The backhoe loader industry has seen lower demand this year compared to the previous year, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent slowdown in economic activities. However, with the situation improving, albeit very cautiously, the backhoe loader manufacturers are optimistic of demand firming from the third quarter onwards, led by sustained thrust on infrastructure development. A sizeable part of the fresh offtake will be through materialization of pent up demand with construction activities resuming in infra projects such as rural housing, and roads. The backhoes with new attachments are also finding application in irrigation and watershed developments; and a good monsoon could herald new investments by farmers in backhoes for use in their farmlands.
According to him, two key sectors are set to emerge in the coming years: Infrastructure development in Rural India and creation of a world-class Healthcare infrastructure across the country. At a national level, impetus to Railways, Irrigation, and large projects like Sagarmala would also drive demand for Construction Equipment. Additionally, the focus on creating 100 new airports, Smart Cities and Metro projects would open up newer opportunities. “As the thrust on infrastructure development continues to be a priority for the Government, we are optimistic about a rapid recovery of the economy. As per the initial reports of September, we are seeing some growth and are hopeful that this momentum will continue till the year end,” says Shetty.
JCB today has the widest range of Backhoe Loaders in India that includes 2DX, 3DX ecoXcellence, 3DX Xtra, 3DX Super and the larger 4DX. These versatile machines are used for a variety of applications and in almost every construction project ranging from Roads and Highways, Railways, Irrigation, Rural Roads, and Housing, to general Construction, and Maintenance, in both urban and rural India.
The brand new 3DX Backhoe, powered with JCB ‘IntelliPerformance’, is a smart machine which saves up to 12% fuel and reduces operational cost by 22%. The machine comes with 30 new features like smooth gear shift, new ergonomic seating, LED lights, etc., and is also equipped with ‘IntelliDig’ technology that gives operators real time indication on the depth and reach.
Exhibiting JCB India’s strong focus on Digitisation and Innovation, the backhoe loaders are enabled with JCB’s advanced Telematics Technology – Livelink, for Next Generation Asset Monitoring and Fleet Management. Further, an internal tool, ‘Smart Serve’ has been developed, which digitally supports service engineers and service jobs, to improve machine efficiency and productivity, thereby improving customer profitability.
JCB’s genuine parts application enables the customers to order genuine parts of JCB products, online. All machines by JCB India are backed by the finest after-sales service support through 700 outlets and over 60 dealers. These outlets are spread across India and are equipped with parts and trained manpower, thus ensuring that the customers are never far from professional product support.
Says Shetty, “JCB has always believed in localization. Our flagship product, the JCB backhoe loader is indigenized to almost 97% (by value), and is trusted for its proven productivity, reliability, operator comfort, fuel efficiency and performance.”
The PRO series has robust machines with a robotically welded two-piece structural frame for greater stability, performance and serviceability, and a heavy-duty structure, tank, fenders and rims to work efficiently in the harsh Indian operating conditions. The backhoes are equipped with Eagle Eye Telematics System for enabling real-time vehicle tracking and communication based on GPS technology, which keeps track of the machine’s performance, while the geofencing feature gives overall security by monitoring the machine’s movement.
Vidyarthi informs that the company has given loan and warranty extensions to their customers to ease their financial pressure and has launched a new scheme wherein customers can buy a Case machine and pay for it after 90 days. “Through CNH Capital, our financial arm, we made sure that there is enough capital available for customers who wanted to make new purchases. To provide faster solutions for buyers, we have come up with a 48-hour loan approval policy. For our institutional buyers and customers who own large fleets, we have lucrative finance schemes with some of the lowest interest rates in the market. All these customer-friendly initiatives have enabled us to drive businesses and has earned the Case India brand more recognition and respect.”
He adds, “CASE India has always stood shoulder to shoulder with its customers and dealers. The company has been trying to hedge its production and service costs, while helping our dealers make their business profitable in these trying times, so that we can help retain and build sales when the market improves. We have given them more leeway, support and superior enterprise technology and taken measures for liquidation of old stock lying with them. In fact, when we anticipated such a situation in February 2020, we launched a strong marketing campaign to clear our old inventory. And, even in these challenging times we have been delivering parts and scheduling services for our customers.”
He informs that Tata Hitachi has been building a strong connectivity between its backhoe loaders and other machines through remote diagnostic tools, IoT and artificial intelligence. For instance, its Shinrai backhoe loaders are InSite enabled. “Digital technologies like Telematics has enabled constant communication with our customers, who get early warning alerts for periodic service, maintenance issues etc, so that they can take timely action to ensure availability of their machines and at the same time reduce the operating cost by saving on costly breakdowns.”
The new Shinrai comes with a range of versatile attachments like backhoe bucket and loader bucket in different sizes to suit various applications, trench buckets for pipe laying and trench applications, ditch cleaning buckets for solid waste handling, and ripper tooth for pulling blocks or concrete. The company offers factory-fitted rock breakers for demolition and breaking of small and medium size stones; augers for special applications like drilling, pole erection, plantation, fencing, and casing applications; and quick couplers for a fast changeover.
Shorey informs that during the lockdown the company was providing services using digital tools to help customers maintain their machines and keep them in good working condition. “Our sales teams were continuously engaged with customers to apprise them of our offerings and how these could aid their business, going forward. We conducted webinars to counsel and instill confidence in them during the lockdown period and discussed upcoming opportunities in infra development in the country as well as in their area of operation. Now, with the pandemic situation easing, most of our dealer outlets have resumed operations.”
He adds, “Tata Hitachi teams have been active on social media to strengthen the company’s brand by sharing the success stories of our customers. We have engaged with contractors, OEMs, and financers so that together we can tide over the slowdown and use this time to explore new methods of conducting and sustaining businesses. We have apprised the financers of how we are supporting customers by lowering their overall cost of owning a machine. In this way, we wanted to instill confidence in the financiers so that they would not desist from funding machines.”
He adds, “In accordance with the Indian Government’s mission of Atmanirbhar Bharat, and to cater to the country’s Infrastructure and Road Development, ECEL is offering a complete range of backhoe loaders under models Digmax II and Jungli. Both the variants come with 76-hp to 90-hp engine options. Today, the backhoe loader is seeing newer application areas, and its usage is no longer restricted to digging alone. To meet the new application requirements, we are offering various attachments (as options). These include hydraulic rock breakers, backhoe mounted grader attachment, ripper, range of BH and loader buckets and other tools sourced from specialized vendors. The attachments give our customers more application solutions within a single product.”
Escorts backhoe loaders have a robust, robotically welded structural frame for greater stability, performance, and serviceability. Large box-section structures in high-stress areas such as the boom nose, foot, and cylinder, enhance the machine’s durability. The new heavy-duty front axle ensures that all the wheels remain in contact with the ground even on the roughest terrains, giving exceptional stability and reliability.
The company offers two types of engines: the powerful and fuel-efficient Kirloskar’s water-cooled diesel engine, and Escorts water-cooled diesel engine. Says Shinde, “The company understands that power and performance are critical to the success of a machine. Escorts BHL engine options allow customers to save over 10% of fuel per hour to lower the running cost and have a competitive edge in the highly competitive contracting and hiring business.”
Escorts Intelligent Equipment Monitoring System keeps customers informed about the machine and have control over their business from the comfort of their office, car, or home. The hydraulic system allows the operators to do multiple movements simultaneously with features that are normally found in excavators. With the highest digging force and faster excavation cycle in time, the backhoe loaders work 20% more per liter, giving the best performance in all kinds of strata.
Escorts BHL machine gives the loader dump height of 3 meters and dig depth of 4.8 meters, along with high tear-out force. The backhoes’ high torque engines give the best-in-class dozing performance, and ease in loading high body trucks. The new tilting engine hood provides quick access for maintenance. In fact, the machine layout has been designed to ensure that all daily service points are easily accessible at ground level, for quick and efficient servicing.
The cabin has 20% more space with redesigned ergonomics for a more livable cabin for operator comfort. It includes a helper seat, storage compartments and a bottle holder. Large windows provide all-round visibility, improve air ventilation, and enable easy communication to the back of the machine. All the controls have been positioned to offer easy access and faster control.
To enhance customer experience, ECEL is providing 24x7 service and parts support through its dealers, along with add-ons such as extended warranties, etc. The company’s wide distributor network for parts availability has increased the company’s reach across the country. Plus, it is providing phone-based service for end-to-end solutions to customers remotely. Services are given for its own components as well as those provided by the OEMs, including the attachments. “We have a competitive edge in product support, not through standard telematics, but by providing varied solutions based on customer specific requirements. We are also increasing the number of touchpoints for maintenance and are stocking genuine parts with our dealers and distributors. This will ensure timely availability of our machines and reduce their downtime,” informs Shinde.
“The high-performance AX 124 gives value for money with its best-in-class aggregates and at the right price. To offer more technically advanced machines we are investing in R&D so that our customers get higher productivity out of them, and earn quick ROIs, especially in the current tough times when profit margins are under pressure. We are also digitalizing our internal and external operations to create a more efficient organization,” he adds.
Recent improvisations by ACE in its backhoe loaders include more advanced engines to optimize machine output with minimum fuel consumption, while meeting the emission regulations; advanced hydraulics for higher productivity; a GPS system and telematics to monitor and manage the machines remotely. “The Covid lockdown gave us the opportunity to focus even more on research and development, design of new products, upgradation of existing products and VA/VE (Value Analysis/Value Engineering) activities, wherever possible,” says Handa. He informs that ACE has given financial assistance to its dealers so that they can retain their employees and sustain themselves in the volatile demand scenario due to the fallout of Covid-19.
He adds that since there is a pressure on operating margins, the company will be providing telematics in its machines for the benefit of the customers. “We believe that any new feature added to a machine should bring value to the user such that the greater functionality compensates for the additional cost of the machine. We are also enhancing our product support with an all-inclusive approach to meet the changing customer preferences. Our telephonic assistance for dealing with micro problems will increase, and we will work on how to make the per hour maintenance cost more economical such that the value of the parts and of our machines are optimized and the benefit transferred to the end-users.”
Further adding, “The aggregates used in our B900 Backhoe Loader are of the best quality as they are sourced from vendors of repute. Engines from Kirloskar India; cylinders from Wipro India, while the axles are from Carraro to just name some of the key components. Most importantly all the structures like rigid booms, arms, and chassis are all completely made in-house at the company’s new Chennai facility to ensure high levels of quality, reliability and durability.”
Doosan Bobcat for its backhoe loaders is targeting the main construction companies and the equipment rental players. For the rental segment, where the applications would comprise diverse uses across various construction sectors, Doosan Bobcat besides the main product B900 is offering a range of attachments like rippers, hydraulic rock breakers that can further improve the utilization.
“Doosan Bobcat has a pan India dealer network for sales and service of its products. To ensure timely support to our customers, we have dealer partners at every potential state sometimes more than one, each with 5-6 outlets. We want to provide best support to our customers so that they become our brand advocates” says Manjunath clearly laying out the ambitions of Doosan Bobcat for its Backhoe Loaders and other products.
With customers’ profit margins under pressure, manufacturers are striving to make owning and operating their machines financially viable during the current lean period. But as demand improves, competition is likely to become more intense - and so will marketing. In fact, an aggressive marketing plan by manufacturers augurs well for the Indian infra sector as it will broaden the range of product offerings and make prices more competitive. It will also strengthen the pre- and post-sales customer support and service packages of the manufacturers to beat competition.