An interview with Thomas Hilse, President of Magirus, on the opportunities and challenges in the firefighting industry in 2022 and the goal of initiating a mutual understanding.
The initial situation for Magirus is very positive at the moment. What do you think is the reason for this?
I see the positive starting position as being based primarily on Magirus’ great innovative strength and the clear consistency with which we continue to drive this forward and shape our product portfolio accordingly. That is a clear characteristic of our mindset. The increasing catastrophes such as forest fires, heavy rain or summer heat resulting from climate change are constantly presenting us with new challenges. With our ‘Next Generation Firefighting’ programme, we set ourselves the uncompromising goal of developing future-oriented emergency technology that guarantees efficiency and maximum safety for all emergency forces.
Proven Magirus vehicle technology is the foundation of all future technologies. We take pride in driving innovation and seeing it in action. Currently, we have just handed over the first Wolf R1 tactical response robot, which will be used precisely for the disasters mentioned. It enables firefighters to stay out of harm’s way in the event of intense heat, danger of collapse or poor visibility.
Nevertheless, the firefighting vehicle market has been experiencing two difficult years. The Covid-19 pandemic and the war situation in Ukraine have impacted the growth of production units, and existing orders can currently only be achieved with economic losses and time delays. In your opinion, what is the most urgent issue at present?
We need to enter into dialog with all those responsible who are integrated into the process of tendering and awarding contracts for firefighting vehicles. The placement of an order for firefighting vehicles currently in production was up to two years ago. This is the normal process duration for the respective chassis delivery, conversion and equipping of these, as well as the test phase of the vehicles. When the contracts were signed, none of the parties involved could have anticipated and calculated the pandemic and the resulting problems, such as production difficulties due to breakdowns, delivery bottlenecks, increase in material costs. These huge losses are extremely problematic for the entire industry. Especially because only with a healthy economic basis can the important future-oriented innovations be driven forward. As a result, we at Magirus will be forced to talk to our customers about price increases for existing orders. We don’t like to do that, but unfortunately profitability is currently forcing us to do so.
What do you think are possible solutions to this situation?
In order to promote new innovations in fire protection, which are currently imperative precisely because of the prevailing climate catastrophes, manufacturers must be in a position to make investments economically. That’s why a common understanding and a uniform goal orientation of all participants in this process are essential. Other industries also have the opportunity to adapt to the current economic situation. In the future, this will mean that we will have to integrate inflation clauses into contracts in the expectation that these will be accepted on the basis of a mutual understanding. Absolute transparency in all directions is the basis for this. Only if this fair cooperation is also possible in our industry can we successfully master the necessary transformation in fire-protection technology over the next ten years.
You have thus given the keyword, together for climate protection. What are the main relevant goals?
Together means that the right and important innovations are driven forward with a focus on costs and efficiency in our industry. For example, CO2 reduction is important, but should be implemented within society where the greatest successes are achieved. We should start here with traditional heavy goods traffic, which is responsible for a large proportion of all CO2 emissions. In my opinion, however, the electrification approach is not expedient for large firefighting vehicles; the average mileage is simply too low and the costs, on the other hand, are far too high, with performance that is not yet satisfactory overall. Instead, Magirus relies on CNG vehicles that are fuelled with biogas. This regenerative energy source helps to save fossil fuels and thus produces almost no CO2 emissions. In terms of cost, CNG is also only marginally more expensive than diesel but much cheaper than battery-electric vehicle concepts, and this will remain the case for a long time to come.
With regard to innovation, the joint cooperation of manufacturers and customers is also important. We rely on the willingness to test and use the innovations offered by ‘Next Generation Firefighting’ (in addition to the Wolf R1 deployment robot, Magirus TacticNet, FleetConnect and SmartControl), as this is the only way we can continue to optimize our innovations to the maximum and remain adaptable in the future.
As a manufacturer, what do you wish for the coming years?
That we as Magirus can continue to work together for and with our customers to find the right products and solutions for the current challenges and define future-oriented approaches. The digitalization of the industry, ensuring the ability to innovate and thus combating the increasing natural disasters such as floods, forest fires and earthquakes remain our focus.
For further information about Magirus: www.magirusgroup.com