In the last five years sales of Chinese-made forklifts have exploded throughout Australia, now Chinese Forklift are almost 20% of unit sales. But the truth is the Chinese have been selling forklifts here in Australia for nearly four times as long.
The reason why so many people think this is a recent phenomenon is a simple matter of pacing. In the old days Chinese forklifts arrived in drips and drabs, but nowadays, of course, the Chinese don’t do anything in small measures. In fact, China has grown so much over the past decade, and at such an unprecedented level, that it’s almost impossible to remember a time when China wasn’t the massive manufacturing and export powerhouse that it is today. To put it bluntly, it’s looking like China is going to take over the world.
Are they going to take over the world of forklifts? Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about that right now. Chances are you’ve heard of people who’ve bought Chinese forklifts in the past. There are more then a few out there right now selling Chinese-made cars and more still selling scooters and motorbikes, they’re cheap alright, but they’re also quite flaky.
Many of these dealers have begun to stock Chinese models because they know they can sell them off quickly and turn a good profit. And the reason they sell so fast? Simple, because they’re just so damn cheap.
And it’s the same thing with forklifts – some Chinese models sell for nearly half as much as the more tried and trusted brands, and as a result people have built entire businesses out of selling Chinese models.
Is there any thing wrong with this? No, nothing at all. It’s a free market, right? And clearly there’s a market out there for cheaper Chinese models.
If you are among those who’ve been enticed by these low prices you need to remember the first rule of purchasing; “let the buyer beware.” As with anything in life you get what you pay for, so if you pay for half the price of a quality brand don’t be surprised when you get half the quality too.
Now, before we continue I think it’s important that we differentiate between the two types of Chinese forklifts that are available on the Australian market.
Is the type of unit that is specifically made for the domestic Chinese market. They usually have Chinese engines and Chinese transmissions – Chinese everything, basically – and tend to suffer from severe malfunctions once they arrive here. Transmission and engine failures are common, because, quite frankly, these models are simply not built to cope with the often harsh extremes of the Australian environment.
The problem then is a scarcity of parts, because, unlike a popular brand name where you can find parts just about everywhere, you’re left searching for parts for an obscure Chinese engine from a company whose name you’re not even sure how to pronounce properly.
And if you’re really unlucky you might well discover that the company that made your forklift doesn’t exist anymore. In other words they’re a risky venture. No wonder, then, that these types of forklifts are usually sold at the cheap end of the market.
These are the ones that are made specifically for export to the Australian market. They usually have a standard OEM engine and OEM transmissions, parts are readily available in Australia and although they are more expensive than their strictly-domestic Chinese cousins, they are still much cheaper than established brands such as Toyota or Nissan or Hyster – for the same reason, of course, they’re built cheaper.
So which one is the better option? Well that’s really a decision that you need to make as the buyer, but here are some tips we recommend you consider:
- Always keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Every purchase we make is based on a sliding scale between quality, reliability and service on the one hand, and price on the other, so you need to carefully consider which you deem to be most important.
- Getting the cheapest forklift available isn’t an issue, nor should it be. The issue is more about peace of mind and quality of service. So make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer and also that you can get parts for the forklift in Australia in case anything goes wrong.
- Consider what hours you are really going to be putting in, be honest and realistic about it. Do you need something cheap and cheerful that you’re going to be using on and off, or do you need a rugged, reliable workhorse?
The last point is key, I think. If you have a small company, for example, and you just need something cheap and cheerful to move pallets around the factory floor for an hour or two a week, well then maybe one of those cheap, domestic Chinese models is just the ticket.
If, however, you need something that can take the strain and brave the elements on a daily basis and yet keep going, month after month, year after year, then really you need to be looking more at an established manufacturer. And if you’re unable to budget for a brand new model, then you might well discover that a well maintained second-hand forklift of a known and trusted brand can well withstand far more punishment than a brand new Chinese model ever could.
So, whilst there’s no doubt that China is now a global superpower, if their tanks are anything like their forklifts I wouldn’t worry about them taking over the world anytime soon. The proof is there to see around all those big, bustling ports like Shanghai, where all the loading and unloading is still done by Japanese models like Nissan’s, Toyota’s and Mitsubishi’s.
Of course people used to say the same things about the Japanese some sixty-odd years back. It took them over twenty years to really build their place and reputation as manufacturers of quality vehicles and machinery. Americas industry, too, had its dark days back in the 19th Century, before men like Henry Ford arrived on the scene and changed manufacturing forever. Not all too long ago people used to say unflattering things about Korean cars too, but nowadays they’re getting great reviews and selling like crazy, because the quality has improved tremendously.
So if China wants to take over the world, with its forklifts at least, then it’s going to have to work at it too. Though something tells me that the Chinese are more than willing to take up that challenge and do in ten years what took the Japanese and Koreans twenty. I might be wrong, of course so ask me again in 2021. But right here, right now, in 2016, when it comes to sheer ruggedness and reliability Chinese forklifts still have a long way to go.