The best thing about the worst thing about this year’s Bauma—considered the world’s largest construction equipment show— was that the worst thing actually had nothing to do with the off-highway industry, per se, at all. The show had very little of the somberness (or so I hear) that permeated the air at last year’s Intermat. And though attendance was down 17% compared to Bauma 2007, business was apparently just as good, if not better in some corners (or so I hear).
Speaking from the vantage of being part of that 17% statistic that was there three years ago, but not there this year to hear first-hand how the industry is apparently finally rising out of the ashes of the past two to three grueling years, the worst thing about Bauma this year was the ashes in the airspace.
As most would be inclined to do in 2010, I booked a flight on a plane (or two) to get from the U.S. to Munich, truly not even considering the off-highway alternatives of booking passage on a boat and then hopping on several trains to get to Munich.
In fact, throughout Europe, boat and rail use boomed during and after the crisis, and there is more than a fair share of people who have been quite verbal about the fact that in the future they will be more inclined to consider off-highway alternatives before air travel.
While there has been talk the world over, from the U.S. to the U.K. to Saudi Arabia to China to elsewhere, about the need to increase high-speed rail availability, it appears as if the ash crisis has been quite the motivator to make it happen sooner than later. With the $8 billion investment in high-speed rail in the U.S. alone, it is not a leap of faith to assume that an increased interest in rail all over the world will result in an increased interest in construction and forestry equipment, which could just turn out to be the “Chicken Soup for the Off-Highway Engineer’s Soul” for which so many in the industry are so hungry.
That said, forward-looking companies had been positioning themselves for triumphant emergence from the economic crisis long before anyone ever suspected there would be a volcanic ash crisis. It will be interesting to observe between now and Bauma 2013 just which off-highway companies emerge solid and successful from the remnants of the economic ash, and which companies simply proved unable to ever takeoff again.