Go big or go home: Genie discusses GCC expansion

Sharbel Kordahi details Genie’s plans to simultaneously strengthen its AWP line-up and introduce an entirely new range of telehandlers to the Middle East

INTERVIEWS, PMV

Sharbel Kordahi had a beaming smile on his face when he paid a visit to PMV’s head office. A lot has been happening in the Middle East’s aerial work platform (AWP) segment of late, and the big, blue booms of Genie have been at the forefront of developments.

Last year, the access platform manufacturer introduced its largest self-propelled telescopic boom to the region: the Genie SX-180. The high-end model has proved somewhat of a hit with customers during its first year, not only in the GCC, but also farther afield.

“The launch of the SX-180 was very successful,” began Kordahi, who is general manager for the Middle East at Genie’s parent company, Terex Aerial Work Platforms.

“We’ve just passed the 100 mark for global sales. In the region here, we’ve sold four units. UAE-based Al Laith was our first customer in the Middle East; they purchased two of the machines. Since then, we have received orders from Saudi Arabia and also South Africa, which also falls within this territory,” he explained.

At the time of the interview, Kordahi and his colleagues were busy making travel arrangements for the Kingdom’s first SX-180. Shortly after, rental firm, Zoom Al Andalus Trading, took delivery of the giant telescopic model.

When it comes to self-propelled telescopic booms, they don’t come much bigger than the SX-180. Despite its lofty 54.86m platform height, Genie’s patented X-chassis means that the model can be transported by road without the need for any special permits.

That’s not to say that the manufacturer can rest on its laurels; its main competitor, JLG, has responded with the regional introduction of its 1850SJ Ultra Boom. Nevertheless, Kordahi is confident that the SX-180 will continue to prove popular with Middle Eastern customers during 2015.

“This year, I think we could be looking at similar numbers, taking into consideration that our competitor has launched a 56.57m boom,” he told PMV.

“Customers loyal to that brand will buy from them, in the same way that Genie’s loyal customers will come to us. Either way, I think that this range – 30m to 55m – represents our greatest market opportunity in the Middle East, and also, in other markets,” said Kordahi.

To this end, Genie is in the process of bridging the gap between its SX-180 and S-125 models. The manufacturer recently introduced the SX-150 telescopic boom to the North American market, and Kordahi revealed that the 38.15m-reach unit is due to arrive on these shores before the end of the year.

“Here in the Middle East, we tend to focus more on the CE-spec machines because we think they are more suitable,” he explained.

“If we wanted to, we could start selling the North American version of the SX-150 tomorrow. However, we prefer the CE units because of the overload-prevention and safety features that they offer.

“With this in mind, we’re looking at a quarter-three launch window for the SX-150 in the Middle East,” added Kordahi.

To say that a new unit could be introduced tomorrow might sound like a bold claim, but impressively, Kordahi wasn’t speaking hyperbolically. The commonality that exists between Genie’s machines means that the manufacturer’s local dealer network is already equipped to service the SX-150.

“The similarity that the SX-150 has with the SX-180 gives us a huge advantage in terms of getting our aftermarket team members up to speed with the servicing of the machine,” noted Kordahi.

“Our technicians and service managers have all taken part in intensive courses. They also shadow each and every machine that is delivered to the Middle East market. Every time a customer is due to take delivery of a Genie unit, we send specialists to their site when the AWP arrives on the low bed.

“What’s more, the SX-180 – and the SX-150 when it arrives in the region – come with a service contract that is built into the price of the machine. If one of our customers wants to activate his service contract, he doesn’t have to pay any extra money,” he told PMV.

Although Genie remains a full-range manufacturer, the focus on the larger end of the AWP market forms part of the company’s global strategy. Fortunately for Kordahi and his colleagues, this tactic is perfectly suited to this region’s preference for bigger booms.

“The Middle East is predominantly a big-boom market,” he said. “Medium- to large-sized telescopic booms; anything above 20m. This is where the majority of business lies in this region.

“I wouldn’t say that Genie has adopted this strategy specifically for the Middle East. Fortunately for us, however, it’s a global strategy that happens to fit perfectly within this region. If I was working in Europe, I would say it probably wouldn’t fit into my regional strategy because Europe is more for the medium- to small-sized articulated booms. Ideally for us, it is the other way around,” he explained.

One might assume that with the 2014 launch of its flagship SX-180 model, and the upcoming introduction of the SX-150 to the Middle East, Genie’s plate would be sufficiently full for the coming year. It appears, however, that the manufacturer is hungry for a larger – and different – slice of the pie.

Most major equipment manufacturers are best known for a particular product line. For example, Caterpillar has its bulldozers, JCB has its backhoe loaders, and Bobcat has its skid-steer loaders. For Genie, of course, it’s the access platform. You’d probably be forgiven, therefore, for not knowing that the firm also produces a range of telescopic handlers.

This dates back to 2006 when Terex AWP acquired a telehandler outfit based in Perugia, Italy. As Kordahi explained, at that time, there was a lot of work still to be done in terms of making the telehandlers suitable for Genie’s product portfolio. With this in mind, the manufacturer has spent the last decade working behind the scenes to create a world-class line-up.

“When Terex acquired the Perugia facility almost 10 years ago, it handed it over to Genie because the products were in keeping with the brand,” Kordahi recounted.

“When we took over the factory, it was producing more than 40 models; it was completely customer-driven. Essentially, clients would order exact specifications. The engineers would then go away and produce a model based on those specs.

“There were a lot of models that weren’t really suited to mass production. Of course, this isn’t the strategy of either Terex or Genie. We are mass manufacturers. We therefore embarked on a long rationalisation programme. In 2011, we scrapped most of the original models keeping only nine from the range. We then went to market,” he said.

Following an initial trial period of two years, Genie decided to further consolidate the range, leaving just seven models. In 2013, a decision was taken to re-evaluate and put the final line-up through extensive field testing.

“Last year, we delivered very few telehandlers to the market, but that was intentional,” commented Kordahi.

“Instead, we spent our time putting the final seven models through intensive testing. Every single unit from the range went through 300 hours of field-simulation testing. At any point in time, if there were any issues, the unit would be delivered back to the engineers so that the problem could be solved. It would then be delivered back to the field and put through another 300 hours of testing.

“Basically, we have taken every possible measure to ensure that the machines meet the high quality standards upon which the Genie brand prides itself,” he said.

After this extensive period of research, development, and refinement, Genie is ready to roll out its telehandler range – and in a big way. Initially, six models will be introduced to the Middle East, ranging from a 2.5-tonne capacity, 6m-reach telehandler, to a five-tonne capacity, 21m-reach rotating mini crane.

Encouragingly for Genie, Kordahi and his team have already received significant telehandler interest from Middle Eastern customers.

“The region’s first Genie GTH-5021 R rotator model was delivered to Qatar in March,” Kordahi revealed.

“This unit was purchased by a rental operator. What’s more, we have other orders in the pipeline. There are deliveries slated for Saudi Arabia in May, and at the end of June, we expect to send a further two telehandlers to the Kingdom. These will all be rotator machines,” he told PMV.

Indeed, Kordahi contends that the rotator models represent a key weapon in Genie’s battle to secure a meaningful slice of the Middle East’s lucrative – but competitive – telehandler market.

“All of a sudden, we’ve noticed that customers in this region are paying particular attention to the rotator segment, which was never the case historically,” he pointed out.

“The Middle East has always been a fixed-telehandler market; very traditional. Now, we see more and more end users talking about rotator units, and about the benefits that these models have to offer. This is good news for us because it means we’re not so much in direct competition with major players, like JCB, Caterpillar, and Bobcat,” added Kordahi.

If Genie is able to exploit this niche, the manufacturer could find itself ahead of the curve should regional interest in rotator models continue to grow. In turn, by increasing its visibility within the segment, Genie’s fixed telehandler sales could well receive a boost.

The decision to enter such a competitive segment is audacious, but that’s not to say that Genie is acting recklessly. This is a calculated move that comes off the back of a decade’s worth of R&D. By simultaneously bolstering its established, high-end boom line-up with models like the SX-150, Genie is also guarding itself against potential setbacks that might be faced on the long road to telehandler supremacy.

At this point in time, one can only speculate as to whether the firm’s telehandlers will prove popular amongst Middle Eastern end users. One thing that seems altogether more certain is the scale of the manufacturer’s ambition. Genie’s overall business strategy seems to mirror its approach to the telescopic boom market – either go big or go home.

Telematics as standard

Last month, Genie began the standardisation of telematics systems in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia.

At the same time, Genie revealed plans to make all its AWPs and telehandlers telematics-ready before the end of 2015.

The latest deliveries of the manufacturer’s S-range telescopic booms, Z-range diesel articulated booms, Z-40/23 narrow articulated booms, and Runabout scissor lifts, all come with factory-fitted connectors.

“Our customers have many brands of equipment to manage, and many different versions of telematics solutions,” commented Matthew Skipworth, service solutions manager at Terex AWP.

Designed to increase security and optimise the performance of rental fleets, Genie’s eight-pin connector acts as an interface between the machine’s electrical control system and third-party telematics modules.

The standardisation will also make way for safety-related technologies such as IPAF’s Smart PAL Card [March 2015, PMV].

“In addition to being compatible with our customers’ existing fleet-management hardware, this system is quick and simple to install on request to provide customers with the benefit of rental-ready Genie equipment, including track-and-trace and smart ID access-control module options,” concluded Skipworth.

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