In a solid economic environment overall, the Metal Forming Division’s upward trend of the previous years continued in 2017/18 as well. This positive development is due not just to the economic tailwind, but increasingly also to the projects implemented in recent years. Worth mentioning in this connection is the fact that not least the division’s two small business units—Precision Strip & Warehouse & Rack Solutions—made material contributions to its good performance.
The Automotive Components business segment profited in the past business year from demand levels that remained excellent, which is also illustrated by the fact that 2017 was the fourth consecutive year of rising vehicle registrations in the European Union. At just over 15 million new passenger car registrations, this is the first time that registrations are back to pre-crisis levels. Following a massive, longer-term meltdown in the wake of the financial and economic crisis 2008/09, the statistics on new vehicle registrations particularly in Southern European countries show that this market has returned to strong growth in recent years. The strategic expansion of the production capacities in the non-European core markets of the Automotive Components business segment is proceeding as planned. This means that European premium customers in particular are increasingly being supplied at their sites in the United States and China by local voestalpine facilities.
The Tubes & Sections business segment benefited especially from very good demand in the commercial vehicle and agricultural machine industry. The construction machinery unit also profited from accelerating demand. Regionally, the European core markets saw highly satisfactory momentum, whereas the construction industry particularly in Great Britain continued to lose momentum throughout the year in consequence of the negative BREXIT vote. In 2017/18, Brazil, our most important South American market, finally showed first signs of an economic recovery after years of a recession. The considerable strengthening of project activity in the solar industry must be emphasized in this connection. In the United States, customer orders became ever more volatile on a merely moderate level. In China, by contrast, demand especially for customer-specific product solutions improved relative to the previous years. Demand momentum in the passive safety components product area for the automotive industry, which produces high-tech tube components for safety belt tensioners as well as airbags, was strong. The acquisition of coating facilities in Romania enabled the division in December 2017 to further extend the process chain in this segment.
Thanks to its excellent market position, the Precision Strip business segment recorded high order levels for both bi-metal strip and special strip steel, but demand from the sawmill industry (wood and stone saws) in both Europe and China also improved greatly compared with the previous year. Substantial growth was recorded in the sophisticated thin-strip area too.
Changing consumption patterns in favor of online purchases are having a positive effect on the Warehouse & Rack Solutions segment. Catalog companies and online retailers are increasingly investing in efficient inventory systems which, in turn, continuously boosts the number of projects. As a result, the volume of orders received in the business year 2017/18 for high-bay warehouses and storage systems made of steel sections stretches far into the future.