Small but mighty: Compact loader leaders
PMV catches up with the diminuitive but armed-to-the-teeth dwarven gladiators of the industry
A year since the magazine last focused on the segment, PMV catches up with the makers of skidsteer loaders, compact track loaders and compact wheeled loaders to find out what has changed, and how they are adapting their regional arsenal to the needs and requirements of the ever evolving jobsite.
Opening up the conversation is Steve Ryder, field marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment (CE) in the Middle East, who notes: “The picture for the entire Middle East region is that all of the markets are under significant downward pressure. However, the compact market, which includes skidsteer and tracked loaders, is less affected than the higher-value heavy line products.”
Mike Yates, JCB’s product manager for the Middle East, concurs: “If we compare YTD October 2016 overall total market* statistics in the GCC with YTD October 2015 overall total market statistics we see that the market has dropped by around 48% compared to last year. (*By total market, JCB includes crawler excavators, wheel loading shovels, backhoe loaders, telescopic handlers, skidsteer loaders, mini-excavators, tandem rollers, single drum rollers and wheeled excavators.)
“This has seen a change in the pecking order of products with higher value products dropping away. In 2015 crawler excavators were in the highest demand and represented 35% of the market with skid steer loaders in second place representing 25% of the demand. Today we see those positions reversed with skidsteer loaders in the number one position, representing 29% of machine volume demand, and crawler excavators in second place, with 26% of the volume demand.”
But Mamoun Mutair, product manager for construction and paving at Al-Bahar, counters: “The region is poised for development. Moreover, with futuristic projects, the demand for quality equipment has sustained steadily. As dealers of Cat products in five major Middle Eastern territories, we have noticed a stable demand in the segment for compact loaders.”
Shahir El Essawy, business director for Volvo CE’s Middle East sales region, concurs: “We are seeing steady growth in the compact wheel loader business as the concept becomes more popular in these markets. Customers are always looking for machines that give a solid and reliable performance. For compact wheel loaders, versatility is also definitely a feature that customers are after.
“At Volvo CE we are continuing to do what we have always done best, which is supplying our customers with high-quality, reliable and productive machines together with exceptional aftersales support.”
Meet the machines
The overall impression is therefore of a decline in the segment in line with the general market decline, and yet, at the same time, there are indications that the compact loader segment is performing better than some others.
From the perspective of Case, Ryder notes: “The Case SR130 and SR150 compact skidsteer loaders are our most popular machines in the Middle East. These products match the requirements of the customer base, offering high machine uptime at competitive prices. There is also a growing segment for the mid-range skidsteers, such as the Case SR220. These have higher payload capability, but also offer high auxiliary flow to power larger attachments such as rock saws, which are used extensively on projects for utility cabling.”
JCB has recently added two more models to its PowerBoom range of 18-wheeled and tracked machines in the Middle East: the 135HD and 155HD, with 612kg and 703kg operating capacities respectively. Both models are specifically designed for the type of hot, dusty and humid conditions of the GCC.
Yates explains: “These HD models are built on a similarly designed chassis as the 135 and 155 models, but they have a radical back-to-basics specification suited to Middle East requirements — out has gone any form of sophisticated electronics, and in has come simple, servo-assisted controls, simple-to-read gauges, increased fuel filtration systems, and — where there are electrics — IP67 and IP69 connectors to keep out water and dust.”
Both machines also have the side-entry system exclusive to JCB and which it claims makes it the safest machine entry on the market. Accompanying this feature is JCB’s single-arm boom, which is built with 20% more steel than a conventional twin-arm boom, but which maintains a 50:50 balance of weight within the machine by offsetting the engine and operator to the right.
Gaby Rhayem, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at Doosan Bobcat, comments: “Today, customers are looking for good performance and a good split between mobility and power; not necessarily just engine power. There is also the power of versatility, where the machine is suitable for doing many jobs and this is where the Bobcat excels with its tool carrier concept and more than 160 attachments to choose from.
“The hydraulic function of compact machines is often also key, as a high flow rate is required for some applications. Today, we can even equip our most successful model, the S450 skid-steer loader, with air-conditioning — a novel feature for a machine of this size — we also equip the machine with the ability to split the power between the different functions.
“We are leading the market with the S450 and S630 models, primarily in the construction and the facilities management sectors. We are also experiencing success in the landscaping market, where the Bobcat T590 compact tracked loader is a superior machine in this category. We have a much better position in the market compared to our competitors.”
For Caterpillar dealer Al-Bahar, the priorities of its customers when choosing a machine from the compact range are higher productivity, reliability, and manoeuvrability. In addition to these primary features, fuel-efficiency and Al-Bahar’s comprehensive aftersales support play a supporting role in contributing to the sales success of Cat compact loaders, skid steers and tracked loaders.
Mutair adds: “The high versatility of these machines with their diverse work tools and attachments — including brooms, augers, hammers and trenchers — make them a popular choice among customers. Their compact size hides a very productive and powerful package. When we receive queries, the horsepower rated operating capacity (ROC) and operating weight are the most frequently asked for specifications.
“The best performing segment among the mentioned would be skidsteer loaders, and our most popular model would be Cat 216B Series 3 skidsteer loader. For the compact wheel loader segment it is the Cat 906K, and for the compact track loader segment, the Cat 239D.”
In the Middle East, and broadly speaking around the world, compact wheel loaders represent a relative newcomer in the segment. Speaking on this his favourite subject, Jas Kundra, product application specialist for compact wheel loaders at Caterpillar, notes: “We recently updated the 910K and 914K compact wheel loaders. At under 75kW (100hp), the 910K and 914K fall within the compact wheel loader category.”
Both compact wheel loaders models are equipped with Cat C4.4 engines that meet Tier 3 emissions standards, and which are also longitudinally mounted to facilitate routine maintenance and provide improved rear visibility. The 910K and 914K also feature the Caterpillar optimised Z-bar loader linkage designed to provide both the parallelism of an IT linkage and the breakout force of a traditional Z-bar linkage, while high-lift linkage options are also available.
Kundra adds: “The newly designed cab features a low effort electro-hydraulic joystick and a Caterpillar exclusive eight-button control pad that enables the operator to easily adjust implement speed, Hystat aggressiveness, control wheel spin and hydro-mechanical work tools. The 910K and 914K compact wheel loaders make great material handlers over rough terrain, as well as for site levelling as a first pass, and the 914K is also available with a high-flow option.”
Back to basics
For the moment, however, compact wheel loaders remain a fairly experimental concept in the Gulf, and for the main part, JCB’s Yates, who earlier highlighted the strong performance of the segment also points to the market’s relative simplicity. He notes: “We still see that the base units are the most popular and that these are primarily being used on sites for moving materials around rather than in more mature markets where they are used as tool carriers as well.
“We are generally trying to leverage our interactions with customers by pointing to a number of core benefits: safety — as customers and operators become more aware of our side-entry machine; comfort — because the side door allows for a 27% larger cab area; better visibility — also thanks to our single-arm boom; productivity — due to our low-effort controls for the operators; and finally, lower operating costs — due to better filtration, the simplified systems and ease of service.”
Bobcat can appeal to its proven product, market reputation and the high resale value of its machines. Rhayem notes: “The Bobcat brand is well known for its reliability and its high resale value, which no other manufacturer can compete with: a five-year-old Bobcat loader with 5,000 to 6,000 hours on the clock will still sell at 60% of the original price. This is unique in the market and shows the customer preference for the Bobcat brand.”
Neither is the market leader sitting idle, as Rhayem emphasises: “Keeping up the momentum with innovation is critical to maintaining the trust in Bobcat product.”
One recently developed product that is particularly applicable to the region is the Bobcat SC200 Sand Cleaner, which Rhayem expects to become very popular in MEA and to boost Bobcat’s compact track loader business.
Plans within plans
One alternative way in which Case is looking to capture greater market share in the region is with the continuing investment into not only its products, but also the services that it offers to its customers, with a view to providing the best overall value proposition.
Ryder notes: “Over the last year we have invested significantly in the Case support in the region — doubling the size of our regional office in Dubai and also opening our new Middle East parts distribution centre in Jebel Ali, and we will continue to invest with our distribution network to continuously improve our products and service offering.”
Musing along the same lines, Al-Bahar’s Mutair notes: “With our customer-centric approach, our strategy for growth includes an amplified focus on aftermarket performance and customer service. We believe in heeding the voice of customers and in providing a wide variety of solutions, including extended protection plans, product support, Cat ProductLink and parts availability.
Looking forward he adds: “The building and construction sector trends have always been promising and hence we expect the same for next year. With the many ambitious projects forecast for the region, we are anticipating the industry to progress in the years to follow.”
Case’s Ryder meanwhile concludes: “The customer’s main priority with these compact loaders is the quality and reliability of the machine. They must also be simple and easy to operate smoothly on the site by a wide range of operators. The skid steer machine performs a wide variety of tasks, from general carrying functions, grading the landscape and loading materials. Our strategy is to provide our high quality products, with competitive finance packages along with excellent parts and service backup across the region.”
The Case skidsteer range currently includes the SR130 to SR150 and SR220 models, alongside the TR270 tracked loader. Their high performance features includes sealed cabs to significantly reduce the exposure of the operator to noise and dust and 25% larger cabs that are the widest in the industry.
Signing off with a prediction, JCB’s Yates adds: “While at present, 87% of the current market is now covered with the addition of our two new models, the 135HD and 155HD, we feel that as the market begins to mature there will be room for increasing the number of models we bring in to cater to demand for larger machines and larger attachments. This includes our tracked range of machines.”