Talking Tadano: Sitting down with Toshiaki Ujiie and Dean Barley
By D.Ann Shiffler11 May 2023
As the dust has settled after the big ConExpo tradeshow in Las Vegas back in March, the consensus is the show was a huge success. It was also a very expensive endeavor for the manufacturers who had also displayed equipment at Bauma in Germany less than six months before.
At the show, I sat down for a quick chat with Tadano President and CEO Toshiaki Ujiie and Tadano America CEO Dean Barley. What was the vibe they were getting from attendees? Positive? Weary? Wait and see?
“It’s been positive,” Ujiie told me. “Very positive. As evidenced by the advancements made by our organization in the Americas, the Tadano Group is combining our collective strengths of the global teams, streamlining company management and maximizing synergies across the organization to provide maximum value for our customers, helping us to achieve our goal to become number one in the lifting equipment business. At the same time as a company, our mission is to improve the global environment and realize a decarbonized society. We are excited to present six products and concepts, including cranes that achieve zero carbon emissions.”
Tadano’s goal was to “quickly catch the attention of visitors.” Initially, Ujiie was concerned about “too much” emphasis on green solutions.
“Many of our customers are in the oil and gas industry, and we could have expected that they wouldn’t be positive about this,” he said. “But we have seen that everyone is positive about this innovation.”
Tadano’s Green Solutions initiative at ConExpo included the GR-1000XLL EVOLT rough terrain crane and the new Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) for the GR-800XL-4. The battery-electric GR-1000XLL EVOLT delivers the same 100-ton capacity as its diesel counterpart, plus zero exhaust emissions and low noise, Ujiie said. The APU on the GR-800XL allows for operating the air conditioning and cabin power supply during standby.
Barley said that Tadano’s customer following is expanding, more than ever before.
“A lot of it is because of our innovation,” he said. “When you combine that with the reliability of the products Tadano is known for, we are gaining more traction. Not just from old customers, but new customers.”
Tadano’s two new truck cranes were a surprise. Designed for the North American market, the 120-ton GT-1200XL-2 and 80-ton GT-800XL-2 are the chance to compete in a new market.
Tadano’s booth also featured two all-terrain cranes – the 75-ton AC 4.070-2 equipped with the e-PACK electrohydraulic system for zero emission crane operation. The company also showed the AC 2.040-1.
The GTC-1300 telecrawler was exhibited with an industry-first optional third winch combined with an optional power pack, plus Tadano’s popular GR-1300XL-4 RT. Even with the first day of rain, the booth was perpetually busy.
For Tadano, the challenge is not selling cranes, Barley said, but being able to produce enough cranes to meet demand. Following are their answers to my questions.
Tadano’s stand at ConExpo seems very America-centric? How did you approach this show?
BARLEY: With the two shows so close together, it was difficult. We had to make some decisions, like the hybrid all-terrain crane. We chose not to bring that to ConExpo. It was very expensive to do two shows in such a short period of time.
For ConExpo, we put a bigger focus on telescopic crawlers, because the market is here. The GTC 2000, which is set up on the 4-degree outer level, has been very well-received.
It is important for our customers to know that we are not just talking about new products and innovations. The bigger picture includes more customer solutions. We have a new finance partner that is providing solutions for some customers. We have a new extended warranty solution. Ultimately our goal is to create customer satisfaction. We want you to be satisfied with your Tadano experience.
How do you characterize the reception to your green initiatives?
Ujiie: We have many customers in the oil and gas industry. This is an important industry, and there will be a continuing need for oil, diesel, gas and coal, the fossil fuels. But we do need to reduce the environmental impact. We are happy to see that this industry has shown strong interest in these products. Our customers are concerned about the environment.
We have been testing these technologies for a long time in Japan. Testing is an important aspect of innovation. Before we launch a product, we want to make sure it has been tested properly. It is part of our philosophy.
We plan to launch the electric product in the U.S. and Canada in 2024. In Japan, the launch is 2023. The reason for the delay is that we need the infrastructure to assure these batteries can be charged properly. We cannot prepare charging stations by ourselves all over the world.
There is also electrified logic. People are being convinced that they can drive an electrified car. But what about an electrified crane on a construction site? What is the best type of battery? Many types of batteries are being considered.
[When it comes to electrification,] we have to decide the best thing to do for our cranes. We first have to learn and train ourselves on these products, and then our customers. Someone has to do that. We need to be that somebody.
BARLEY: This is where the e-PACK can fit in. If you want to go electric, you plug it in. If you want to use a conventional diesel engine, you can do that. Our e-PACK gives you the best of both worlds.
What motivated the development of the new truck crane product line?
BARLEY: The truck cranes were a surprise. They fill a void in the market for us. A lot of our major accounts run several competitive brands. And they have been asking for a reliable truck crane for a long time. Our new truck cranes – the 120-ton GT-1200XL-2 and the 80-ton GT-800XL-2 – are purpose built for this market. Even though you can get smaller ATs in this class, you are going to struggle to run them doing 65 miles down the highway.
Truck cranes have a place in the market, and they are a lot easier and less costly to run. While the truck crane market isn’t really growing, it’s not shrinking. We felt a need to be a player. We did a lot of homework. These models have a lot of key features – a Hendrickson suspension system, a Cummins engine. If you have to, you can get maintenance on these cranes at a truck stop. These models have similar quality standards as the GR line.
As a global manufacturer, supply chain issues have been a challenge. Is getting product out the door still an issue?
Ujiie: Things are getting much better in Japan. Last year, we had to shut down the factory for a few days because we couldn’t get the parts we needed. We did not expect this.
Semi-conductors are always difficult to find because everyone needs them. But things are clearly getting better.
We don’t expect a lot of problems in Japan [going forward.] We learned that we shouldn’t totally rely on one place for sourcing.
In our factories in Germany, the situation is difficult because of the war in Ukraine. We lost some welders to the war, and there are trailer drivers who are going back to Ukraine. This has created supply chain problems throughout Europe. This situation is not 100 percent recovered. We are trying our best to change the sourcing and move to better suppliers in Japan and in Europe. Little by little it is getting better.
How do you characterize Tadano today? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
Ujiie: We have exhibited a lot of new things at two large exhibitions in six months. It was not easy for us to prepare all of these cranes. We lined up the best to be introduced in Germany and the best to be introduced in the U.S.
Our biggest opportunity is to continue to expand the manufacturing volume to keep up with growth. We attracted a lot of new customers in 2022. We have to be sensitive that we don’t grow too fast. We want to protect the customers that have been loyal to us.
The challenges with supply chain are definitely difficult. The whole industry is facing the same thing.
But we do have much opportunity to continue to develop new products and continue our commitment to offering the best product support in the industry. This is critical.
Our biggest news today is the appointment of our new CEO of North America, Dean Barley. This news demonstrates our commitment to U.S. market. This is something I wanted to say last of all and first of all.