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Review of Top Forklift Manufacturers

2014 was something of a turnaround year for the forklift industry with a 5% increase in units sold in North America. That's a far cry from the heady days prior to 2008 but it is a move in the right direction and the trend seems to be sustainable.

Experts believe that the increase is due to mergers that created more efficient manufacturing and marketing operations and just as importantly, a material handling industry that has taken a hard look at the data since 2009 and has discovered that lift trucks, formerly the first piece of equipment cut in hard times, actually are a source of savings and increased productivity when properly managed and maintained.

This combination of shared technologies, marketing channels and financial tools brought on by forklift company mergers, and a more informed buyer population, creates an environment for the materials handling industry that encourages increased productivity and sustainable profits. That is good news indeed.

So how did the mergers shakeup the lift truck industry? Who's on top and who lost out?

Every year the respected industry publication Modern Materials Handling puts together a Top 20 Lift Truck Suppliers list based on global sales. We've put together a brief profile on 5 brands selling in North America that shows their ranking on the list, global sales, and their core offering to help you differentiate between brands.

Top Lift Truck Brands in the U.S. and Canada

Toyota

  • Rank on MMH List: #1
  • Global Sales: $7.7 Billion

The world's largest manufacturer of forklifts has been the best seller since 2002 and if you were to ask them why they would respond with one word: "kaizen." Kaizen means constant improvement and it is at the heart of the Toyota Production System worldwide. Kaizen means finding ways to improve the "whole" product and in the case of lift trucks that means the machine, parts, service and operator training.

Offering a full line of lift trucks from heavy duty 15,500 lbs. internal combustion trucks to order pickers and hand pallet jacks, Toyota has demonstrated that it has put many "kaizens" into practice.

Focusing on safety and quality, Toyota introduced an industry first safety technology borrowed from their automotive technology. The Toyota System of Active Stability ™ is the first safety system to electronically monitor the lift truck's operation and take automatic preventive action when it detects a dangerous condition. With over 94,000 accidents each year, customers with SAS equipped trucks can perform a little kaizen of their own.

Safety, quality, performance, and support are the hallmarks of this leading forklift manufacturer.

For more information on Toyota Forklifts, please see our Toyota Forklift review article.

Linde

  • Rank on MMH List: #2
  • Global Dales: $6.1 Billion

The second largest maker of forklifts and the most popular in Europe has the tagline "Engineered for Your Performance" and strives to find the "perfect balance between price and performance." Linde offers a full line of trucks, from the monster Linde H series pneumatic trucks with up to 114,000 lbs. capacity, to reach trucks, walk behinds, and pallet trucks.

Toyota has its kaizen driving its production system and German-based Linde uses PureMotion, a process of thinking through all processes differently and holistically. The objective is to "achieve optimal efficiency for man, the environment and the company – the only way to live up to the expectations of our customers".

Sometimes that process can be confusing albeit for a very short period of time. When Linde introduced trucks with automatic braking (no brake pedal), digitalized controls and a much smaller steering wheel it took drivers by surprise. After a few hours they were comfortable with the design and after a few weeks they noticed no stiff shoulders and necks. Vibrations were down to near zero and visibility was vastly improved. Work was accomplished faster and without the pounding that many trucks take out on the operators.

The selling point for Linde is that "holistic" approach. Their products better fit the task than many resulting in higher productivity.

For more on Linde, and more detail on Linde's forklift product line, please see our Linde Forklift review.

Hyster

  • Rank on MMH List: #4
  • Global Sales: $2.7 Billion

The granddaddy of American fork lift manufacturers, Hyster has been in the business for over 80 years building its reputation primarily on rugged, high capacity trucks capable of lifting up to 115,000 lbs. That's not to say heavy duty forklifts are the only class of truck they build. Hyster currently offers 130 different models ranging from the monster diesel forklifts to electric pallet trucks to fit any material handling need.

Hyster focuses on its heritage of rugged trucks and places emphasis on building "tough trucks for demanding operations." Every truck, electric or internal combustion, is designed and built with ruggedness and dependability in mind. This is great if you run a demanding operation like construction, machine shops, or terminal operations at rail hubs and harbors, but you may be buying a little "toughness overkill" if you have an electronic components distribution center.

Like all manufacturers, service and parts are provided by dealers. Some also include training of operators. Evaluating the quality of your nearest dealer is just as important in the buying decision as the performance of the truck.

If you would like to learn more about Hyster's complete line of products, please visit our Hyster forklift review.

Crown

  • Rank on MMH List: #5
  • Global Sales: $2.4 Billion

Crown entered the forklift manufacturing business in 1959 with a unique business model based on vertical integration. With an eye towards making IC and electric trucks with the lowest total cost of ownership and greatest reliability, Crown became the only major forklift company to manufacture 85% of all components that go into their products including major systems like motors and drive units. By making their own parts, Crown has a decided advantage ensuring that materials, tolerances and other quality assurance issues are exactly to spec.

"If it says Crown on the outside it's Crown on the inside" is the pitch to consumers but it also means the company has a tighter control on inventory production, no interruptions from outsourced vendors, shortened new product implementation, and a tighter handle on overall quality.

Crown C-5 Brochure

Crown C-5 Brochure

Crown trucks are designed for medium and low capacity applications. The C-5 Series, Crown's only IC truck has a maximum capacity of 6,000 lbs. The real workhorses of the Crown line are electric and include sit-down counterbalance units, very narrow aisle turret trucks, stock pickers, walkie stackers and more.

Crown's performance is validated by the awards and recognition from both inside and outside the industry for their innovations in design and technology over the past 50 years.

If you are interested in details regarding the Crown products line you can visit our Crown forklift review

Nissan

  • Rank on MMH List: #7
  • Global Sales: $1.7 Billion

In 2013 Nissan merged with TCM creating a new company named Unicarriers. The idea was to create an organization purely focused on forklifts replacing Nissan's former position as a peripheral division of an automotive corporation. The Nissan brand has been retained for marketing purposes.

The "new" Nissan touts two advantages over the competition; fuel efficiency and improved operator productivity.

In a 2008 study conducted by the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research, the Platinum II Series of Nissan forklift was ranked higher than all other brands when it came to fuel savings and productivity. Labor costs are significant and to get the biggest bang out of your operators you have to give them a truck that has the ease of operation and capability to generate more "cycles" in a day. The MnCAR evaluation determined that the flagship Platinum II series added an additional 850 to 2300 cycles per year compared to the competition.

The merger has resulted in a larger dealer network of factory trained technicians meaning more access to service and parts for both Nissan and TMC trucks.

For more information on the Nissan product line visit our Nissan forklift review.

If you don't know where to turn when purchasing a new forklift for your company, start by considering the top 5 brands listed above. These brands are well-known for their innovation in the forklift manufacturing industry, with each boasting their own stand-out features in engineering, operating efficiency, and cost versus value.

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