Access in Central Europe - a report
16 October 2023
The Central European access market is wide and diverse and doesn’t fall into the general economic conditions of neighbouring countries.
Access equipment is seeing a bright future in Central Europe, with the region’s largest market Germany offering its own unique rental make-up.
For other countries in the region, like Austria and Switzerland, the markets are smaller, due to their lower land masses. Then we have the countries to the east, which have major potential to grow their access rental markets and are increasingly the base for new manufacturing facilities.
One of the most notable points about Germany, other than its is the fourth largest economy based on GDP in the world, is its fragmented access rental sector, made up of many smaller and medium-sized rental outfits with a dedicated and loyal local customer base.
As such the country is home to two rental company cooperatives that serve the access sector, namely PartnerLift and System Lift.
System Lift has more than 135 branches between its membership of more than 100 rental companies. Christopher Friedrich, the marketing manger of System Lift, says the German market is still growing – thanks to environmental regulations and expansion in areas like solar and wind energy.
Its total access fleet stands at around 20,500 and that is growing by 5% a year, as the cooperative concept remains attractive to small rental companies, as it protects their interests and combines buying power.
This activity in the rental market is in contrast to the German economy, which is set to drop this year along with much of the rest of Europe, due to well documented inflation and interest rate rises.
According to the European Commission Germany is set to see a 0.4% contraction this year – the worst performance in the Eurozone.
Taking advantage of Germany’s fragmented access market is Kiloutou, which recently acquired German access rental company UKA+Hauke Arbeitsbühnen for an undisclosed price. The company rents aerial platforms and telehandlers from four locations in central Germany.
Kiloutou said the addition would strengthen its coverage around Erfurt, Chemnitz and Dresden, and take its network to 18 locations in Germany.
Nils Altrogge, managing director of Kiloutou Germany, said the deal was a “milestone” for the business in Germany; “With the new locations in the high-potential and dynamic German states of Thuringia and Saxony, we are increasing our market penetration in the east and consistently pursuing our philosophy of local customer proximity.”
As Charky Kunze, CEO of Kunze, a major distributor in Germany of niche access equipment, says, many of the small to medium family-owned companies in Germany are now being acquired by international players.
“The older generation is starting to retire and this will see a change in the market. Step by step the big rental companies will take a larger market share.”
Looking at the overall German MEWP market there is plenty of room for growth, adds Kunze, as the population of units is concentrated to a large extent in the major urban areas, with outlying areas still relatively immature in the access sector.
One of the items on Kunze’s stand at Germany-based Platformers’ Days, in September, where AI spoke to the company, was the new Heron 10 from Platform Basket – the spider lift specialist’s first vertical mast lift. The unit is designed to be lightweight, with outriggers and complements the spider range.
mateco is Europe’s second largest access equipment rental company and has central European operations in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.
In all of these markets mateco has a leading position, it says, except for Switzerland which it has just entered.
There is a big difference between these markets, says the company. As we have heard, there are many local family-run business which are very successful in the region where they are operate.
In addition, says mateco, Germany is dominated by specialist rental companies, rather than the generalists found in the likes of France and Scandinavia.
“In the other, more Eastern countries,” says mateco, “The market is less mature and here you have a mix of Western companies investing in these markets but also local players with some multi-depot companies.”
In addition, adds meteco, there are many very local, less professional one-depot companies, mainly with used machines.
In these markets there is less M&A activity than in Germany, “as there are not yet companies with succession-issues, but this is of course only a matter of time.”
On the other hand, mateco notes that in the eastern Central European nations, the average rental period is getting shorter, bringing them closer to that seen in the western countries.
Coming back to those mature markets, mateco says, “In Germany and Switzerland we have a more stable situation with steadier steady results.” This compares to greater fluctuation and over-reaction to pricing as the markets rise or fall.
Moving on to products, mateco says that historically Germany and Switzerland have a large van and truck mount market. “They are not so popular in the eastern countries, although there is a growing trend.”
Kai Schliephake is the CEO of Germany’s second major access rental company cooperative Partnerlift. The organisation has 135 depots among its 105 plus member companies, many of them family owned with anywhere between 50 and 150 units in their fleets.
Schliephake believes the rental market in Germany will remain fragmented. The international majors, says Schliephake, “really struggle to compete with the small companies in Germany that have very close relations and good technical knowledge.”
He adds, “People told me 25 years ago there would be consolidation with 10 major players in the country but that has not happened.”
Schliephake goes on to explain that while German giants such as BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen and Siemens, and Liebherr in the construction industry, are well known globally, they do not represent the real economy of the country. “The big companies are not the biggest employers overall. There are many hidden champions that are the strength of the German economy. That is reflected in the access market.”
Compare that to next door Austria, says Schliephake, where the top three rental companies, all international, have around 80% of the fleet market share.
Taking into consideration more eastern-based countries, as a generalization, Schliephake says there is major growth potential as they become more mature. “There are still a lot of scaffolding and ladders there - there is room for improvement.”
Indeed, eastern countries are seeing increasing infrastructure investment. As an example, Poland will soon build what is billed as the country’s largest airport and one of the largest in Europe, near Warsaw.
Yet, Schliephake believes all the markets are changing. For example, he says it could only be a matter of time before a major Chinese manufacturer buys a European rental company with the view to channelling its equipment into the market.
Zeppelin Rental is based in Germany and operating in its home country, as well as Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark and Sweden.
The generalist rental company, with a fleet of around 4,000 aerial platforms across 160 locations, identifies the decline in the building construction market and the shortage of skilled workers as its main challenges.
“We are trying to counter the shortage of labour with extended training possibilities for our staff.” For example, the company recently opened a new training centre in Germany.
But rather than inside the strict parameters of central Europe, Zeppelin is seeing the greatest potential, at the moment, in the Nordic markets, “Though our operations in Denmark and Sweden are still in the process of being established...The German market is growing slightly, but the circumstances are more difficult.”
Right now, the company is not planning any major expansions. “However, we are of course constantly examining opportunities. For example, we just opened our third rental store in Praha, Czech Republic, which is also offering access equipment.” AI