Kobelco Construction Machinery USA’s new VP of sales and marketing is no stranger to the brand. Ron Hargrave has about 30 years of experience with Kobelco, including the early years of its relationship with CNH. That, he says, is why he’s out of retirement to help bring Kobelco back to the North American market. “We’re getting the band back together,” he told me as he detailed the interest from “legacy” Kobelco dealers and listed some of the experienced Kobelco talent on board in addition to himself: Eric Hoffman, with more than 25 years with Kobelco parts; George Lumpkin, product development, with 30-35 years; and several field representatives with 10 to 15 years.
RS: Kobelco was quiet under the CNH umbrella. How will that change?
RH: Dramatically. We will be everything but quiet. We have an excellent product of excellent quality. It will be aggressively priced and aggressively marketed.
During the time Kobelco was with CNH, the pricing got very, very expensive. So while it’s an excellent quality machine, we have to re-establish that brand. We will never sacrifice quality on the machine, but we will trim our margins. Our dealers that we’re recruiting are pleased with the pricing that we’re offering them and they will be able to aggressively attack the marketplace.
We need to get back into the game and undo some of the things that had been done. I believe the market share for Kobelco when it came out of CNH was just over 2 percent, and it went in at 13 percent. We intend to get it over 10 percent in two to three years.
RS: Who are your competitors today, and who will be your competitors?
RH: You look at the marketplace and you see Cat, Komatsu and Deere, then there’s a group of others. That’s where we’re grouped right now, and we don’t intend to stay in the group of others.
We go into dealerships where they have a competing brand and in that dealer, that particular brand is our target. Overall, we want to get market share where we’re pushing those top three. So in that other group, those are our main competitors where we’ll take market share.
RS: What is the current state of your dealer efforts?
RH: We’ve had applications from close to 70 dealers. The vast majority were legacy dealers that we’ve worked with for 20, 25 years, and that runs from coast to coast and throughout Canada. As far as signed contracts, within two weeks we should have close to 20 dealers on board. By the end of the year, we’ll be close to 55 to 60 dealers.
We’ve received backorders from 10 machines from the small dealers to up to 100 from the larger ones.
We received our first shipment of 53 machines just last week.
(Editor's note: The photo below shows one of those first machines leaving the Galveston port.)