Off Highway Research-Management Consultancy for Construction Industry

Off Highway Research
Off Highway Research Optimistic about India
India has grown enormously and is increasingly becoming a regional (and soon to be a global) powerhouse. Its construction equipment industry has blossomed in the past five years and there are enormous opportunities for growth, says Mr. David C.A. Phillips, Managing Director, Off-Highway Research in his interaction with S.A.Faridi, during his recent visit to India.

Please acquaint NBM&CW's readers about Off-highway Research, its evolution since eighties and its international operations.
Off Highway Research specialises in the research and analysis of international construction equipment markets and is the largest consultancy of its kind in the world.

The company was founded way back in 1981 when it was a part of the Economist Intelligence Unit, a subsidiary of the Economist Group.

Over the years, Off Highway Research has expanded considerably, both in the range of research services that it offers, and also in the geographical reach in which they are offered.

Our head office is in London, where we have research staff–all construction equipment specialists, of course. In 2001, we opened up an office in Beijing, China, last year Off Highway Research India was formed, and we now have four research staff in New Delhi–and we are currently looking for more suitably qualified people to join the Indian research team.

We have representative offices in Japan and the US, and we are looking at the possibility of expanding into Russia and South America in the medium to longer term. We have a genuine global capability that appeals to multinational and ‘local' companies alike.

What are its important business areas and technical services for the infrastructure industries available at its end?
Off Highway Research is a management consultancy, and is unusual in that it specialises in just one particular industry: the construction equipment industry. Most consultancies offer a ‘generalistic' approach across a wide range of disciplines, whereas Off Highway Research focuses in great depth on the structure, dynamics and evolution of the construction equipment industry.

Our clients, the equipment manufacturers, component suppliers, distributors, end-users and financial institutions, are all very focused so we need to be able to offer them what they need: a truly focused, international programme of research.

We offer a broad range of research services to our clients: research-based reports are included in our subscription services on Europe, China and more recently India. We offer Multi-Client Studies on other dynamic regions such as Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia.

We have a range of statistical databases, and then we offer customised private client research to clients that have a specific programme of research that they need to have addressed.

All in all, I believe that Off Highway Research offers a unique range of specialist research skills to our sector, the construction equipment industry.

It is nearly a year since the company has started its services in the indian market.—How has the journey been so far and the market response?
India has always represented a personal love of mine–and I have been coming here for over 20 years. Mostly on business, but sometimes on pleasure. During that time, India has grown enormously and is increasingly becoming a regional (and soon to be a global) powerhouse. Its construction equipment industry has blossomed in the last five years, and there are enormous opportunities for growth. The scale of that growth in the recent past, and for the future, is clearly highlighted here.

Off Highway Research

So in response to that growth, Off Highway Research established an office in New Delhi in 2007, so that we could monitor the market on a daily basis. Establishing offices overseas is never easy, and India is no different and has been quite a challenge. In particular coming to terms with the bureaucracy!

But in less than a year, we are now well established. We have an excellent team of industry specialists—all Indian of course–that analyse industry trends, and they are the key to our success here in India.

When we arrived, bringing our international business model with us, many Indian industry executives were unsure as to how they could use us: few of them had never looked for an independent viewpoint before, and some were skeptical of our ability to offer them support of any value. The Indian companies that had a more international approach, however, welcomed us with open arms, while the international manufacturers of equipment and components who have all used our research services around the world over many years have always been enormously supportive.

So from a standing start in December 2007 when we started our Indian Service, we have developed at a very satisfactory pace. The 15 largest (and many others) manufacturers in the world are all subscribers, the leading component suppliers and financial institutions are all clients–and a gratifyingly large number of Indian companies are now clients. These include Beml, L&T, Komatsu, Escorts, Dozco, TIL, Ashok Leyland, Srei, Telcon, and Wipro.

In summary, the road has not always been easy, but I am hugely pleased with the response to our Indian market entry, and I am very confident about our future growth in the country.

What are the services currently the company is offering in India?
Off Highway Research
We have been in the research business for almost 30 years and have developed a very successful business model thatwe will also use in India. The services in India that we are either currently offering or are developing include:
  • The Indian Service: research-based reports that are issued monthly both in hard copy and over our website (www.offhighway.co.uk), that include Market Reports, Equipment Analyses, and Company Profiles. This is our core product.
  • The Indian Database Service: this is being developed at the moment, and will be launched in March 2009. The programme will be modelled on our very successful International Database Service and Chinese Database Service–and will provide historical and forecast sales, and production, broken down by product type and manufacturer.
  • Private Client Research: this facility is available to the industry at large, and allows our research team to respond to clients' particular needs and strategies.
The current focus on infrastructure in India is an important driver to push the demand for construction equipment. What major segments of construction equipment and machinery are set to grow in this scenario?
All types of road building machinery (compactors, asphalt finishers) will be in great future demand to complete the ambitious infrastructure programme that is planned for the next 15-20 years; crawler excavators and wheeled loaders are likely to grow at well above historical rates, while backhoe loaders will continue to account for the majority of equipment sales for the foreseeable future.

Recently, the off-highway researchconducted a research study of indian construction equipment and machinery. What are its important highlights for various categories of equipment and machinery, including its technical analysis of asphalt finishers?
Again, I think that the answer to this question has been covered earlier, but if we look at asphalt finishers in particular, there are some clear technical trends that are emerging:

The local production of asphalt finishers started in the early 1970s with wheeled finishers in the 5.5 metre class. Stagnant market conditions over the last two decades provided limited incentives for manufacturers to upgrade the technology of their machines, most of which are still being made to their original design with minor modifications. The later expanding market and the arrival of the latest technology during the last decade encouraged many manufacturers to innovate and create a wider range of products, the major variations taking place in transmissions, engine horsepower, the type of screed and the use of sensors.

Almost all mechanical finishers are fitted with screeds with a maximum paving width of 4.0–4.5metres, and have engines ranging from 45 to 65 horsepower. While the machines with smaller engines are designed for asphalt, some manufacturers have standardised on 65 horsepower engines for both asphalt and wmm applications. Machines for asphalt applications are normally fitted with sensors to achieve a better surface finish, while machines for wmm, made for base applications, are normally available without sensors to save on cost. Screeds on these machines are normally of the fixed type.

Another category of machines are those with a hydrostatic drive, normally fitted with a 4.5–5.5 metre screed and an engine ranging from 65 to 105 horsepower, and these are also available with a choice of screeds and sensors.

There is no apparent difference in the quality and technological sophistication of components fitted on imported asphalt finishers. Engines, hydraulics, hoppers, tracks, tyres, conveyors, sensors and steel structures are either of similar specification or sourced from the same suppliers. The major product differentiation in various brands of finishers is therefore being made on the basis of screeds, and these are normally manufactured in house.

Market demand for a lower priced machine offering greater reliability and ease of serviceability at remote sites is forcing suppliers to offer their base models with minimal electronics and computer technology. Demand for air-conditioned cabs is growing as contractors realise the need to provide a better working environment to retain their operators, and achieve higher productivity.

What is your evaluation of the technological status of indian construction equipment industry vis-à-vis its counterparts abroad and home (Indian) grown companies, pace of indigenous developments, industry's overall focus on energy conservation measures, emission, and safety standards and training to operate equipment.
Much of the Indian industry's equipment is based on historical technical collaboration with the world's leading manufacturers, such as Caterpillar, JCB, Hitachi and Komatsu. So the great majority of the machinery produced in the country has an international pedigree and standards–even though they might be a generation or so behind these models to be found elsewhere, in Europe or the US.

However, the industry is developing fast, and domestic OEMs are developing equipment that has an increasing emphasis on energy conservation, productivity, emissions and reliability. This is partly because of the increasingly sophisticated demands of the end-users, but also because India in the medium term will become an export hub for a number of the larger manufacturers, and this will result in higher quality, more sophisticated machinery being produced.

First sub-prime consequence and now financial tsunami leading to contraction of credit to the industry, how these developments are likely to have their impact on the global construction equipment business in general and on Indian construction equipment market in particular as per off highway research assessment?
The turmoil of the financial markets since mid-September has created both panic and confusion in the construction equipment industry around the world. Panic because at the moment credit lines to customers have been cut off, and while there might be a will to buy equipment–the possibility of doing so is much less likely.

Global sales of equipment will probably be down by 10-15 per cent in 2008 (compared with a 50 percent growth enjoyed in 2004-2007), and a further fall of 15 percent may be expected in 2009. The result will be a growing number of bankruptcies amongst end-users, dealers, OEMs and component suppliers, and there will be greater me rger and acquisition activity as consolidation puts back the wreckage.

India has also been affected, but to a smaller degree than North America or Western Europe. Our forecasts for 2008 have been revised downwards from our earlier estimate of up to 30 percent growth, and we are now expecting this to be a more moderate rate of around 14 percent. This is still very positive, though, and the long term forecast is that demand will probably double between now and 2008. Growth rates for 2009–10 will be about 20–22 percent a year.
NBMCW November 2008
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