Falling market share precedes exit of LM Wind Power boss

DENMARK: Number-one blade manufacturer LM Wind Power has parted company with Roland Sunden, its chief executive of the last six years, and replaced him with Leo Schot, former global supply chain CEO at Siemens Wind Power.

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Although LM refused to elaborate on the reasons for Sunden's departure, the move comes on the back on a disappointing 2011 for the company, with a 40% profit fall and job cuts announced in North America. More telling was Sunden's own statement that the company's market share of the blade business was holding firm at 14%. It may be close to 2010's figure, but it means that since Sunden joined in 2006 LM's market share has almost halved.

Back then, LM was facing a changing market and its 27% market share had been falling as a result of turbine manufacturer consolidation. Yet there were grounds for optimism, with LM expanding production into the North American, Indian and Chinese markets.

Fast forward to 2012 and in his last statement as LM chief executive, Sunden said the firm had suffered particularly during the second half of 2011. A slowdown in the Chinese market and the European debt crisis were highlighted in an annual report detailing a 2.7% decline in revenue. LM also faces the familiar problem of overcapacity and has closed its Spanish factory in response.

Worryingly, the company has manufacturing plants in both the US and China - where even domestic manufacturers, such as Sinovel and Goldwind, have been hit by profit falls as high as 80%-90% in 2011. There are predictions of an 80% fall in wind turbine orders across the US if the production tax credit is not renewed.

Increasing competition

Despite bringing out what was until recently the world's largest blade - the 73.5-metre blade for Alstom's Haliade 6MW offshore turbine - and increasing production of its Globlade range and a new 49-metre blade, the company may also face a challenge from its own customers. According to one unnamed industry figure, many turbine manufacturers have set up their own blade-making facilities, with LM handed the overflow orders. As the market shrinks, the squeeze on LM is likely to increase as the orders go in-house.

Coincidentally, it was Siemens that took the record for producing the world's largest blade with a 75-metre production for its own 6MW turbine.

Speaking about the future for the company, Martin Lykkes, owner of investment broker NPforex said LM investment is key. "It is difficult to say where the market is heading but it looks like companies that have a certain size and a solid capital are the winners of tomorrow. All in all it will probably depend on how much money LM and its owners are ready to invest in new technology."

In his final annual report, Sunden gave a more defined view of the company's future challenges. He described the wind-energy market as being in good shape overall, with concern over climate change and energy security adding to both medium and long-term optimism. However, looking to the future for LM he was less confident.

"We expect to face difficult market circumstances with overcapacity, slower demand and price pressure," Sunden said. "We continue to focus on cash-management and cost-saving initiatives to ensure we can deliver new blades at competitive prices."

These are the challenges Schot, who joined Siemens in 2005 and was responsible for its sourcing worldwide, will now have to tackle.

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