The Indian crawler crane industry is at crossroads

Ajay Kumar Somani, Director, Liebherr India
Ajay Kumar Somani, Director, Liebherr India, called it a day on 31 August 2017 after 44 successful years in the cranes business. He shares his achievements, his views on the status of the crane industry of India, and its growth prospects in the coming years, with P.P. Basistha.

Though hailing from Rajasthan, Mr. Somani spent his entire professional and personal life in Kolkata, with a 4-year stint in Thailand. He started his career with the heavy engineering division of Hindustan Motors, where he worked from 1973 to 1996.

Hindustan Motors had a collaboration with Liebherr from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s for indigenously manufacturing mobile cranes and marketing mobile and crawler cranes. The company manufactured 60-ton rough terrain cranes, co-branded as HM Liebherr, and sold three units of 650-ton crawler cranes and a good number of 140-ton all-terrain mobile cranes. Mr. Somani was the key person to develop and market HM crawler cranes 101 MK of 75 tons, which became very popular in the country.

He joined Liebherr in 1996, where he was instrumental in driving Liebherr’s heavy cranes business in India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. In Thailand, where Liebherr was operating through an agent, Mr. Somani set up Liebherr Thailand Trade & Services Thailand (Co.) Limited, and took over operations as managing director. He was also in-charge of the Indian market at the time, and sold a few all-terrain mobile cranes and crawler cranes of 350-ton capacity to Indian companies.

In 1998, when Liebherr decided to set up direct operations in India, Mr. Somani started Liebherr’s first liaison office for its Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH plant for marketing mobile and high capacity crawler cranes. He recalls, “Business was highly challenging in the initial years, as it required wholesome efforts to convince customers and put to rest their apprehensions of acquiring premium quality, high-tech products. The first breakthrough came with the selling of a LTM 1120 used all-terrain crane in 2002.”

In 2006, Liebherr started its wholly owned Liebherr India Private Limited, and all the liaison offices of Liebherr merged with it.

India being a highly price-sensitive market, it is always a challenge to sell high quality, more expensive products, but Mr. Somani was not only successful in creating awareness in the market about the long-term viability of such products, but also convinced the crane hiring sector to buy new cranes instead of used ones. In 2005, the first new crawler crane was sold to a crane hiring company.

Mr. Somani has witnessed the crane sector evolve from basic products and solutions to cranes with advanced technology that enable wider applications and better performance. He says, “The market has matured over the years as it has shed its skepticism on the utility of high-tech machines, and is now showing willingness to invest in premium products. The construction equipment market is going through a transition phase currently; any slump in demand will have a cascading effect on the crane hiring rates. So, owners are a little wary of buying premium products. Unfortunately, the situation is being exploited by manufacturers selling cheaper variants, which adversely impact productivity, performance and reliability of the cranes, and is not healthy for the industry in the long run.”

On a more positive note, he feels that despite the prevailing market conditions, there are buyers looking for premium products. At the same time, it is important for manufacturers and suppliers to disseminate the right knowledge about the technology and other advanced features of these cranes to potential buyers - a task that Mr. Somani will take up with enthusiasm for the advancement of the crane sector.

NBM&CW wishes him all the best for his future enterprises.

Lifting & Specialized Transport — October - December 2017

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