Mike Anderson’s American Iron

Better Roads Staff | January 1, 2011

Big question remains

By Mike Anderson

It’s been asked so often by those of us collectively once known as ink-stained wretches that it’s almost become cliché. But, hey, I’m admittedly nothing if not cliché, right? And, besides, clichés are essentially based in truth.

So it was I just couldn’t resist asking, yet again, someone representing Volvo Construction Equipment: “And what about a dozer?”

This time, the recipient of the question was Goran Lindgren, Volvo CE North America’s president and chief executive officer, who was addressing a recent trade press gathering at Volvo’s Shippensburg, Pennsylvania plant. The backdrop to the question was a scenario actually laid out by Volvo officials themselves many years ago, when they told a CONEXPO-CON/AGG audience, in typical matter-of-fact tone, that in order to seriously compete in North America, they wanted their dealers going to bed at night thinking Volvo and only Volvo. You see, back then, in the late ’90s, many Volvo dealerships in North America sported yards filled with a proverbial rainbow of iron. Drive by a Volvo dealer, and you might actually see competitive excavators literally parked butt to butt. One yard I drove by every day actually had three different brands. Hard to take on Caterpillar that way, I suppose the Volvo folks concluded.

Well, to their credit, those same corporate folks were willing to look straight into the mirror when they made their statement at that CONEXPO-CON/AGG many moons ago. They understood and conveyed that the onus was on them to, before demanding any change of their dealers, fill out a product line many customers associated with wheel loaders only. Volvo had already bought Samsung excavators and Champion graders – both now long reintroduced and firmly established as Volvo products. They, as they said they would, followed suit by introducing such North American construction machinery staples as backhoe loaders, skid steers and – with the acquisition of Ingersoll Rand’s roadbuilding equipment business – pavers, rollers and milling machines.

So, Mr. Lindgren, are you there yet with that full product line? “What we’re saying today is that we’d like you to have to be representing Volvo,” he says, “but you also need to have complementary products, not competitive.” An example of a product not offered by Volvo that is both welcomed and well positioned on Volvo dealer yards, he says, is the Sennebogen material handler. The inclusion of such an application-specific product, he explains, is consistent with Volvo’s two-fold “focus” for dealers – their ability to support their customers and their ability to be profitable.

With Volvo’s construction equipment product line having expanded so much, it’s possible a day will come when there will not be a need for Volvo dealers to have complementary products. “No, I don’t think it’s going that way,” says Lindgren.

“So,” we still wonder, “what about a dozer?”

Likewise eliciting laughter, Lindgren came back on this day with a question of his own: “Are you a dealer?”

Well, maybe when we grow up. For now, we’ll stick to simply asking questions . . . and leave the really tough work of finding answers to the good folks making, selling, buying and using equipment.

For the record, the previous question, the one asked many times before? It went unanswered.v

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