The history of industrial trucks can be traced back to the First World War. One hundred years later, one of the pioneers of this industry remains the second largest manufacturer in the world, the largest manufacturer for electric forklifts, and its North American headquarters is based here in the Lowcountry. KION North America offers a dynamic product portfolio which includes electric, LPG and diesel-powered forklifts, warehouse trucks and tow tractors.
The Summerville-based manufacturer employs over 210 people in addition to a sales and service network with more than 280 locations through the United States, Canada and Mexico. With the recent purchase of Dematic, a global leader in warehouse automation, KION North America is now a one-stop supplier equipped to help businesses streamline their operations and increase productivity.
Historically, the company has sold premium industrial trucks designed to be more durable, efficient and reduce costs over the lifetime of the trucks. The higher upfront investment limited their market.
“They designed and built these to be the workhorses of lift trucks,” said Phil Peterson, plant manager at Great Lakes Castings in Holland, Michigan, which uses Linde brand electric-powered forklifts. “They’re well built, well designed and easy to use.”
However, last month KION NA shattered its reputation as a niche provider with the largest product launch not just in its company’s history but in material-handling industry history. The company introduced five new lift trucks to its Linde and Baoli product lines resulting in a more comprehensive product range.
“It’s important to note that all of these trucks were developed specifically with the needs of the North American market in mind,” said Vincent Halma, president and CEO of KION North America. “They are the same high-quality forklifts that our customers have come to rely on, but at a price point we’ve never been able to deliver before.”
KION North America is not only filling out their product portfolio, but also its service offerings. In addition to their retail financing program, they will also introduce Linde’s fleet management system, Connected Solutions, and a line of lithium-ion powered products by year-end.
The jump into new markets and steady growth has prompted KION North America to invest $5.7 million in its Summerville plant. The expansion is projected to quadruple the number of trucks produced at the plant which will require an additional 50 employees over five years. “We’re growing, hiring new talent and attracting new customers at an increasing rate,” said Halma.
A portion of this growth can be attributed to the recent agreement between KION NA and Volvo Car US Operations Inc. They will be the first to employ KION’s new lithium-ion batteries, which charge faster and provide longer battery life, making them more efficient and environmentally friendly. One of the main factors that attracted Volvo to KION was the unmatched level of customer service the manufacturer can provide due to its geographic proximity.
“Manufacturing as we know it today is evolving and changing rapidly,” said Halma. “The advances we’re making today are to secure our position as a leading solutions provider for the next 100 years.”