The world over, construction practices and methodologies determine the selection of the type of equipment, to a great extent. However, in India, backhoe loader (BHL) controls the lion's share of the total equipment sale; it is wheel loaders that dominate the Chinese CE market and crawler and mini excavators that control the European and American markets.
The backhoe loader is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment and its popularity in India is based on its mobility and price prepositions. Its proliferation in the country has been tremendous and today it is the single largest volume equipment in the CE space. Backhoe loaders are the backbone of construction and will continue to remain so, especially in emerging markets like ours. From a buyer's perspective, the backhoe is probably the best machine available, from the return-on-investment viewpoint plus, the investment is not as high compared to other specialised machinery. For these reasons, the backhoe scores points with the hire segment. Further, the contractors and sub-contractors outsource their requirement of machinery to these plant hirers instead of buying and maintaining the machines themselves. In many cases, the contractors buy the machines themselves, too.
In India, the plant hire segment has been a major demand driver for the BHL. Speaking about current trends, Vipin Sondhi, Managing Director and CEO, JCB India, has this to say: "In the present economic scenario, the demand prospects across the industry are down, which has affected the plant hirers segment. The slowdown in infrastructure investments, liquidity crunch and several regulatory roadblocks has led to a sharp decline in demand for construction equipment in India. Difficulties in achieving financial closure, land acquisition and issues related to environment and forest clearance continue to hamper progress. However, the long-term prospect of the Indian construction industry seems strong, provided government reforms and execution are implemented without any delay. Once infrastructure starts moving, we will then see the increase in the demand for construction equipment and thus, its growth in the rental market."
Sondhi adds, "The demand for all the construction equipment has declined, including the backhoe, because of the ongoing slowdown. However, even in these challenging times, JCB has succeeded in creating new avenues for business through generation of newer markets. In fact, we have seen growth in our market shares across several regions and product categories."
One of the major factors that add to the versatility of the backhoe loader is the number of applications it can work in, with help of attachments. Buckets at both the loader end and backhoe end can be replaced with a host of attachments like pallet forks, rock breakers, jib cranes, sweeper collectors, augers, six-in-one clam shovel buckets, the ripper tooth, jaw buckets, ditch cleaning buckets, taper ditching buckets, bucket- mounted forklifts, etc. Hence, construction and earthmoving machines can be used in several other applications like solid waste management and material handling.
Among the other advantages that a backhoe has is its multipurpose application usability and its manoeuvrability. It is a construction machine that will find its way to most construction sites. The Indian market is slowly but steadily moving towards the usage of specialised equipment and attachments. This follows the global trend where specialised equipment is utilised for specialised jobs on tighter project execution timelines. However, in emerging markets like India, backhoe loaders will continue to play a vital role in construction.
Says Anil Bhatia, Director Sales and Marketing, Case India,"There is more demand for BHL, as compared to other construction equipment. It is due to the attitude of small-scale entrepreneurs and new start-up businessmen who want to own the equipment for five or six years. The backhoe loader becomes their favourite choice because of usage and cost of maintenance. The backhoe loader market of India is the largest in the world; the volumes were close to 32,000 units in 2012."
Then again, the business of construction equipment (CE) manufacturers in India is badly affected by the devaluation of the Indian currency. There are hardly any contracts being finalised, making it extremely difficult for the construction sector to survive. According to Bhatia, the overall demand has been slow. Currently, the total industry volume of backhoe loaders is down by about ten per cent, compared to last year. Bhatia says, "The construction equipment industry has been affected due to depreciation of the rupee, delay in project clearances, and land acquisition procedures. The rural markets will show more growth potential as soon as the project starts. The rural market has more potential for development, so we expect more projects to come up." According to Sunil Tiku, Senior Director- Sales & Marketing, Terex India, there has been a continuous decline in the BHL market in the last five months, and the expected drop will be around 17 per cent YoY by the year-end. Sunil further adds, "We strongly feel that plant hirers will continue to be the major segment in the BHL business. Due to a good monsoon this year, we expect relatively positive growth in the rural market hiring segment during the rest of the year."
The Indian market is slowly but steadily moving towards the usage of specialised equipment and attachments. This follows the global trend where specialised equipment is used for specialised jobs on tighter project execution timelines. Backhoe loaders will remain the most popular type of equipment sold in the country for some time to come, though already a change in the structure of demand can be seen. Its sales have been growing rapidly since 2000, except for a dip during 2008-2009, and the figures would have exceeded 33,000 units in 2011. While it will continue to remain the most popular equipment type amongst plant hirers and small contractors on account of its versatility and mobility, it is expected to be gradually replaced by more efficient and productive machines, such as crawler excavators and wheeled loaders, particularly on large infrastructure projects. Therefore, the future growth rate of the backhoe loader industry may decline; then again, it may well see increasing applications in rural areas which will sustain its strong market presence.
It's beyond any kind of doubt that the backhoe loader has been the flag-bearer of the construction equipment industry in India for the last decade. From the levels of 3,000 backhoes in a year to over 33,000 units in 2011, the Indian backhoe loader industry has seen phenomenal growth. During the next three to four years, the industry firmly believes that the backhoe loader industry will touch levels of 45,000-50,000 per annum.
One of the major factors that add to the versatility of the backhoe loader is the number of applications it can work in, with help of attachments.
Backhoe loaders will remain the most popular type of equipment sold in the country for some time to come, though already a change in the structure of demand can be seen.