The Big Interview: Liebherr's Christoph Kleiner

Liebherr is a world leader in sales of all-terrain mobile cranes

Low fleet turn over in Europe means higher prices on the second hand cranes bought by smaller rental fleets says Kleiner.
Low fleet turn over in Europe means higher prices on the second hand cranes bought by smaller rental fleets says Kleiner.

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Liebherr is a world leader in sales of all-terrain mobile cranes, accounting for 44% of all global sales in the segment. PMV Middle East editor Stian Overdahl speaks with Christoph Kleiner, managing director of Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH, and former head of Saudi Liebherr.

At its sprawling production headquarters in Ehingen, southern Germany, Liebherr Mobile Crane Division’s has production facilities covering 220,000m², with 2800 highly qualified staff.

There, all-terrain cranes, ranging from the 35 tonne LTM 1030-2.1, up to the 1200 tonne LTM 11200-9.1, account for 75% of the total sales turn over for Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH, and according to the company, account for 44% of the all-terrain cranes sold globally.

Also designed and built at Ehingen are Liebherr’s lattice boom crawler cranes from 350 tonnes up to the massive 3000 tonne LR 13000, as well as lattice boom mobile cranes, telescopic crawler cranes, and telescopic truck-mounted cranes.

Christoph Kleiner is the managing director of Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH, but he may be more familiar to those in the Middle East from his role as head of Saudi Liebherr, which he held from 2004-2007, before he was appointed to the top job at Ehingen.

Of his years living in Saudi Arabia, 2004-2007, Kleiner says he enjoyed experiencing the transition into a growth economy.

“I enjoyed it. I was coming at the right time, the business was starting to pick up. [Saudi Arabia] became politically much more stable, during that time the new king was announced. Since then it picked up continually.”

Liebherr has seen its mobile crane sales in the Middle East grow, with a long history in the region. Major customers include Al Faris, McDermott, ACT, and Saudi Bin Laden Group (SBG).

“When it comes to all-terrain cranes, we are quite successful within Middle East overall, but especially [where] we have two Liebherr-owned set-ups,” says Kleiner.

With its two Liebherr-owned ventures in the Middle East - Saudi Liebherr, a joint venture between the Juffali Group and the Liebherr Group, established in the Kingdom in 1981, and Liebherr Middle East FZE, established in Dubai in 2005 inside the Jebel Ali Free Zone – Liebherr is able to deliver the “total package”, and ensure value for its customers, says Kleiner.

“Due to the critical projects, in refineries, all kinds of infrastructural projects, our product is very much appreciated not because of the product itself, but because of the package.”

Most important for customers, he says, is service, up-time of the machine, spare parts availability, and ultimately the end value of the machine when it is sold.
“The worst thing that can happen is if you are in a critical job at a refinery and the crane breaks down and nobody is there to support you.

“This package is what has made us very successful, and we have a high market share in all of the Middle East, servicing all of the big players,” says Kleiner.

As is the case for many mobile crane manufacturers, the importance of the Middle East is growing for Liebherr, as sales in developed markets, especially Western Europe, remain flat.

In a presentation given at bauma China in Shanghai in November, Kleiner said that slowing demand in Europe has resulted in “a rather fundamental shift in the significance of the individual markets and sales regions.”

“In Europe, the high market saturation in the mobile crane sector and the economic troubles of the countries of southern Europe in particular had a dampening effect on demand.

“Accordingly, no increases in sales are to be anticipated in this region in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Eight years ago, more than 60% of its turnover for mobile cranes was being achieved in Western Europe, which has since dropped to less than 40%. At the same time, business for Liebherr in BRIC countries and in emerging markets has risen steadily.

But the impact of slower sales in Europe is being felt in the Middle East, by smaller companies and rental houses who operate with Liebherr cranes in their fleets bought second hand from dealers in Europe.

Low levels of new crane sales means less fleet turnover in Europe, and therefore higher prices for used cranes they may want to buy.

“The nature of the business is to trade in cranes when selling new ones; stimulate a new crane sale by trading in a used one. But now the market, which is a saturated exchange market, is not investing at all, so there are no trade-ins.

“This is reducing the availability of used cranes for the rest of the world. There are hardly any three-four year-old cranes in the market, or they are fairly expensive.”

Nevertheless there may be a silver lining for manufacturers, since high residual values will help fleet owners when they choose to upgrade.

“It’s kind of a strange situation – this kind of situation we haven’t had in the past to that extent. But it will balance up,” says Kleiner.

Outside of its ATC line up, Liebherr produces a full range of crawler cranes. However when large tonnage class cranes are considered, not many local operators have giant crawlers in their fleets, says Kleiner.

“For crawler cranes in the Middle East you see a lot of contractors operating globally coming in, like Mammoet, Sarens, ALE for UK, or Koreans are coming in for big steel construction projects, and bringing their own machines.

“There are not too many Middle East based, Saudi- or Dubai-based rental companies with the expertise and experience for large crawler cranes. There are a few, like Al Jaber, but the majority are coming through internationally renowned companies.”

Liebherr sees local demand for its LTR range – a crane with telescoping boom on crawler travel gear - for work on oil and gas and industrial work sites, especially in the 60 and 100 tonne classes, says Kleiner.

“This is a perfect pick and carry crane – the 100 tonner is the strongest in its class - and it’s perfect for these so-called ‘small’ pick and carry jobs for the drilling rigs.”

“It’s perfect even for a refinery application, where you have the boom down in the evening, but still you want to have the manoeuvrability and flexibility of a crawler crane. Crane on top, crawler crane underneath. The lattice boom crawler cranes are less mobile.”

Reflecting on Liebherr’s presence in the GCC, Kleiner says that its commitment is both appreciated and respected.

“In Saudi we have long term relationships, to share the good and the bad times, to supply service and spare parts quality, and of course to provide up-time of the machine.

“Even before Liebherr Dubai we had our very successful dealer keeping relationships and long-term partnerships. This agent retired, and from there we continued our own operation.”

This attitude is respected in the region, says Kleiner. “It’s very much appreciated. We will continue to deepen this strategy by expanding into different areas. Saudi Arabia is a very large country.

We are mainly in Dammam, where our head office for mobile cranes is, and Riyadh and Jeddah. And we will also go to Yanbu, Rabigh, and all these other places where the music for our cranes play.”

Big lifters find a home in Saudi Arabia
Liebherr dominates the global market for all-terrain cranes, and it’s a pattern that holds true in the Middle East.

While the market for cranes in the smaller lifting classes, rough terrain cranes up to the 70—80 tonne class, is for all players, when the tonnage increases Liebherr stands out in the ATC segment, says Kleiner.

In Saudi Arabia, Liebherr have sold a number of their 500 tonne all terrain cranes, the LTM 1500-8.1, which globally is the most successful telescopic crane of its class.

Launched at the 1998 Bauma in Munich, in 2008 Liebherr delivered its 200th model; now the worldwide population has surpassed 350 units.

Recently, at its customer days in June last year at Ehingen, Liebherr launched the new LTM 1750-9.1, with a 750 tonne lift capacity.

Built on nine axles, the crane with complete telescopic boom is able to travel on public roads.

The crane is designed for the heavy lifts that take place on industrial and petrochemical jobsites, without having the height required for installation of wind turbines.

Recently major Liebherr customer Al Faris announced the purchase of two LTM 1750-9.1’s, one for each of its depots in Dubai and in Jubail.

And Liebherr’s flagship all-terrain crane, the LTM 11900-9.1 is also operating in Saudi Arabia.

The crane has a maximum 1200 tonne lift capacity at 2.5 metres radius, and a massive 100 metre telescopic boom.

In 2010 the first model was bought to Saudi Arabia by Arabian Consolidated Trading (ACT), to be used in the construction and maintenance of oil and gas refineries and in the heavy haulage sector.

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PMV Middle East - September 2018

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