth in bookings for 2022.

However, while deliveries have also recovered – currently hovering around levels seen in 2016, the economists have predicted supply issues could continue to disrupt delivery schedules well into next year before eventually subsiding.

“While shipments have staged a strong recovery, they are lagging well behind the growth in bookings,” states the new report. “This is natural due to lead times between bookings and shipping, but it likely also reflects wider supply chain issues that are affecting industries this year. We expect supply chain issues to persist well into next year, but they will eventually improve, and companies will continue to adapt. Therefore, the backlog will continue to rise into next year.”

The situation is by no means unique to lift trucks; virtually all aspects of the manufacturing industry are currently being disrupted due to the shortage of critical components. The situation is compounded by labour shortages, escalating fuel and energy costs, and raw material costs.

Nevertheless, surging consumer demand continues to drive the market and this is expected to remain the case during 2022, despite inflationary pressures.

One of the primary beneficiaries of the current situation has been the Counterbalance sector, which has witnessed a startling recovery. Prior to the pandemic, counterbalance bookings were in decline, falling more than 5% in 2019, with the weakness most pronounced in Class 4/5. The pandemic exacerbated the trend, with Classes 1 and 4/5 subsiding by 21% and 34% respectively last year, with the decline most prominent in the first half of the year.

Bookings staged a strong recovery throughout 2021 as pandemic restrictions eased. All classes were up well above 100% in the second quarter, while bookings for Class 1 continued to grow in Q3 but pulled back for Class 4/5 from the levels seen in the previous three months.

With industrial production predicted to rise by 5.6% this year, driven by strong consumer demand – a trend anticipated to continue into 2022, demand for the trucks is expected to remain high.

“Overall, we expect counterbalance orders to rise 33% this year. In 2022 we expect bookings to exceed 2019 levels after rising 17%,” adds the forecast.

If anything, the picture within the warehouse sector is even more positive, as growing consumer demand again influenced the market. The Oxford Economics report predicts e-commerce sales are likely to remain high going into 2022, relative to pre-Covid levels, despite shops reopening.

“We expect bookings will rise 42.5% in 2021 which will bring the sector 15% above 2019 levels,” states the report.

Tim Waples (pictured), CEO of UKMHA, said: “While these results reflect the continuous growth trend for 2021, they will make pleasant reading for our manufacturers and dealers, who have endured a torrid 18 months due to the pandemic.

“If the predictions are correct and growth can be maintained into next year, then the UK material handling sector is looking at a very prosperous 2022. It is all the more disappointing therefore, that supply issues are disrupting shipment of new trucks. Let us hope the situation can be resolved sooner rather than later – for everyone’s benefit.”

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