VDMA has made it official: China did pass the United States in 2003 to become the No. 1 export market for German-made plastics and rubber equipment, according to year-end numbers released by the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association.
Overall, production and exports of German plastics and rubber machinery both moved higher last year. VDMA is predicting continued growth in 2004 and - with a K 2004-show bounce - to continue into 2005.
But German machinery executives are worried about skyrocketing steel prices and difficult supply conditions. The strong euro also continues to concern German equipment builders because it can raise prices of machines shipped out of the euro-zone.
The big news continues to be China's voracious appetite for plastics and rubber machinery. In 2002, China surpassed France to take the No. 2 spot, VDMA said. In 2003, China consumed 438 million euros' ($496 million) worth of German-made machinery, a jump of nearly 30 percent.
Total German exports for 2003 grew 5.6 percent from 2002, to hit 3.2 billion euros ($3.7 billion).
German exports to China jumped nearly 30 percent.
Meanwhile, the United States fell to No. 2, as German machinery exports there declined by 4.6 percent in 2003, to 383 million euros ($434 million.) VDMA said the U.S. market accounted for 11.8 percent of German exports.
Measured by percent of total exports, China and the United States essentially flip-flopped their positions in 2002 and 2003.
France remained in third place, followed by Great Britain, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Switzerland. Eastern Europe was a hot export region.
VDMA of Frankfurt, Germany, released the final 2003 statistics at a news conference July 8.
Total German production grew by 3 percent in 2003, to 6.9 billion euros ($7.8 billion). The overall number includes core machinery, molds and dies, auxiliary equipment and machines used to print onto plastic film.
The core machinery category increased by 4.3 percent for the year, as production reached 4.3 billion euros ($4.9 billion). Molds and printing equipment also increased, while auxiliary equipment declined by 5.5 percent.
In 2003, Germany produced 809 million euros' ($916 million) worth of injection presses, an increase of 11.3 percent from the year before. The value of blow molding machines reached 266 million euros ($301 million). Extruders remained flat, at 699 million euros ($791 million).
VDMA said 30,000 Germans were employed in the country's plastics and rubber manufacturing industry last year. This year, the association thinks employment could drop slightly.
VDMA predicts production in 2004 will increase by 6 percent. New orders could grow by 8-10 percent.