On the Front foot
After a three year lull, backhoe loaders are expected to see a pickup in business volumes
by Shrikant Rao
Across the Great Indian Dust Bowl the market for the good old tractor-digger, aka the backhoe, has fast begun to gather pace.
After a two year lull in the construction and infrastructure sector which saw a slowdown in both scale and speed of project implementation, and a decline in construction equipment hire and purchase, Indian backhoe loader sales is slated to pick up momentum along with the green shoots of economic recovery.
This found reflection overseas through a milestone achievement in February this year when global digger giant JC Bamford Excavators Limited, to mark its 70th anniversary rolled out its limited batch of special Platinum Edition 3CX backhoe loaders from production lines at its world headquarters at Rochester, UK. Understandably JCB, which introduced its backhoe loaders in India 37 years ago – its factory in Delhi NCR is now a global hub for production – is expected to play a leadership role. The intent for a long innings ahead for the backhoe loader was set at Excon in Bengaluru last year when the company showcased its new “ecoXcellence” range.
A market leader, JCB India offers a range of backhoe loaders with five variants designed for multiple applications. These range from the Compact 2DX, the bestselling 3DX with the variants – 3DX Xtra and the 3DX Super – and finally the larger 4DX. All these machines come with a variety of attachments to suit the varied needs of customers.
Jasmeet Singh, head, corporate communications, JCB India, says, “The government’s renewed thrust in the infrastructure segment has led to a considerable increase in the demand for backhoes which are the most widely used equipment in the country. JCB has been a major contributor to the Make in India cause through its products which carry with them cutting edge technology and versatility.”
There seems to be a new urgency for action in the equipment zone as witnessed by the slew of government initiatives to reform procedures and policies around infrastructure investment, which in turn has spurred the fast tracking of projects. There is a new emphasis on fast tracking ambitious infrastructure development programmes like Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Clean Ganga, National Highway projects and rural road and irrigation schemes that will spur backhoe loader sales.
The ongoing air of optimism also derives strength from a recent report by the London-based Off Highway Research. The consultant has assessed that the sales of backhoe loaders in India could jump from 21,192 units sold in 2015 to 28,000 machines by 2020, a growth rate of about 32%.
Notwithstanding those predictions, no one expects the leap in sales to cross the high water mark of the 33,595 machines sold in 2011, and the prevailing mood of ‘let’s wait and watch’ leads India’s construction equipment sector to toe a cautious line.
Backhoe loaders account for close to 50% of all construction equipment sales in unit terms. At the current estimate there are nearly 200,000 backhoe loaders deployed across the country in various projects. Most of them in operation are manufactured in the country by the OEMs. Apart from domestic sales, manufacturers have also been eyeing exports with up to 2,171 units contributed last year.
And with more required to join the equipment line-up, this should mean increased business for established players like JCB, Caterpillar, CASE India, Terex, Komatsu, LeeBoy, John Deere, not to mention the new challenger in the backhoe space – Mahindra, with its Earthmaster series.
“The backhoe is not just the most ubiquitous construction equipment in India due to its multiple applications and uses but one which I see progressively evolving with every trade show,” says Igor Palka, CEO, bC Expo India who has successfully presided over three CE exhibition editions in India, and is all set to organise his fourth, Bauma Conexpo 2016 in December.
Ergo, it is not difficult to detect the oomph gathering in the largest backhoe loader market in the world. The boost in the backhoes segment is not just in terms of numbers, but also from a technology stand point.
A noteworthy technological innovation in the Indian CE industry came in 2015 when JCB India as part of its emphasis on ‘One Global Quality’ launched an advanced telematics system called “JCB Livelink”. All of the company’s machines are fitted with this system which enables customers to remotely manage their machines.
Mahindra’s EarthMaster backhoe loader is a new entry in the segment with huge prospects to grow. Two variants of the EarthMaster are currently available which cater to different price points in the market – the Mahindra EarthMaster VX for the top end with superior features, and the EarthMaster LX which targets entry level customers. The winning features of the product include engine capacity and higher torque, not to mention a banana boom which dictates the machine’s maximum digging height, maximum dump height and fuel efficiency.
Meanwhile Caterpillar’s workhorse, the Cat 424B, which is the company’s most recent contribution to the backhoe segment, has made its mark in the ‘Built for It’ campaign trials in Madhya Pradesh which included development activities like laying of optical fibre cables for the Digital India project, extending the banks of the Shipra River for the Kumbh Mela, constructing a water network connecting 200 villages, and construction of toilets.
Versatility, ergonomics, performance, fuel economy, reliable and superior component life, a spacious cabin with all round visibility – it is the only one in the industry to offer both ‘+ ‘type and ‘X’ type levers for operators – are the driving forces behind the success of the 424B backhoe loader. The machine also carries with it the benefit of lower maintenance, repair and overhaul cost as well as unparalleled access to a wide service network provided by the company’s dealers in India – Gmmco and TIPL.
H Jayaram, MD & CEO, Gmmco Ltd, says, “The trials are proof of Cat 424B backhoe loaders as powerful and versatile machines.”
Vivekanand Vanmeeganathan, country head and MD, Caterpillar India, declares, “Cat 424B is state-of-the-art equipment designed to meet Indian requirements and last beyond customer’s expectation.”
With the market now set to boom it is easy to see why every backhoe player with a presence in India is making a case for their product. Construction equipment manufacturers are increasingly working towards reducing customer’s pain points by enhancing the backhoe’s productive performance, uptime, and the ease of operation and maintenance so that customers can singularly focus on business outcomes.
The mission is no different with CASE India, another top tier player in the backhoe segment. Last year the company with manufacturing facilities in Pithampur, Madhya Pradesh, introduced its new EX Series of backhoe loaders in 76/86/96 HP. The CASE 770 EX, CASE 770 EX Magnum and the CASE 851 EX are powered by the S8000 engine and deliver powerful performance and fast response time coupled with a 5 per cent higher productivity and fuel savings of up to 13 per cent which translate to an average customer savings of Rs 50,000 per year.
Abhijit Gupta, brand leader, CASE India, points out, “We have a strong focus on supporting customers’ businesses by providing highly productive and efficient equipment and reducing their machines’ operating costs.”
LeeBoy, which produces a broad spectrum of equipment related to roads and general construction, offers two models of backhoe loaders – 699 (99 hp) and 679 (80 hp). Powered by 100hp state-of-the-art engines, the 699 comes with standard features which include a 4WD, side-shift, extended dipper, multi-purpose bucket and an air conditioned cabin.
“Our new generation machines are embedded with state-of-the-art features which increase productivity for the end-user. They also reflect our strong commitment to national development,” says Amarnath Ramachandran, president, LeeBoy India.
With the government’s development agenda being irreversible industry analysts see a thriving future for the backhoe.
Sunder Veer Rajput, MD, Vintage Infra Equipment Solution, an Ankleshwar-based firm which runs an internet marketplace for purchase and hiring of various types of equipment, says, “Backhoes can never diminish in importance in the overall scheme of national construction. The demand for their use already exists and will continue.”
That’s a perfect forward pitch for the backhoe.