Executives, government officials and Kion Group employees simultaneously cut ribbons wrapping a line of seven palmetto trees outside the company’s North American headquarters in Summerville last week.
The moment was intended to mark the company’s commitment to South Carolina and a new North American strategy for the company.
Officially, the change means forklift manufacturer Linde Material Handling North America Corp. is now known as Kion North America Corp. and folds in the Still brand. The company has two buildings on 55 acres on U.S. Highway 78 in Summerville and employs 130 workers.
Brian Butler, president and CEO of Kion North America said the change is a strategic move to align with the company’s European operations, which will allow it to increase product offerings for North American customers.
North America is a growth market for forklift and materials handling, said Bert-Jan Knoef, CEO of the Still Group and a member of Kion’s board of directors, who flew in from Hamburg, Germany, for the event.
“As part of our bid to make inroads in the North American market, we are making changes here at the Summerville site in the way we present ourselves to the outside world and in production and sales,” Knoef said. “We want to move away from a niche provider and become a significant player in North America under the Kion name.”
Kion produces forklift trucks under different brands for dealers, including Still, Kion and Linde. Prices vary for the vehicles, but it’s not uncommon for them to go for as much as $100,000, including options, when purchased for commercial use.
The company, which develops its own product technology, incorporates innovations that focus on different ways their products operate. One of the company’s patented innovations positions a blue spot on the ground behind a forklift when it is moving in reverse. Engineers determined that people generally ignore the auditory beep that signals a truck moving in reverse and developed the visual cue.
Kion also hired Porsche engineers to develop the forklifts’ cabs, including the distance of the cup holder from the driver’s arm, the angle of the seats to the pedals, the range the seats travel, the texture of the flooring and the amount of elbow room, among others details.
Globally, Kion has six branded companies and is the world’s second-largest manufacturer of forklifts and warehouse technology.
Knoef said it might sound strange to be celebrating the opening of an existing factory when the company already has deep roots in the U.S. market; but he said the company was changing as opportunity was changing for its products in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“It’s a market that’s re-emerging after a difficult period,” he said.