In the European Industrial Truck Survey 2009, 250 senior business people were asked to identify the critical factors which affect their forklift purchasing decisions. Surprisingly, price came only third on the buyers’ list.

Environmental performance figured as the most important consideration relating to the machine itself (in 6th place). Most noticeable of all was that a combination of advice, location of service centres and after-sales back-up filled five of the top seven selection criteria. Fast forward to a recent study of over 1,400 users of Fork Lift Trucks in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and the austere times have put Price back to being the most important issue (critically important to 45% of respondents). The survey revealed a market that is becoming ever more demanding, perhaps following patterns established in the automotive sector.

The idea suggests that just as we don’t expect cars to breakdown and make purchase decisions on other criteria (image, brand, performance, service, etc.) so too forklift truck buyers expect all trucks to perform to a certain level. The focus on service levels may in fact prove that people are becoming more concerned with both safety and the environment.

Safety is perhaps better defined with users particularly concerned about operator visibility, noise levels and stability but, environmental performance is clearly becoming an issue – particularly with larger firms. That said, there are contradictions between what people are saying and what they seem to be doing.  Although the environment is one of the top ten issues (36% said it was critically important) people are noticeably less concerned about the cost of operation or the lifetime cost of the truck – just 21% said that this was critically important.  Previous studies have even shown that less than 20% of users actually monitor the energy costs associated with the use of their equipment.

It seems likely that truck users will become far more conscious of energy costs and potentially look for trucks that are cheaper to run.  This is certainly evident in the car market, with sales of fuel efficient models (such as Fiat Pandas, Ford Ka’s, Citroen C1’s, etc) all increasing by over 10% across Western Europe in 2008 where the overall market fell over 6%. Of course, people are always motivated by what’s good for them financially, so perhaps the green angle is merely an added bonus, if this pattern is followed in the truck market then energy consumption will become an issue and the demand for fuel efficient trucks is likely to increase. Generally, truck users are not good at collecting the type of information they need to make more sophisticated purchase decisions based on operational or lifetime costs rather than the upfront price.  With rising energy costs, a detailed knowledge of operational costs and operating patterns could help users make better informed decisions that are both good for them and greener too.