Equipment Type

Skid Steer Invasion

March 31, 2011

Rod Sutton is editorial director of Construction Equipment magazine. He is in charge of editorial strategy and writes a monthly column for the magazine, The Sutton Report. He has more than 30 years in construction journalism, and has been with Construction Equipment since 2001.

Upon my return from Conexpo-Con/Agg, I am more convinced that it’s time to start shopping skid steers; competition will be heating up this spring. Bobcat, Deere, Caterpillar and Case have introduced major improvements to their machines. Komatsu is exiting the North America skid-steer market, but Terex has added a line and JCB has unleashed a new generation that will also carry the Volvo brand.

That leaves a field crowded with machines, and buyers have several more choices.

It’s tough to argue against the majors. They have distribution, they have a reputation. But JCB has a product that, frankly, is unlike any other skid steer. From a safety standpoint alone, it’s worth evaluating.

We just published our evaluation of the JCB, which features a beefy PowerBoom which allows for side entry. We brought the machine to our friends at the training center at Local 150, and they weren't able to hide their skepticism. They smiled, but the grin thinly covered the “show me” attitude that awaited the skid steer once they were in the cab.

North American equipment buyers wear similar grins. Judging from threads on online discussion groups such as HeavyEquipmentForums.com, skid steer afficienadoes are going to take a lot of convincing.

The machine itself impresses. The single-boom design differentiates, and safety considerations of a side-door entry could be a huge selling point. But distribution remains an issue.

Chuck Yengst, president of market research firm Yengst Associates, attended the JCB dealer event where the new line was unveiled and saw the push JCB was making on upgrading it dealer network.

“They are doing things to get better distribution,” Yengst says. “That is the key.”

Others suggest that JCB, Terex and, perhaps, Volvo are adding skid steers not so much to take market share but rather to bolster the manufacturers’ appeal to potential dealers. Although Volvo Rents provides an outlet for Volvo-branded skid steers, and Ron DeFeo says Terex targets the rental market for most of its models, JCBs needs to add dealers in order to penetrate North America. Each now has another product to offer dealers who might be tempted to join the networks.

In addition, JCB has to educate the North American market. As we moved the 330 around the Local 150 complex, it became obvious that most operators had never seen one. In the nearly 10 years we’ve been bringing machines to the facility, that has never happened. And moving global production to Georgia allows JCB to tout the machines as American-made.

JCB is not going to take over the North American skid steer market. Yengst and others expect JCB to buy market share in order to reach the 2011 target of nearly 2,000 skid steers sold. The prospect of entry-level pricing on JCB, Volvo-branded units and the Terex lineup, will give buyers at least three reasons to re-evaluate the market this spring.

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