Unearthing the Mini Excavator Market

When
Joe Contractor needs a dedicated digging machine, he turns to an
excavator. It’s a tool devoted to putting precise holes in the ground.
Joe can jump in the cab, grab two joysticks and start digging just
about anything with his boom and bucket — utility trenches, pools,
housing foundations, drainage ditches, ponds and every other thing that
needs to go in or under the earth.

Excavators are the ultimate digging tools, and compact excavators are
the ultimate digging tools when it comes to urban areas and confined
jobsite applications. Compact excavators (also called mini excavators)
are defined as excavators under 6 metric tons. These are small
excavation machines, engineered with an undercarriage and tracks, a
long digging arm and a cab or ROPS enclosure. Typically with a dig
depth between 5 and 20 ft and an operating weight between 2,000 and
20,000 lbs, compact excavators can fit into cramped worksites and still
give big dig power.

These mini excavators began to catch the attention of contractors and
manufacturers in the early 1990s.

Soon major equipment companies were invading the market with machines —
Bobcat, Caterpillar, Yanmar, Volvo, Ditch Witch, Vermeer, John Deere,
Komatsu, Kubota and more. As urban areas grow and the housing industry
continues to explode, excavation work in tight jobsites has been
increasing. With a small size, long reach and light footprint,
contractors are turning more and more to mini excavators.

The proof is in the numbers: Compact excavators had a record year in
North America in 2003 with approximately 14,000 units sold. In 2004,
compact excavator sales in the United States jumped up to approximately
21,700 units, and in 2005 that number is expected to be approximately
24,000 units, according to the manufacturers CE surveyed.

“The 3.5- to 4-ton class will continue to drive the compact hydraulic
excavator market,” says David Caldwell, product specialist of compact
hydraulic excavators with Komatsu. “Prices for Komatsu compact
excavators in this range go from $19,500 to $95,000. Also, conventional
style compact excavators continue to lose share to the minimum and zero
tailswing designs.”

Zero tailswing or ZTS continues to be a hot feature (excavators that
are designed to keep their cabs within the width of their tracks).
Estimates from manufacturers conclude that zero tailswing compact
excavators are eating up between 15 and 20 percent of the U.S. market.
Next year, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) will
breakout ZTS from conventional tailswing machines. ZTS appears to be
increasing in popularity, particularly in the 3- to 5-ton class —
especially as manufacturers strive to minimize compromises relative to
conventional machines (serviceability, operator space, lift capacity,
etc.).

Overall, the industry is primed for growth. More than 20 manufacturers
are either making or branding compact excavators today. With so many
models and manufacturers, contractors can often feel a little
overwhelmed when shopping around for a new machine. Knowledge is the
key when considering any big purchase, so CE decided to collect as much
information about each mini excavator product line as it could. The
result is on the next 15 pages — a comprehensive rundown of 12
manufacturers in the compact excavator industry. Specifications,
prices, product summaries and advice to buyers are all included for
each manufacturer. We suggest you get to know each of these companies
and their products before you put your crews in their new mini
excavator.

Bradley Kramer is an editorial assistant of Compact Equipment.

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