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Wed 22 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Backhoe loaders in full

Our analysis of all the brands of these versatile machines in the local market.

Our analysis of all the brands of these versatile machines in the local market.

Where would we be without the backhoe loader? Since this jack of all trades was introduced, construction sites all over the globe have found uses for these versatile machines.

When hydraulic machinery became commercially viable in the post-war period, various manufacturers attempted to make machines for multiple applications. One of the first, and certainly one of the best known today was JCB.

This firm introduced the loader concept in 1953, with the famous ‘3C' model following in 1961, complete with a pivoting seat - and even an in cab kettle!

This was no novelty gimmick machine though. Its versatile characteristics soon saw thousands of machines from many manufacturers busy in jobsites everywhere.

At this juncture we should point out that while JCB is recognized as the de facto inventor of these machines, other manufacturers brought similar machines on to the market at around the same time.

Also, contrary to popular belief, the term ‘backhoe' refers to the action of the arm, rather than its location on the vehicle.

Construction activity

As we all know, the GCC construction boom continues unabated, in spite of the economic downturn across the world. However, while the backhoe is involved in every aspect of construction, its natural habitat is the urban jungle, where tight city workspaces make it harder for larger construction equipment to fit in.

While order books in the West and Japan start to empty, demand in the developing world continues to increase. As a result, various western firms are looking at moving production towards the east, by expanding or building new facilities, or by takeovers of, or joint ventures with local firms.

Market size and trends

The market for backhoes is spreading eastwards, largely due to the way in which India is industrializing. While India is a larger market for this kind of equipment than the GCC, these machines can still be found everywhere.

However, in recent years ultra-compact equipment, such as the skid-steer range from Bobcat, Case and others have become multi-functional, due to an expanding range of attachments.

It is now possible to break, trench and load with one machine approximately a third the size of a standard backhoe - albeit with far more limited functionality.


Like many industries, a lot of machine production is being transferred from west to east. JCB recently announced the closure of a plant in the UK, while production in the main overseas factories in Pune are effectively being doubled, following heavy investment, while the Ballabgarh factory is to see similar investment. However, backhoe loaders for the GCC market continue to be built in Britain.

Volvo CE meanwhile builds its backhoe loader range in a factory in Poland. Through tight quality control, these are recognised  as being the same quality as products made through the world.

Case manufacture backhoe loaders in a plant in Imola, Italy. Some 80,000 have been built there since 1995, when it re-tooled the old Benati factory.The firm employ the ‘Best Method' production system, which it says has improved product quality and cut production times by about a third. Note that machines brought from North America are likely to have different specifications from those originally destined for any other market.

Terex produce B-series backhoe loaders in Coventry, UK. They acquired most of Fermec, including the backhoe loader operation when CNH, parent company of Case, divested itself of this brand in 2000.

Hidromek meanwhile manufacture its products across two sites in Turkey, being Ankara and Ismir. It has been founded for thirty years, though backhoe loaders are a relatively new line for the company. Unusually, the firm is financed entirely by localy sourced capital.


Case recently updated its backhoe loader range with the launch of with the series-3 590 Super R. Using new electronic management and ‘pressure compensated load sensing hydraulics' the manufacturer claims improved fuel efficiency over the previous model when driving or digging.

Caterpillar are also ahead of the game in the technology steaks. The 450E, which replaced the 466D a couple of years ago features a range of improvements such as greater dig depth and greater digging forces than the model it replaces.

Those changes combined with a ‘drive by wire' joystick control system could boost productivity significantly, according to the manufacturer.

Meanwhile, JCB have increased the role of electronic systems in its range, by adding joystick control as an option in the 3CX and 4CX ranges. The new system utilises the same valve block and hydraulic gear pump combination as the manual control machines, but with seat-mounted servo excavator levers.

According to the company this ensures that the operator has the same feel for the hydraulic controls as with a conventional manual control machine, but with the benefits of a seat-mounted servo lever system. Most other manufacturers offer some form of joystick control as well, as it offers operators reduced complexity, which results in less wear and tear on the machines.

Air conditioning is optional on all of the machines, except those from Volvo where it comes as standard. The Swedish company has also suggested that hybrid models may well be a possibility in the future.

Hidromek machines don't have much new technology, although a revised cabin is said to offer class leading visibility. However standard spec is generous, with four wheel steering and a double brake system standard on the HMK 102S.

Component sourcing

In August JCB India announced that the company would source more local components. The MD for India said that the company's manufacturing facilities have sufficient capacity to increase India sourcing and the country would soon develop as ‘global sourcing hub' for the firm. Case, meanwhile, has recently finished converting it's backhoe paint shop to a fully robotic operation.

The paintshop is also noteworthy for being a solvent-free power operation, which is said to be better for the environment.

JCB, Cat, Case and Volvo make their own engines, while Terex and Hidromek use Perkins units.

Hydraulic pumps are sourced from Japan on all units, though various levels of complexity. All manufacturers mentioned here offer four wheel drive in the range, while 20-inch front wheels for reduced ground pressure is also an option. JCB offer an optional lock up torque converter system which engages in top gears and ensures the machine maintains top speed for longer.

At full engine rpm it can reduce travelling time between job sites by 10% and improve fuel consumption by up to 13% - giving customers an even better return on their investment according to the company.Alternatively, if the operator decreases rpm with the TorqueLock engaged - it still achieves comparable travel speeds with a machine not fitted with the system - with up to 25% savings in fuel consumption.

All the GCC dealers for these machines pride themselves on being able to get hold of parts easily and quickly.

Volvo also offer a fully automatic transmission on the BL70 model. The optional powershift transmission has four forward and reverse speeds and features a standard kick down for fast shifting from second to first gear.

For ease of operation, a forward and reverse switch is integrated on the loader joystick. A fully automatic mode is activated in fourth gear as well.

Market shares

All the manufacturers active in the region are cagey about their exact sales figures in the regional market. However it is a safe bet that JCB hold the lead in the market, with Cat, Case and the others very close behind.

Volvo CE are relative newcomers to the market, but they are reportedly gaining market share, particularly as some of the major buyers in the UAE choose to get all of their equipment from the same brand, as only one service contact is then needed.

The budget players have a greater hill to climb, though as Turkish-made Hidromek states; "As a newcomer in the industry, Hidromek backhoe loaders enjoy a satisfactory market share of approx. 4% in its size class in ourregional territory"


At the budget end of the market, Hidromek and LiuGong are supported by Al Wasit and Dynatrade respectively. Volvo CE are looked after by Famco in the UAE and Oman, while Al Rehab is the dealer in Saudi Arabia.

JCB deal with Galadari Trucks in the UAE, with Salah and Abdulaziz Co. in KSA. For Caterpillar your contact in the UAE and Oman is Al Bahar, while in Saudi Arabia it is the Zahid Tractor company.

 Long lead times are an issue that affects all manufacturers, and the situation can vary from month to month - so check with the dealer or manufacturer of the brand you are interested in.

Used equipment

Most of the decent backhoes seem to find their way over to the Asian Subcontinent, which mean good stock is in short supply. They do appear occasionally, but any potential purchase should be inspected especially carefully as there is probably a reason why it is for sale.

As the budget machines come with European engines and Japanese hydraulic systems, it might be prudent to consider one as an better alternative.

Did you know?

Cutting through utilities with these machines is so common, it is sometimes known as 'Backhoe fade'.

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