The re-growth of the hydraulic excavator (HEX) market is no longer just a green shoot. The market is moving at a fast pace, says the industry.
The Indian construction industry is excited to witness the on-ground acceleration action in projects for most infra sectors. Probably the only sector which is waiting in the wings is realty, where there are still no signs of any major revival. The construction equipment industry in turn is witnessing a sea change in the business climate. It has turned around and is moving in a trajectory at the upward portion of the ´U´ curve of recovery predicted by industry watchers.
Driven by the various developments in the country, hydraulic excavator sales are booming, and many manufacturers claim that they are now up to 100 per cent of their production capacities. Encouraged by this positive trend, new players are eyeing the market and one can expect fresh announcements shortly.
All sales booms are associated with a fresh market scenario and dynamics. A look at some significant aspects in focus by the industry in this mainstream product is important for both buyers and sellers.
Hemant Mathur, General Manager and Head - Construction Equipment Business, L&T, comments, ´We would say that the market has just recovered from the downward trend and the HEX market is moving towards the best of its times. The HEX market had a constant de-growth from 2012 and started to recover from 2015. We expect it to bounce back to the 2012 levels by the end of 2016. The current year and the last year had a CAGR of 25 per cent after three straight years of dip in volume. The future looks very positive on account of the thrust in infrastructure development by the government.´
Dimitrov Krishnan, Vice President and Head, Volvo CE India says, ´The current high levels of demand that we´re seeing for all types of construction equipment are expected to remain strong throughout this year and we´re expecting overall sales to be up by significant double-digit percentage levels for this year. Road building and mining are the most active industries at present for excavators, and we expect that to continue in the near term. While there has been some hesitation among mining contractors in recent months, road building has been experiencing very strong activity levels.´
Sharwan Agnihotri, Head - Marketing & Key Accounts, Hyundai Construction Equipment India Pvt Ltd, opines, ´After consistent slowdown for about three years, the excavator industry grew by around 7 per cent in 2015. Thanks to good capital expenditure by the government and its push to some stalled projects, the industry has grown by around 50 per cent in the first five months of this year over the same period of last year. We are very cautious on growth projection as the big contractors are still over-leveraged and buying is being done by new contractors. Looking at the momentum and reforms the government is proposing in the financial and banking sectors, we are estimating annual growth of about 25 per cent over 2015.´
Amarnath Ramachandran, President, LeeBoy India Construction Equipment Pvt Ltd says, ´Demand will continue as long as there is work. With India´s current infrastructure situation, there should be infinite demand unless there is a disruption in financial reforms policy or if there is political instability. LeeBoy has identified an attachment for blast hole drilling as one of the new demand areas. There are lots of new attachments which will be useful if they are environment friendly.´
What are the customers looking for?
Mathur explains the key differentiator, ´Customers buy machines primarily to earn money. Thus, features that help to earn more or spend less are always welcome.´ He elaborates on features and the advantages thereof, ´Machines have different working modes which control the engine speed and vary the power absorption curve. As a result, depending on the output required and the material to be handled, the operator selects the mode that delivers the desired production and the optimum fuel expensed. Power, economy with three-four sub-options, lifting, breaker and attachment modes, to name a few, depending on the size of the machine.´
Speaking on pump and engine mutual control, Mathur says, ´Electronic control of pump flow based on engine speed sensing ensures that 100 per cent of the engine HP is absorbed by the pump. This feature has changed the age-old concept that power consumption should be less than power available and has introduced the concept that the max power consumed should be equal to the power available.´
´Power Max function and Heavy Lift function give the operator the extra power boost for a brief period in case he has to rip a boulder or an obstacle. Two-mode setting for boom improves stability for the machine which enhances the operator´s comfort and durability.´
On excavators for the mining segment, Mathur says, ´Boom shockless control reduces boom shaking when it stops. This prevents load falling from the bucket and enhances fill factor. While boom-up priority is standard in all machines, the swing priority feature improves the matching of swing to boom-up speed when the swing angle is larger than a right angle. Variable back pressure valve and arm quick return valve reduce line losses and hence the same is used for added production and better fuel economy. Variable speed reversible hydraulic driven radiator fan saves lot of power when the weather is cold.´
Mathur further elaborates, ´Auto deceleration in multiple steps with auto low idling and excessive idling caution provides direct fuel saving and enhances operator comfort, while reduction in sound pollution cannot be ignored. Automatic swing holding brake and interactive brake for travel enhances safety for the machine and helps the operator in his job as well. The eco-gauge cautions the operator whenever the operations go beyond the fuel economy range.´
He adds, ´Telematics features - Komtrax and Komtrax Plus - provide remote access to machine details and help in monitoring and health analysis as well. Timely maintenance reminders and error cautions help in taking proactive actions that enhance the reliability and durability of the machines. All the features provided on machines are definitely assets, as they appreciate the value and enhance the earning for customers. Most of the features silently and automatically work to customers´ advantage even though they might be ignorant of their presence.´
Krishnan comments, ´For customers in the mining industry, there´s a strong trend to greater scale and capacity, which is a natural function of increased targets in this industry. Our 75-tonne rated EC750D helps mine operators fill their trucks faster so they can move more material and the process here is not really too sophisticated- it´s a simple case of increased volume.´
He adds,´Alongside that, there´s an ongoing focus on cost efficiency, so customers particularly like the fuel-efficient engines of Volvo machines. It´s not uncommon for a customer of ours to report fuel savings of 10 per cent or more when using one of our excavators compared with a competitor.´
Agnihotri provides a holistic view, ´Excavator buyers are well-informed and aware of benefits and features available in each model available in India. Hyundai prides in offering best-in-class excavators in terms of fuel efficiency, low ownership cost and durability, eventually adding to customers´ bottom line.´
´Hyundai offers technologically advanced, premium quality product with high reliability and durability. Customer´s confidence is reflected through our sales performance and the acceptability of the product in the Indian market. Our one of the main USPs is that Hyundai excavators are highly fuel-efficient and offer features like the intelligent electronic CAPO system which improve overall operational efficiency for the customers,´ he says.
Agnihotri adds, ´Hyundai´s strong engagement with customers through its 26 dealers having more than 130 outlets helps us in gaining more than 35 per cent business from repeat buying and around 40 per cent business through positive word of mouth.´ Hyundai offers a wide range of excavators from 8T to 120T with special products designed for specific applications like R80-7 (SALT) for salt application, R210 LC-7LR for Long Crawler /Long Reach for well digging /pond excavation etc., R220LC-7MaGiQ for tougher applications like marble, granite and quarry, R390LC-9 for granite & marble applications etc., and large-class machines like R510, R800 and R1200 for coal mining.
Mathur says, ´A few years back, it was felt that these technologies are not cost-effective for India, but we find them becoming very popular in cars nowadays. The day is not very far off when they will get implemented in excavators also. Komatsu has been the pioneer in developing hybrid technology for excavators and we have started to educate Indian customers about these offerings. Customers are keen on implementing these environment-friendly solutions, which also bring down fuel consumption by close to 25 per cent. We are also looking forward for the government to take a lead in purchasing these machines.´
Krishnan comments, ´At Volvo CE, we have developed hybrid-based technology for our various products including excavators. Hybrid technology can offer high fuel savings. However, this technology is still not commercially successful even in developed countries.´
Krishnan believes that greater fuel efficiency and performance can be delivered through the present technology on his company´s leading range of equipment. He says that the excavator range also offers smoother controls and greater operator comfort.
He adds, ´As a general point, there´s definitely more acceptance of advanced technology among Indian customers. But we don´t believe Indian customers should invest in such new technology until tangible benefits are proven.´
Ramachandran conservatively states, ´Excavator prices are the lowest in India, even lesser than China. Hybrid machines will have a higher initial investment. They are also far from being environment conscious, other than (companies) paying lip-service for the same. This is clearly borne out by the fact that on a construction site like roads, wheeled equipment are required to conform to Tier-III and tracked excavators are running on Tier-II.´
Aftermarket, a key focus
Ramachandran explains his company´s aftermarket strategy, ´LeeBoy´s PSC (post-sales care) policy is very simple. We support machines directly and through dealers in over 52 countries across the globe. The location or size has never been a constraint in servicing our customers. Once the customer buys a machine from us, we provide service irrespective of size and location.´
Agnihotri explains Hyundai´s philosophy, ´Hyundai understands customer requirements and addresses its market accordingly. Today, Hyundai has over 26 dealerships across India with over 130 touch points, making it accessible for customers within a 72-km radius. These touch points are a combination of 3S and 2S facilities.´
He adds, ´Also, for medium and large contractors, Hyundai has Annual Maintenance Contracts wherein spares and service are provided at pre-decided intervals to ensure equipment is up and running. For mining machines where machine uptime is very critical for the overall operation, Hyundai offers full maintenance contracts to the customers. This is a win-win solution and builds long-term relationship with mining contractors. More than 85 per cent of large-class machines supplied in India are working under FMC.´
Krishnan says,´At Volvo CE, we already have one of the most extensive and experienced dealer networks in this industry, so we´re well-prepared for the geographical expansion of our equipment sales. Of course there is always room for improvement, so we´re working with our dealers to ensure they have the tools, training and resources to provide the level of care that Volvo CE customers expect and deserve. Infrastructure in India is still under development, so there can be no short cuts in customer service. In our opinion, local staff and offices are the only successful way to provide acceptable customer support here.´
Mathur opines, ´An efficient product support is the lifeline of the construction and mining equipment industry and hence the need for having requisite skilled personnel, workshop facilities and spare parts support as close as possible to the end user. We have built an extensive network of dealers across the country, so that the mean time to respond and restore meets or betters the industry benchmark.´
´L&T has pioneered the concept of having large-service workshops at strategic areas to cover the entire length and breadth of the country. Apart from the existing five workshops at Durgapur, Kanchipuram, Nagpur, Bahadurgarh and Pune, we are now on our way to make new investments in workshops closer to the customers,´ says Mathur.
He adds, ´Keeping personnel aware and skilled on the maintenance and troubleshooting aspects of these sophisticated machines by way of continuous training is another way to meet the never-ending expectations of our large clientele.´
On the North-East market, Krishnan says, ´The compact excavator product sector is something that we are currently assessing and looking to address in the coming months. Our own insight has shown that there is increasing demand for these units. Of course, we already manufacture a comprehensive range of compact excavators that we sell in other markets. At present, we are looking at how we might be able to bring the compact excavator line to India, although we are unable to be any more specific than that at this stage.´
On the overall market, he opines, ´If the Government of India stays the course with its stated plans for road building, energy provision and residential development, then we are anticipating solid and continued growth for construction equipment sales. Of course, we´re in no position to give any insight into how likely it is that the government will be able to stay on track. There are obviously a number of variables that will determine how projects progress, and we also need to consider that global macroeconomic conditions remain unfavourable and this could have some impact.´ Agnihotri elaborates on his analysis, ´We feel that the industry would go through nonlinear changes. A different set of business practices would evolve after the implementation of GST and the regulatory Act on safety parameters for operation of heavy machines, which the government is planning to implement in the near future.´ He adds,´GST would reduce overall logistics cost and eliminate complications of inter-state movement for equipment and machinery. Safety regulations would ensure skilling of various stakeholders and define responsibilities of manufacturers, dealers and regulators.´
´The Government of India´s focus on improving logistics efficiency through roadways, waterways & railways, and improving quality of life by announcing projects under Swatch Bharat, Smart Cities, AMRUT etc., would generate good demand for excavators and other related equipment. These projects along with banking reforms and push for halted infrastructure projects would ensure fresh buying from existing as well as new customers. We are estimating Y-O-Y growth rate of around 20-25 per cent for the next three years and the numbers may be close to 19,000 units by 2018.´ According to Ramachandran, ´Growth will be significant higher over the next three-four years as mentioned earlier, barring any financial policy disruption or political instability. India has a genuine infrastructure demand. If the current financial reforms continue, there will be no looking back.´
Mathur´s vision is very clear, ´The demand from next year will be at 20 per cent Y-O-Y growth for the next three years. The highest growth can be seen from the roads segment followed by the irrigation segment. General construction continues to account for the largest sales of HEX. The roads and irrigation segments will continue to be the focus area for the government and these segments will have a robust demand.´
He adds, ´Applications like coal handling at ports will need HEX with long-reach attachments. Irrigation, railways and Metro projects have fuelled demand for variants like the super-long front and tunnel variant. Restrictions on blasting are creating a demand for HEX in rock-breaking and demolition applications. Versatility of the HEX is the need of the hour for Indian customers, and there is a huge demand for the attachments to make the HEX versatile for various applications as a cost-effective solution.´
One key factor which would contribute to the overall growth of the country, including construction equipment, is the North-East and rural sectors. Fortunately, all developments in these regions have been supported by adequate fund allocations from the government. Now that a good monsoon has commenced, even the positive sentiments of the farmers will add to the kitty of various players.
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