After bearing the weight of a lull for some time, the heavy commercial vehicle industry is crawling towards an optimistic future, as proven by the sector's largest international trade fair in Germany.
The wheels of economic turnaround are gathering momentum
More than 1,300 exhibitors from 40 countries have flocked to the International Automobile Exhibition (IAA) in Hanover to show off the latest innovations in the world of trucks, busses, transporters and special vehicles. That's up 10 percent on the number at the last trade fair in 2002.
Western Europe relies heavily on road haulage, with some three quarters of goods transported across the continent by truck. Nonetheless, vehicle manufacturers were not able to swim against the tide of the general economic ebb over the past couple of years.
But now things are beginning to pick up again, with the growth rate in some areas of production and turnover reaching double figures and German manufacturers steering towards a new truck export record.
Despite the healthy outlook, Bernd Gottschalk, president of the Association of the German Automobile Industry (VDA) is cautious.
"The figures are greater than the volume of our jubilation," he said. "We don't want to overstretch the markets and the mood, because we are dealing with an extremely fickle business. The success can disappear again just as quickly as it appeared."
That said, he is hopeful about the future of the branch.
"We believe the positive effects will stretch well into 2005, which given the strength of this industry, should give off positive impulses," Gottschalk added.
The VDA president stressed that companies in the industry used the sluggish period to streamline structures, create new products and distribution channels.
Tailwind for DaimlerChrysler
With two completely new truck series, a brand new bus and new diesel technology for reduced-emission engines, market leader DaimlerChrysler will be revealing four world premiers at the trade fair in Hanover.
"Our results are supported by our efficiency," said Eckhard Cordes of DaimlerChrysler. "Markets are revving up and giving us the additional tailwind for which we have been waiting so long."
Examples of MAN trucks
Sources of considerable concern for the branch front-runner are the climbing prices of oil, steel and aluminum, and if there is no let up, it is only a matter of time before pressure starts to mount again.
In Hanover, Cordes announced company plans to start production of the transporter models "Sprinter" and "Vito" at a new plant in China's Fuzhou City at the start of 2006.
The Munich-based company MAN is looking ahead with a positive outlook.
"For almost three years we witnessed a fall in the number of vehicles being registered, which forced us to reduce our costs," George Pachta-Reyhofen, in charge of technology and Purchasing at MAN, told DW-WORLD.
"I think our position at the moment, like that of the whole industry, is good," he added. "We are feeling a clear tailwind from the commercial vehicle economy. Our hope is that the economy in our branch is a signal of a changing trend in the economy overall."