Industry Report: The Future Is Looking Brighter
According to industry estimates, conditions for vehicle manufacturers have improved since last year. Of course, supply chains are not yet fully back to normal. Waiting times for certain individual parts remain long and bottlenecks can also occasionally arise. Overall, however, vehicle manufacturers and equipment providers have done a good job of adapting to the situation and now say their processes are stable again. The order books are well filled.
Admittedly, waiting times due to high order backlogs remain relatively long and unexpected delays can occur with suppliers. This forces vehicle manufacturers to modify production operations and update processes over and over again. Delivery times for chassis are often cited as one example of the challenges they face.
Small and medium-sized energy providers remain the most important customer group for vehicle manufacturers. The changes in energy trading have also had an impact on vehicle design requirements.
Depending on the focus of the various manufacturers, the dominant products in their manufacturing portfolios are semi-trailers, rigid lorries and articulated lorries. Nontheless, the overall industry mix has changed little. Vehicles for liquid fuels are in demand, as are those for transporting wood pellets.
There has also been little change in construction types. While three-axle lorries have been trending somewhat, standard two-axle rigid lorries still have a role to play. This depends primarily on regional requirements and on the specific customer delivery circumstances.
In addition, demand has definitely increased for larger constructions such as four-axle lorries and tank trailers. Customers also frequently need vehicles that can be used in a variety of different applications – for example, lorries that can transport additives and/or AdBlue at the same time. This is frequently the case with road vehicles. In the heating oil sector today, tank lorries are hardly ever supplied without containers for additives.
Demand remains relatively low but stable for special-purpose vehicles used in applications such as waste disposal, lubricants and exceptional loads. Airport vehicles are considered a special category. Here, demand appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Renewable fuels play a decisive role in this segment, as the need for sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) is increasing in response to European regulations.
An additional factor influencing future business development for vehicle manufacturers is energy policy. One example of this is the fluctuation in demand for pellet lorries. Owing to rising prices for wood pellets, reductions in state support for the corresponding heating equipment and political uncertainty on the future significance of wood burning, investment in these kinds of special vehicles has declined.
On the other hand, particularly in the pellet sector, interesting innovations are emerging and the first electric vehicles are already in use. Before this can happen in the petroleum transport sector, the regulations governing dangerous goods (ADR) must be updated. With the exception of airport vehicles, which occupy a unique position here, the full electrification of distribution lorries is likely to still take some time.
Above all, the key question is whether vehicles that use fuels such as hydrogen and electricity can be run economically.
The bottom line is that vehicle manufacturers are optimistic about the next one to two years. This perspective is also supported by the growing export sector. In order to secure their supply of skilled labour, companies are additionally providing in-house training. At the same time, they are investing in product development and continued increases in process efficiency. By doing this, they can also successfully counteract the shortage of skilled workers. Companies are able to offer attractive jobs and become more competitive by increasing their level of automation.
The only uncertain factor remains the political landscape which can often be difficult to assess and can change at short notice. This applies not just to vehicle manufacturers, but to all small and medium-sized companies in Germany.