TACKLE FIRMS HOPE BOOMLL KEEP ON GOING
Tractor and machinery companies hope that farmers will be sporting their cheque books at the SIMA exhibition as a sure sign that the current sales boom is continuing into a fourth year. Peter Hill reports.
A COUPLE of good harvests and two years in which French arable farm incomes have grown on average 10% annually is fuelling an investment boom in tractors and equipment.
Tractor registrations, a useful barometer of investment trends generally in agriculture, were last year (1996) 15% up on 1995 figures, while combine harvester sales grew by 38%, self-propelled forage harvesters by 10%. Sales of ploughs and other cultivations equipment also rose by 10% on the year before.
Dominique Opillard, foreign trade manager with SYGMA, the association of tractor and machinery companies in France, says fewer uncertainties over the Common Agricultural Policy, the French tax system, and the rise in incomes – which has enabled farmers to invest without increasing debt – is behind the spending spree.
As a result, the French market has pulled sharply out of recession and grown for the third year in a row. Figures for the first six months of 1996 show a 13% increase in spending on tractors and farm machinery compared with the equivalent period the year before – although that is less than previous annual increases of 19% in 1994 and 18% in 1995, suggesting a slowing down of the process.
Mr Opillard comments: "The experts, and others close to the market, do not expect this level of growth to continue and some are forecasting a small decrease in the overall market."
In the meantime, UK manufacturers appear to be cashing in, with exports to France in the first six months of 1996 growing by a massive 60%.
"That is a very strong increase and much will be down to shipments of Massey Ferguson, New Holland Ford and Case-IH tractors from British plants," says Mr Opillard.
Like most countries with indigenous manufacturers, however, France shows strong loyalty to the home brands.
Although New Hollands combined sales of Fiatagri and Ford tractors headed the 1995 chart with a near-20% market share, Renault maintained its individual brand lead for the umpteenth year with an impressive 16.5%.
New models being launched by Renault at SIMA should build on that and could be what the French company needs to counter a sustained effort by John Deere which saw the green tractors leapfrog the New Holland Fiatagri and Massey Ferguson brands in 1995 to take second slot in the sales charts for the first time.
John Deere tractor sales accelerated by a remarkable 80.5% from 1992 to 1995 as the companys new generation models found ready acceptance among French farmers and contractors. The others in the top five also gained over the same period but by rather more modest amounts – from Renaults 31% to New Holland Fiatagris 36.8% – more closely reflecting the 36% increase in total sales of new tractors.
In 1995, John Deere reinforced its upward trend, achieving the second biggest increase in sales of all brands over 1994 figures. Best improver, though, was Fendt, whose sales leapt by more than 25% to 1160 tractors to take a 3.6% market share as the German manufacturers latest 500 and 800-series models attracted more buyers.
Massey Ferguson makes its 6100 and 8100-series tractors in Beauvais, west of Paris, and the joint MF/Renault transmissions venture, GIMA, is there too. Despite these French credentials, it lost ground during this period, dropping from a strong second to Renault in 1992, to fourth most popular marque in France in 1995, ahead of Case-IH.
Whatever the individual trends, there is no mistaking the progressive increase in the size – or rather power – of tractors bought by French farmers. Analysis of 1995 figures shows that 80hp-100hp models are the most popular, accounting for 30.6% of sales, with the 65hp-80hp and 50hp-65hp categories next in line but declining.
Interestingly, sales of 100hp-120hp tractors (as a percentage of the overall market) have remained consistent over the past five years while tractors of more than 120hp have grown from just over 9% of the total in 1990 to 13.6% in 1995.
That suggests, as in the UK and elsewhere, tractor users in France are taking the opportunity to move substantially ahead in the power stakes, opting for high horsepower models as the principle machines, backed by a fleet of workhorse tractors around the 100hp mark.
In addition to its two principle tractor plants, France is also home to some major farm equipment manufacturers, among them the Kuhn Group which, with Huard, Nodet, Audureau and Kuhn itself in the fold, is one of the largest manufacturers of field implements worldwide.
With a large home market to build on and ready access to neighbouring countries, many French manufacturers are keen exporters. Sales during the first half of 1996 were 15% up on the same period in the previous year as farm equipment markets across Europe saw sustained demand.n
Combined sales of Fiatagri and Ford tractors took New Holland to the top slot in the French 1995 sales chart.
Table 1: Tractor sales in France – total and market share
** includes Landini; combined sales of New Holland (Ford and Fiat) tractors in 1995 total 6399 for a 19.8% market share; combined sales of Same/Lamborghini and Deutz-Fahr tractors in 1995 total 2329 for a 7.2% market share.
Table 2: Tractor sales in France – horsepower (% of total sales)
French tractor maker, Renault, builds its Ceres range and John Deere 3000-series models in Le Mans – hence the green and orange bonnets.