With US sister company Sunbelt rentals reporting much improved prospects and outperforming its rivals, Ashtead chief executive George Burnett predicted a return to growth for the group, which was close to
bankruptcy last year with debts of £0.5 billion.
'In the US we achieved 16-17 per cent growth without really increasing the fleet and utilization is at record levels, while in the UK we have increased utilization by 8 per cent and started getting prices up by sweating the assets. Here we will stop reducing the fleet and look for better utilisation and prices going forward.'
A-Plant is confident it has absorbed the effects of the efficiency drive of the past two years and is promising to ramp up investment in both its fleet and its depot network.
Included in this is the doubling of its tool hire operations to 130 locations by opening its tool hire shops within existing A-Plant depots.
A-Plant chief executive Sat Dhaiwal said: 'We can expand our tool hire network without increasing overheads. We have got to improve our return on capital employed. We will also look to make acquisitions to fill in gaps geographically or in our specialist operations.'
Mr Burnett would not be drawn on a figure but said Ashtead would look to expand significantly in the USA now that demand had improved again.
He said: 'It is not inconceivable that the market could double to £50 billion, and that we have the capacity to take a 10 per cent share.'
In the UK, A-Plant is to focus more effort on achieving deals with major contractors, which now account for a third of its business.
Mr Burnett said: 'Some of the original national deals are coming back, with contractors maybe feeling they haven't got all they were promised. We believe there are only two firms with the national presence and wide
product range required and we can offer the best service to the customer in terms of such things as management reporting.'