Alexander Greschner, CSO of the Wacker Neuson Group, discusses the current order situation, the effects of Covid-19, the Group’s internal restructuring measures, and its new products.
At this early stage of 2021, how do you assess the Wacker Neuson Group’s start to the year?
Overall, we are on a positive footing. Our compact machines and construction equipment, innovative solutions, and flexible services continue to enjoy robust demand on the market and our order books are well-filled. The global economy looks set for renewed growth in 2021 following the severe downturn of last year – even though the pandemic itself is far from over.
The spread of Covid-19 has been the dominant issue in recent months. How is it impacting your business?
From the very outset, we were very flexible in our response to the constantly evolving situation so we could continue to be there for our customers. Covid-19 has presented everyone with major challenges. These include changes in working conditions with rigorous protective and hygiene measures, working from home, and the daunting task of balancing work with childcare. However, the crisis has also shown us that we have the flexibility, creativity, and perseverance to ensure business continuity for our customers. We are pleased that they are busy since most building sites are still up and running. The main thing we are concerned about at this stage is the situation with global supply chains. The pandemic has led to restrictions like border controls on the one hand, and on the other, we have the ongoing risk of staff shortages due to illness or quarantine measures, which can affect both us and our suppliers. In addition, the general rise in demand for steel and other raw materials we rely on is really pushing prices up. Even transport costs have shot up. Container prices have trebled in some cases in recent months and these trends are picking up speed.
How will this affect the Wacker Neuson Group moving forward?
At the moment, we can run our production programs at scale as planned. At the same time, however, we have to remain flexible and, if necessary, pull forward equipment for which the materials are available and delay the production of other machines. Rising costs mean that adjustments to market pricing will be unavoidable despite our extensive efforts to raise productivity levels and our ongoing internal cost-saving measures. This will not, however, affect our commitment to offering our customers the usual product and service quality at fair prices.
Restructuring of the sales organization in Sweden was announced towards the end of last year. What were the reasons behind this move?
We decided to extend cooperation with our partner Kh-Maskin in Sweden. Kh-Maskin is one of the leading companies in Scandinavia for construction and municipal services equipment. As the general importer in Sweden, it has been offering Wacker Neuson’s entire product range along with a broad complementary service portfolio since December 1, 2020. Kh-Maskin’s network of local partners provides customer service nationwide in Sweden, so this cooperation will allow us to provide the best possible support to our Swedish customers.
Looking beyond sales, further changes have been made within your organization. What are the objectives behind the reorganization measures?
The conditions we are operating in are constantly changing, and not just in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Customer requirements and technologies are evolving rapidly, and so we want to also accelerate. Our aim is to anticipate new developments in the market at an early stage and respond proactively. We rolled out an internal restructuring program last year to improve our future performance in terms of efficiency, agility, and innovation, and we are about to implement it across the entire organization. This will help us streamline interfaces within the Wacker Neuson Group, eliminate redundancies and accelerate decision-making. It has the added bonus of strengthening our corporate culture, which is emerging as a key success factor – especially in times of crisis. The strong team spirit that unites our 5,500 or so employees worldwide is a strong springboard for our future success, ensuring our continued ability to offer innovative solutions to our customers.
Speaking of innovative solutions, where do you see the spotlight?
I would like to highlight our zero-emission portfolio in particular. A lot has happened in this space since we launched the world’s first battery rammer in 2015. Our zero-emission range has since expanded to include 15 solutions for the construction and agricultural industries. As well as simplifying construction workflows, these machines also contribute to climate mitigation goals with up to 90 percent lower CO2 emissions, and this figure factors in battery production and energy generation. Thanks to this range, our customers can now operate a completely emission-free building site in urban centers!
As one of our large construction customers in Vienna is currently demonstrating, zero-emission products are ideal not just for unusual deployment scenarios, but also for typical construction site challenges. Our ambition for 2021 is to continue developing these innovative solutions while optimizing our existing products. One example is our high-frequency internal vibrator backpack (ACBe), which has its battery integrated with the converter. A significantly lighter version of this backpack model is due to be launched on the market shortly. We will also be presenting new vibratory plates optimized for asphalt surfaces. Our customers can choose between a conventional gasoline engine and the proven lithium-ion battery from Wacker Neuson. This means that in the future our customers will be able to operate the internal vibrator, three battery rammers, and various battery-powered vibratory plates with the same interchangeable battery.
Digitalization is another area where we are continually innovating – always with a keen eye towards the needs of our customers. Our digital solutions are designed to improve productivity on site. Examples include 3D printing, augmented reality, and telematics-based solutions. With the EquipCare telematics module, for instance, customers can obtain even better insights into their fleet. Machines equipped with this technology can send data on upcoming maintenance interventions, unexpected location changes, or malfunctions to the customer’s PC or mobile device in real-time. Customers who avail of our WeCare offering can entrust all of their maintenance and repair tasks to our service teams, with maximum product availability guaranteed. We also have Compamatic, which combines the proven Compatec compaction control for vibratory plates with EquipCare, allowing customers to track compaction progress and seamlessly document quality control from a desktop.