We attend several equipment-related shows and conferences during the first couple months of the year that give us an opportunity to lay January's Annual Forecast predictions against the early-year reality. It's also an opportunity to discern manufacturers' and distributors' plans for the year.
On the equipment front, emissions regulations continue to drive machine design. All the engine makers have mastered Tier II and many are introducing the next round of improvements. Last month, at both World of Concrete and in Munich for a pre-Bauma event, we saw plenty of examples of machine upgrades made to take advantage of the engine improvements. Many products are making their way to the field boasting significant productivity and efficiency gains.
Manufacturers and distributors recognize that end-users have placed a premium on finding these types of gains in their fleet operations, and suppliers have responded. In addition to engineering improvements, we've seen more versatile machines introduced. The number of models of compact equipment, the range of versatility being built into other machines, and the proliferation of attachments point toward more and better options from which fleet managers can choose in order to place exactly the right machine and tool on a particular task.
We're also seeing strength in rental as it continues to serve a strong need in fleet managers' acquisition strategies. Efficiencies and cost savings can be had with rental machines, and rental houses are beginning to replace aging machines at a greater rate.
Improving machine technology and more choices in tools and acquisition options all point to more opportunities to manage fleets well. But two dark spots threaten the otherwise upbeat start of 2004: high steel prices and a politicized highway reauthorization bill. Manufacturing sources tell us that steel prices have risen at double-digit rates recently, which means machine prices will probably creep up. And election-year politics are dragging the highway bill into Washington's web.
Stay on top of pricing issues as steel's impact rolls out, and keep the heat on the Beltway to prevent posturing from sacrificing the nation's highway system.
|Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief, 630-288-8130, firstname.lastname@example.org|