Interview: JLG’s Tim Morris on the access market and what’s to come

“Everyone’s waiting for the next shoe to drop,” says Tim Morris, JLG’s chief commercial officer, with a grin. “Right now, there’s so much discussion around the economy: ‘Is there going to be a soft landing? Or are we going to see a recession? How insulated is our industry?’ Nobody really knows.”

“But what I do know is that we’ve been doing this a long time, and we check in with our customers all the time, and our customers are very sophisticated – they aren’t fly-by-night.”

Morris, who was sitting down with ALH for a catch-up during World of Concrete earlier this year, was answering the age-old question: How do you see the market playing out for 2024?

jlg, access equipment Tim Morris, chief commercial officer for JLG, stands in front of the company’s 670SJ at World of Concrete. (Photo: KHL)

Our chat came just days before JLG’s parent company, Oshkosh Corporation, would announce its full-year and Q4 2023 results, results that pointed to an exceptionally strong and healthy market for the world’s largest access equipment manufacturer. For the full year, JLG’s access equipment sales nearly matched its telehandler sales growth, with an impressive $2.46 billion in sales, an increase of 26.3 percent from 2022’s $1.9 billion. On the material handling side, JLG saw its telehandlers sales rise 25.9 percent for the full year to $1.48 billion from $1.17 billion.

Despite these solid figures, and a handful of (large) market tailwinds that are expected to keep the industry busy for years to come, Morris doesn’t wax poetic about a market that for years has faced equipment delivery delays, supply chain issues and labor shortages.

“Things are moderating,” Morris admits, “and this year, everything you buy is going to be everything you put in. I think you’re going to see regulation. People are going to start making much more conscious decisions about what they purchase and who they partner with this year. We work with all of our customers – big, small, we love ‘em all – because without them, we don’t exist. It’ll be an interesting year, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Manufacturing by region

JLG’s foundational philosophy – as it relates to manufacturing – has long been to produce equipment regionally to meet local demand. This, Morris notes, also strips all non-value costs – freight, shipping, etc. – away for the customer.

And those customers, as Morris pointed out – whether giant rental corporations, or small independents – are all vying for a piece of the “new equipment” pie as demand for aerial equipment and telehandlers is expected to remain strong, supported by infrastructure investment, mega projects and industrial onshoring projects, as well as elevated fleet ages.

To support its customers, Oshkosh used the last year to heavily invest in additional production capacity including expansions in Spartanburg, SC for NGDV; Murphysboro, TN for Volterra ZSL production; and Jefferson City, TN for increased telehandler capacity. 

“With 2024 largely booked and supply chains and product availability normalizing, we expect order patterns to also normalize,” John Pfeifer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Oshkosh said during the company’s Q4 investors call. “Therefore, we expect 2025 booking activity will largely occur during the second half of 2024, which is reflective of more typical seasonality in a healthy access equipment environment. As such, we are expanding telehandler capacity to support strong market dynamics and the significant opportunities we see in the North American agricultural market for our telehandlers.

“We expect this capacity expansion to help us better support our customers, as well as drive further growth and strong financial performance.”

jlg, access equipment JLG’s foundational philosophy – as it relates to manufacturing – has long been to produce equipment regionally to meet local demand. (Photo: JLG)

Morris explains that because JLG is a part of Oshkosh, the company is able to leverage physical locations and assets.

“We just don’t take a dart and throw it on the map,” he laughs. “What we decided to do was take our defense group and transition it over to the access group, and it’s been great.”

JLG also took time to diversify its supply chain, “which is really key,” Morris says, “and we’re seeing our plant efficiencies improve.” JLG expects Jefferson City to be online and producing telehandlers this year and the company will increase build rates and add additional production lines as needed.

Serving customers

In December 2023, JLG opened a 30,000-square-foot service center in Las Vegas to assist equipment rental fleets and owned machines in the Western U.S.

Complete with eight shop bays and two acres of storage space, the location allows JLG and its team of 10 technicians to provide maintenance on large fleets and build out its customer base. In addition, the new facility, located in North Las Vegas has overhead crane capacity that will enable heavy-duty repair on large machines to be completed safely and efficiently.

“We want to provide the full suite of services,” Morris says. “We want to be intertwined with the industry and our customers; It’s a part of our DNA.”

One such way JLG aims to do that is through offering its new ClearSky Smart Fleet as standard across most of its new equipment. The platform packs more than 25 unique features, including analyzers, telematics and productivity applications, into a single connectivity beacon on JLG machines for seamless back-and-forth interaction through a comprehensive ClearSky mobile app, a user-friendly web portal or an advanced API. Equipment owners and operators can send a prompt to the beacon to identify a machine’s status or perform diagnostics wirelessly through the mobile app.

Some of the technology’s most sought-after features include “Find My Machine,” “Machine Status Indication” and “Digital Analyzer.”

Find My Machine activates audible and visual cues from the machine to make equipment identification and location effortless. “With ClearSky Smart Fleet, equipment owners and operators can light a specific machine’s beacon or honk its horn with the tap of a screen,” the company says. This takes the legwork – and time – away from anyone attempting to locate a specific machine on either a packed jobsite, or massive rental yard.

jlg, access equipment JLG’s 670SJ, a self-leveling boom lift, at World of Concrete. (Photo: KHL)

Machine Status Indication offers visual cues from the machine allow equipment owners and operators to wirelessly identify a machine’s status, such as active diagnostic trouble codes (DTC)s, battery or fuel level, ignition and more “…simply by looking at the color of the beacon,” says JLG. And, with Digital Analyzer, service technicians, mechanics and operators are able to perform diagnostics wirelessly with a built-in analyzer functionality that replaces the JLG wired handheld analyzer.

“We’ve experimented with this technology a lot,” Morris adds. “And it’s really going to attack some of the labor issues we’re having.

JLG is also keen on branching out to different end markets, such as agriculture and masonry. The company, which was exhibiting at World of Concrete for the first time in over eight years, showcased a range of non-access-equipment products, including a tracked mini dumper and a tracked pallet jack.

“We are marketing into different verticals and different customers,” Morris says. “We have ongoing acquisition and partnership discussions. So you gotta make sure you touch these folks.”

The new products on JLG’s stand at World of Concrete were a result of the company’s acquisition of Italian access OEM Hinowa last year. Morris says JLG is evaluating where new products from the acquisition would fare best – both regionally and within specific applications.

“Could they lend themselves to rental?,” Morris asks rhetorically. “Is this a construction product? An agricultural product? An access product?”

Big buys for bigger futures

Adding to its portfolio, in early March, Oshkosh announced its investment in Eatron Technologies, a developer of artificial intelligence-powered battery management software (BMS).

According to Oshkosh, the acquisition will support its vision to leverage advanced analytics and predictive modeling for lithium-ion batteries to manage its wide range of electric vehicles.

“The investment in Eatron Technologies is part of our broader strategy to collaborate with advanced technology companies to accelerate bringing best in class innovation to our customers,” Pfeifer says. “AI-enabled BMS aligns to our electrification and advanced analytics focus areas. It will bring enhanced safety and continuous performance optimization to our EV product line.”

Eatron is developing smart battery management technology by implementing an intelligent software layer on top of existing battery control platforms that can be hosted on the cloud or on the edge. Its BMS combines models of the battery with AI and advanced estimation methods, to ensure accurate and reliable predictions about the battery’s state, health and operation.

“Funding from Oshkosh Corporation will enable Eatron to develop and deploy new embedded and cloud-based features for our unique software platform. The world is increasingly moving towards software-defined vehicles and batteries, and we are at the forefront of offering intelligent software solutions to speed up this transformation,” added Umut Genc, founder and CEO of Eatron.

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