It's not everyday you see the steel frames of seven, brand-new mining trucks lined up outside a manufacturing plant, like sleeping dinosaurs.
But I just spotted a dormant order of about $24 million in these beastly machines at Liebherr's domestic headquarters in Newport News, Va., where the closely-held company offered up an open house this week.
The manufacturing sector isn't sitting pretty right now. Companies like Liebherr are trying to weigh mothballing plants or building machinery to make sure the workers have something to do. Outside these plants, the yards are getting awash in iron.
And there's another economic tsunami brewing in the form of Tier 4 diesel-emission controls. Beyond that, carbon regulation. Some experts are predicting that cash-strapped manufacturers will simply get regulated into extinction.
In the near term, what happens when one of your biggest customers suddenly shuts down spending? That brings us back to the seven dump trucks sitting the backyard.
According to sources at Liebherr, a big mining client ordered these yellow machines last year. It takes Liebherr about 18-20 weeks to build these rigs. By November, the global economy was in meltdown mode. "The sale of these machines is directly tied to the price of copper," said one source.
The mining client, which Liebherr declined to call out by name, "changed his mind." So what do you do? Try to find another buyer. When another customer stepped up to buy the diesel-electric trucks, a sort of bidding war ensued on the 3,300-hp beasts.
It seems that both companies wanted to buy them, but were still uncertain when they could put them to work. In the end, the manufacturer says it worked out a deal between the original buyer and the second company to split up the sale without having to get the lawyers involved in messy contract negotiations.
Uncertainty, and delayed orders, it would seem, are the order of the day.