Canadian Plastics

In Europe things are different, little man

The K Show didn't get its reputation as the world's premier plastics trade show for nothing. Just ask 40 or so journalists from all over the world who were recently flown into Switzerland and parts of...

August 1, 2001   Canadian Plastics



The K Show didn’t get its reputation as the world’s premier plastics trade show for nothing. Just ask 40 or so journalists from all over the world who were recently flown into Switzerland and parts of Germany to gawk over (and presumably write about) the equipment and technology a handful of companies will be displaying at the upcoming K 2001 in Dusseldorf. Our itinerary ran something like this:

Day 1: Get on bus, arrive at plant, attend wine and cheese reception, get on bus, check into quaint hotel in a picturesque setting, get on bus, arrive at villa on lake surrounded by the Alps, drink plenty good wine, eat plenty good food; get on bus, arrive at picturesque hotel, fall quickly, contentedly asleep.

Day 2 through 5: See day 1

It wasn’t all fun and games of course. There was some serious business to take care of. Fortunately, it seemed, there was no business so serious it couldn’t be accompanied by pastries and cappuccino.

It was then, along about day two or three that I heard the following phrase repeating itself in my thoughts: Europeans really are different.

This admittedly un-profound mantra was set off, in part, by not only the gracious treatment and exquisite attention to detail of our hosts, but by a particularly longwinded diatribe of anti-Americanism by a British journalist I happened to sit next to during one of our bus transits: ‘Americans are creeps for driving SUVs… Americans are blackguards for not ratifying the Kyoto accord on CO2 emissions… Americans wouldn’t know how to design a decent engine if a German engineer gave them a blueprint.’ It was enough to make me feel I was back home in Toronto.

I was about to nod off when I my bus-mate’s words made me sit up. ‘European consumers would appear to prefer a small selection of few things made with high quality, while Americans would appear to desire a wide selection of things made cheaply.’

Substitute the word “economically” for cheaply and I basically agreed with his statement. Indeed, for North Americans (Canadians and Americans are alike on this one) price is a major factor in any purchasing decision. His implication that good price, good selection and good quality are mutually exclusive was, of course, pure drivel.

I also agreed with his assertion that European consumers (business people or retail shoppers) have a smaller selection, but not because consumers “prefer” it that way. In the plastics industry, a classic example of this difference between North American and European markets and mentality is the all-electric machine. For years I have listened to executives at European machine manufacturers tout the superiority of hydraulic machines, while downplaying (or outright scorning) the benefits of going electric. Despite this anti-electric campaign, market share for all-electrics and hybrid machines has continued to grow in Asia and the Americas for a handful of companies. The big news at this year’s K Show will be that most of the holdout European machinery manufacturers will be launching or expanding their electric machine lines. These companies will now, however, be playing catch-up in the all-electric market.

In North America the market, not company executives or government-backed flavor-of-the-month clubs, determines winners and losers. You can argue which system is better, but it’s a reminder that despite trade pacts and a “global” economy, there are still significant regional differences in the way business is conducted, and the end results achieved.

Michael LeGault, editor, e-mail: mlegault@corporate.southam.ca


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