The backhoe loader market took a big hit during the recession, but the category is coming back, and for many buyers a new backhoe may be their first up-close exposure to Tier 4-Interim engine technology as backhoe horsepowers (typically anywhere from 70 to 107 in the bellwether 14-foot dig-depth group) are now in the crosshairs of emissions regulations.
“Right now in the backhoe market, we’re seeing strong growth,” says Louann Hausner, backhoe product marketing manager for John Deere. “On the forefront of every customer’s mind are the Interim Tier 4 engines that have just come out.”
Backhoe Loader Ownership Costs
Dig Depth List Price Hourly Rate* 14' - <15' $90,589 $25 15' - <16' $105,073 $27 16' - <17' $110,805 $28 17' and deeper $164,578 $37
*Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Adjusted operating unit prices used in the calculation: diesel fuel, $4.13 per gallon; mechanic’s wage at $50.76 per hour; and, money costs at 2 percent.
Indeed, manufacturers have been upgrading their flagship 14-foot backhoes with T4-I engines and more, including features such as smoother transmissions, auto idle, auto shutdown, and more efficient hydraulics.
But while OEMs have been busy engineering these upgrades, owners have been keeping existing units longer because of the dodgy economy.
“People are definitely keeping machines longer,” says Jim Blower, senior product manager, mid-range, for JCB. “‘Flip it’ plans are a year or two longer, before owners are going up to a new machine. This is especially true when you’re talking about the big fleets, they’re keeping machines two or three years longer.”
Andy Capps, Volvo Construction Equipment utility product manager, sees the trend with owner-operators. “[They] would typically trade in a machine at around 4,000 hours, four to five years, but now probably would keep it five or six years. In rental, machines are typically traded or sold to end-users at between five to seven years.”
As with many product categories, increased rental activity is one of the first indicators a segment is coming back, whether it is rental houses replenishing their fleets, or contractors renting more equipment as business begins to increase.
“We’ve definitely seen increased rental activity, as contractors are gaining new business,” says Hausner. Deere has a variety of models targeted to the rental market, including the new 70-horsepower 310K EP, a T4-I unit that does not require a diesel particulate filter (DPF). “The 310K EP is for customers looking for a powerful, yet easy backhoe for emission compliance.”
Of the Deere K-Series backhoes’ eight models, four fall in the 14-foot segment: the aforementioned 310K EP, the 310K, the 310SK and the 310SK TC, Deere’s TMC (Total Machine Control) unit with parallel lift to support forks and the ability to turn parallel lift off when using the loader with buckets.
Backhoe loader attachments
“Not only are we seeing customers keeping backhoes in fleets longer, but they’re also being very conscious of attachment compatibility in their buying decisions,” Hausner says. “They’re looking at the total cost of the purchase, including backwards compatibility with attachments—that’s important to their bottom line.”
For Deere, that would mean the K-Series being compatible with attachments customers may already own from Deere’s previous J- and G-Series models. “When buying a backhoe, customers are thinking about the total purchase; matching the productivity of the engine and transmission to a wide variety of attachments,” Hausner says. “The ultimate productivity is a backhoe with versatility on the front and the back.”
There is a trend toward increased attachment use in the field, which is not surprising as everyone in the construction business is doing more with less. What may be surprising is that users seem to be re-discovering the loader end of the machine.
“We’re seeing more loader use now, where years ago it was primarily using the backhoe for digging a trench or footings,” Blower says. “Now instead of bringing in a skid steer or a compact wheel loader, more people are using the loader end, allowing for a bigger fleet of attachments. They may be using pallet forks more, with parallel lift. They’re getting closer to full utilization.
“We’ve had a powerful loader end for many years—parallel lift is already built in, and we also have a smooth-ride system that takes the shock out of roading and retains material better, servo controls on the loaders, and an emphasis on visibility to the front end to make it an easier loader to use,” Blower says.
Katie Pullen, brand marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment, is also noticing more attachment use. “Loader backhoes traditionally have been digging and grading machines. But with access to many more attachments, [they] are now being used with breakers, augers, 4-in-1 buckets and more,” Pullen says. “Instead of bringing in a larger machine to do the job, customers can use the machine that is already on site. By allowing customers to do more with a smaller machine, they require less investment for multiple machines.”
Manufacturers are also seeing demand for options coming back, including those tailored to attachment use; more good news for the market.
“Customers in general are ordering more options, like loader auxiliary hydraulics to mount hydraulic couplers, multi-purpose buckets, pallet forks, grapple buckets and single- and double-acting hydraulic circuits to run hammers, thumbs or augers,” Capps says. “Every customer should have this.”
Equipping a machine with single- and double-acting hydraulic circuits enables operation of a hammer (single-acting) and a thumb, or auger (double-acting).
Both Volvo members in the 14-foot dig-depth club, the 90-horsepower BL60B and the 98-horsepower BL70B, have floor-mounted ergonomic levers; the left lever can be outfitted with an optional fingertip button that controls the two-way auxiliary hydraulic line required when using double-acting backhoe attachments.
Four-wheel drive may be gaining popularity, as well. “Four-wheel drive is a valuable feature because it provides access to work areas that a two-wheel-drive unit would have great difficulty negotiating,” says Jamie Wright, product manager with Terex.
“It also improves loader performance by providing additional loading effort going into the pile. The market now recognizes the value of four-wheel drive and most customers are willing to pay for this feature.”
Tier 4-Interim engine offerings
Less clear is how happy customers are going to be paying for T4-I engines and technology in backhoes, and how comfortable they will be with the engines’ maintenance. A number of manufacturers have already gone from Tier 3 to Tier 4-Interim in backhoes, including Caterpillar, Deere, Case, New Holland, and JCB. OEMs are striving to make the transition as easy as possible for fleets.
“We have heard good reports from dealers, and customers are excited with the simplicity, and features like auto idle and auto shutdown, which all help keep operating costs lower through less fuel cost,” Deere’s Hausner says of the company’s K-Series.
Case (580N, 580 Super N, 580 Super N Wide Track) says its 3.4-L turbocharged T4-I engines with cooled EGR technology and DPFs burn cleaner while delivering a faster response and a minimum 4-percent better fuel efficiency under load. “The expectations for fuel efficiency and cleaner-running machines continue to challenge manufacturers,” Case’s Pullen says. “All in all, customers are looking to keep their total cost of ownership low over the life of the machine.”
Caterpillar’s C4.4 ACERT engines in its new F Series backhoes, the 416F, 420F and 430F, use a high-pressure common rail fuel system for operating efficiency and a service-free DPF, according to the company, for emissions reduction. Net horsepower remains unchanged for the 416F (87) and 420F (93), but increases to 107 for the 430F.
JCB’s two 14-foot backhoes, the 3CX 14 and the 4CX 14 (91 and 109 horsepower, respectively), were recently upgraded with the company’s T4-I Ecomax engines and variable flow hydraulic pumps—and do not need DPFs or additives. JCB uses in-cylinder technologies alone to attain T4-I emissions, leaning on a proprietary combustion process design that merges ultra-high injection pressures with variable-geometry turbocharging. (Go to https://www.constructionequipment.com/jcb-ecomax-engines to learn more.)
“Our latest machines, with Ecomax engines, also have a retuned hydraulic system and reduced rpm,” JCB’s Blower says. “Together, they do not affect productivity, but they’ve reduced fuel burn by 16 percent. In tandem with productivity, moving more dirt per hour, we’re also striving for efficiencies—as much material as possible moved per gallon of fuel burned.”