Down-Market Investment

Down-Market Investment

February 9, 2011

Having investigated hydraulic excavators in the 40K-to-60K-pound class for the last several weeks in preparation for Construction Equipment’s Buying File report in the March issue, I was quite taken by two facts: 1) how severely the market for these machines fell from record levels just a few years ago; and 2) the investment in engineering refinement that manufacturers have continued to make in these machines despite the depressed market.

Some estimates are that sales for these machines dropped as much as 70 percent from 2007 to late 2008. Sales climbed slowly through 2009 and 2010, but are today still far short of mid-decade levels. Despite the market, however, excavator manufacturers—to their great credit and to their customer’s benefit—have continued to invest in the design of these machines.

Granted, some of the engineering refinement has been mandated, with the obligation to make many models in this size class Tier-4-Interim compliant, but most manufacturers seem to be complementing emissions-compliance redesigns with significant technical overhauls of their machines. Case, for example, last month introduced its new C-Series excavator range (CX250C, CX300C and CX350C), featuring cooled-exhaust-gas recirculation (CEGR) as the chosen method of reducing nitrogen-oxide (NOx) emissions.

Tim O’Brien, Case’s marketing manager, says that applying CEGR typically means that an engine will lose fuel efficiency, but, he says, compared to the company’s B-Series, the new C-Series models are showing fuel-efficiency gains on the order of 10 percent. The gain in fuel economy, says O’Brien, results largely from design enhancements in the implement hydraulic system, swing system and engine-idle-management system.

When we talked to Mark Wall, John Deere’s marketing manager for excavators, he was not yet at liberty to talk in detail about the company’s Tier-4-Interim excavators (they’ll be introduced at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011 next month), but he did say that “…in addition to making the new machines Tier-4-Interim compliant, the company has taken the opportunity to give the customer added productivity and lower operating costs.”

We’ve also seen preliminary specs for LBX’s new 250 X3, which, along with the 300 X3 and 350 X3, also will be introduced at the big show next month. According to LBX, these new Tier-4-Interim models will have hydraulic refinement that results in faster cycle times, and the new models will have new cabs with added operator amenities.

I say “hats off” to the industry’s excavator manufacturers—to all equipment manufacturers—who even in tough times continue to invest in their products, supplying their customers more efficient, more productive, more versatile machines when they need them most.