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After Rocky Acquisition, Manitou Aims To Best Bobcat

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Jeff Rubenstone for ENR
Manitou Group rolls out the red carpet in Punta Umbria, Spain.
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Best known as the world's largest manufacturer of telehandlers, Manitou Group's business took a significant hit during the downturn. Refreshed, it now intends to compete against the likes of Bobcat with what would be the world's largest skid-steer loader.

Late last month, Manitou Group president and CEO Jean-Christophe Giroux offered an assessment of the Ancenis, France-based equipment manufacturer's performance through the global construction recession. "We certainly did some white-water rafting back in 2008 and 2009," he said during an event in Punta Umbria, Spain, on May 31. "But we kept the boats intact and afloat. We are profitable again."

The 2008 global financial crisis was a sore spot for the construction equipment market as a whole, but according to the company's own figures, its construction sales in 2007 to 2008 dropped 25.7%. In 2008 to 2009, they fell 68.1%. Even with positive growth in recent years, the equipment manufacturer's construction sales have only recovered to 2002 levels.

The financial crisis also disrupted an international merger already under way. Manitou began an OEM agreement in 2004 with West Bend, Wis.-based Gehl Co., a compact equipment manufacturer that also owned the Mustang brand. In 2008 Manitou initiated an acquisition of Gehl, just as the global credit crunch began. Amid the trans-Atlantic financial panic, problems securing temporary credit caused the original deal to collapse.

"The brakes went on immediately." recalls Dan Miller, president of Manitou Group Americas and a former head of Gehl Co. "We had our own financing arm within the Americas, France had their own financing arms and we went into a phase called re-fencing where we couldn't really share cash back and forth."

The deal was renegotiated and eventually went through, but the acquisition process was slowed to a crawl. The drop in demand from the construction recession slowed the integration of the disparate product lines. Manitou and Gehl only finished merging as legal entities in April of 2011, and have been working over the last few years to integrate their logistics and sales operations.

"We really came out under the Manitou Group at Conexpo," recalls Miller, referring to the triennial equipment exhibition held last year in Las Vegas. "It was the first time we had yellow and red on the same lot."

Miller sought to stress that customers and dealers will continue to see Gehl and Mustang equipment alongside Manitou's. "The brand names will remain alive and well. For example, the Manitou telehandler is more about the agricultural sector, while the Gehl telehandler is more about industry and construction. We're going to stay with all the colors."

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