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Lift trucks: Toyota’s focus on services

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
August 05, 2010

If you have a moment, Brett Wood would like to sell you a materials handling solution.

If you know Wood, who is president of Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., that may sound a little surprising. Toyota, after all, is the number one provider of lift trucks in the world. You don’t think of them as materials handling or supply chain consultants.

And to be fair, TMHU would clearly still like to sell you a lift truck or two. I was Toyota’s guest in Columbus, Indiana, earlier this week, along with my peers in the supply chain media business, to see Toyota’s new line of 8-Series 4 wheel AC electric lift trucks. It was an impressive event. Toyota spent about 7 years after the 2001 launch of the 7-Series 4 wheel electric truck surveying and researching the market before starting up the design and testing phases for the 8-Series in 2008. The new truck includes features to meet the evolving needs of lift truck users, like a new 5,500 pound model, AC-powered hydraulics and travel speeds that are up to 21% faster than previous models. Toyota believes it is the most powerful AC truck they have ever made.

Toyota is also serious about maintaining its leadership position. During the guided plant tour, we saw several areas where new manufacturing equipment was being installed. Toyota, our guide said, was using the economic downturn as an opportunity to increase capacity so it could take market share as things get better. “In tough times, we focus on kaizen activities, training and bringing more production capabilities inhouse,” he told us more than once. Like I said, Toyota still wants to sell trucks.

But later, I asked Wood where he saw TMHU’s opportunity for growth five or ten years from now. Lift trucks were part of the answer, but not the whole answer. “Fork lifts touch everything,” he said, “so we see a lot of our growth coming from an improved economy. When we see a new building going up, regardless of the industry, they’re probably going to need new forklifts. For example, when a new automotive plant goes up, that’s an opportunity for new forklifts.” Toyota hopes to sell more of them than the next guy. Or gal.

At the same time, Wood says Toyota is shifting from just being a lift truck company. TMHU also sells scissors lifts and boom lifts, tow tractors and, now, AGVs. “Fork-free factories,” he said. “We embrace it.”

More importantly, Wood is looking at the services his customers might need, including some that don’t involve lift trucks. Do you need a fleet management solution or a maintenance agreement, a battery management program, a fast charging system, training for your maintenance staff and your operators? Toyota would like to be able to provide you with a solution. Beyond that, Toyota wants to put its engineering and manufacturing expertise to work helping customers improve their processes. “Yes we will still be able to sell you a product,” says Wood. “But we’d also like to come into your plant, look at your operations and provide you with a service or consultative advice about your materials handling operations.”

He added: “I’d be disappointed if five or ten years from now, TMHU was only a lift truck company.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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