Electric charge: Electric mini excavators on show at Intermat

By Murray Pollok09 May 2012

Kubota's all-electric mini at Intermat.

Kubota's all-electric mini at Intermat.

Murray Pollok reports from the Intermat show on the latest prototype electric mini-excavators, plus a round-up of new minis launched so far this year. Additional reporting by Helen Wright.

There are lots of choices to make in developing all-electric or hybrid mini excavators and one of them is whether you are going to show your ‘work in progress' at major exhibitions like Intermat. Firmly in the ‘yes' category here are Takeuchi, Kubota and Sany, all of which had prototype mini-electric models on their stands in Paris.

In the case of Takeuchi, there seems to be a compulsion to share, since it has been showing mini electric models since the 2006 Intermat but has still to introduce a real production version.

The waiting would seem to be almost over, however, as Takashi Mamba, Takeuchi's managing director in France - who also has responsibility for the European market - tells IRN that the company is now conducting field trials in Europe of its 1.7 t rated TB117e and that a 2013 launch is possible, even probable.

The 117 uses 300 V lithium-ion batteries and will operate for between 5 and 6 hours on a single overnight charge. Mr Mamba says Takeuchi has been focusing on the design of the battery pack; "Now we are sure the technology is stable enough to use in an excavator."

Although only showing a 1.7 t machine so far, Mr Mamba says electric versions of its 800 kg micro excavator as well as of a larger 2.0-2.5 t model are possible. The technology may be ready, but there is still a big price premium - the TB117e, for example, will be around double the price of a conventional model.

Whenever Kubota does something new with its minis everyone takes notice, and its 1.8-1.9 t prototype electric mini at Intermat - unveiled in theatrical fashion on the opening morning of the show - certainly prompted interest by buyers and competitors alike.

Bernard Dewaele, Kubota's export sales manager in Europe, says the battery-mains powered machine - modeled on Kubota's 1.8-1.9 t class U17 mini and shown for the first time anywhere in the world - still had no launch date and was being shown to get feedback from dealers and customers.

Kubota has chosen a different charging-running configuration for its machine, with a duty cycle on battery power of around three hours on a single charge, but capable of quick recharging, for example over a lunch-break.

"Some machines can work on battery for six hours, but you need to charge them overnight", he says, "Our idea is for a quick recharge. Now we want to know what our customers think; how they would use it, what kinds of jobs - that's why we are showing it."

The excavator was developed in Japan by Kubota in cooperation with a battery specialist whose identity Kubota is not revealing.

The third electric mini on show at Intermat was from Chinese manufacturer Sany, which showcased a prototype 1.6 t mini - one of two electric minis it is developing for Europe, the second being a 7.5 t model.

The zero emission machines are powered by batteries that can run for four to five hours, with the smaller model equipped with a 10 kW motor as against the 30 kW motor on the 7.5 tonner.

The company claims that its electric models will not carry a price premium. "Sany's newly developed electrical mini excavator is not only low noise and zero emission, but it also reduces the production cost by over 15% compared with the traditional hydraulic excavators," the company said.

The big European suppliers are watching all this with great interest, although have yet to show their hands. Tim Burnhope, JCB's chief innovation officer, speaking at Intermat, said the company didn't have anything on show "but we continue to look at things very closely."

Joep van den Maagdeberg, Hitachi's sales manager for mini excavators in Europe, reminds IRN that Hitachi showed a 7 t electric excavator at Bauma two years ago, although that was a Japanese model with no European launch plans. He says Hitachi has no time scale for an electric mini but confirms that Hitachi is looking at the technology.

Bobcat is another big name looking at electric and hybrid models. Tom Raes, Bobcat's business unit director for mini excavators in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says Bobcat is "studying the technology - the difference is that we don't show it at exhibitions."

He says there are still questions about the commercial viability of the new electric and hybrid technologies when applied to mini excavators; "nobody has a clear visibility on it yet...rental company interest has been piqued by the idea, but there is still a lot of questions around the mass utilisation of that technology."

His colleague, Kevin Zimmer, Bobcat's regional director for the UK and Ireland, points out that you have to have a solution that will operate in a wide range of sectors - housebuilding, utilities, rental - for a mass market machine.

Mr Raes says Bobcat's solution will be a global one, which means technology for the main sizes in each of the main market areas - 3 t for the US, 1.5 t for Europe and 5.5 t for Asia.

So don't let a visit to Intermat fool you into thinking that it's just Kubota, Takeuchi and Sany who are forging ahead in electric mini technology. Their competitors are busy doing their homework as well - charging their batteries, you might say.


Bobcat celebrates 25 years

Bobcat, this year celebrating its 25th year of manufacturing compact excavators, is entering the final straight in a seven year project that has seen it completely renew its compact excavator range between 1.5 and 8 t.

The 1.74 t E16 model is the latest to get an overhaul, and next up will be a new size to fill a gap between the E16 and last year's launch, the E26. The focus on the new E16 has been on improving the styling of the machine and on the cab interior - the same controls used on the larger excavators are now in the E16, a suspension seat is available as an option, as is a radio. The dozer blade extensions also now come with rubber pads, helping prevent damage to asphalt surfaced.

Bobcat is also issuing a limited edition E16, with optional extras all standard and using the same tailgate styling as the company's famous skid steers - reminding buyers of Bobcat's skid steer lineage. "We're going to make it a very appealing price", says Tom Raes, Bobcat's mini excavator business unit director for EMEA.

Wacker's three new minis

Wacker Neuson used Intermat to introduce three new mini excavators in the 1.7 t to 2.4 t class, the ET18, ET20 and ET24.

These machines - modified versions of which will be launched by Caterpillar under the manufacturing alliance between the two - replace Wacker Neuson's 703, 2003 and 2004 models.

Among improvements to the range is a new hydraulics layout - the two valve blocks used previously have now been combined into one, which will produce a 10% increase in performance, says Adolf Pernkopf, product manager at the Linz factory in Austria where the minis are produced.

Other changes include a larger cab, with 100 mm more legroom for the operator, and an 80 mm wide door. The cabs can be entered from doors on both sides.

The equivalent Caterpillar machines have different attachment linkages at the front and do not have the double door cab or the option of fitting Wacker's VDS (Vertical Digging System). The VDS is now sold with around 70% of Wacker Neuson's mini excavators.

JCB updates and expands

JCB has added the 2.7 t, conventional tail swing 8026CTS mini excavator to its range - now sitting alongside the 8025 zero tail swing model - and also launched an updated version of its 1.5 t class 8018CTS mini.

The 8026 uses a Perkins 18 kW engine and maximum digging depth is just under 2.8 m. The 8018CTS - going into production this summer - offers 30 improvements over its predecessor, including a 52% increase in load holding capacity and an 11% increase in dig depth to 244 mm. The dump height increases by 52 mm, giving a load over height of 2.68 m.

Cat compact radius minis

Later this year Caterpillar will replace its 301.8 and 302.5 C-series minis with the new Cat 301.7D and 302.4D models, both of which will being produced by Wacker Neuson under the sub-3t manufacturing alliance between Cat and Wacker.

In its E series, meanwhile, Cat has launched five new compact-radius models in the 3.5 t to 8.2 t sizes; the 303.5E CR (pictured), 304E CR, 305E CR, 305.5E CR and 308E CR SB.

All will use new engines meeting Stage IIIA emissions regulations and add features such as the COMPASS digital control panel, more efficient auxiliary hydraulics, and redesigned control layouts.

Terex's Italian agreement

Terex Construction showed at Intermat this TC10 micro-excavator, one of the three minis it is selling through its badging deal with Italy's Sampierana, which markets its own minis under the Eurocomach brand.

George Ellis, president of Terex Construction, told IRN at Intermat that there was a real demand for these sizes of minis in North America and Europe and that "We'll go real slow to see how well they are received." The other models are the TC15 and TC19.

Yuchai choice

Chinese excavator manufacturer Yuchai says it expects to sell between 500 and 600 machines, mainly mini excavators, in Europe this year, an increase of 30% on 2011, writes Helen Wright.

"First quarter sales have been good, particularly in Germany, France, Norway and Sweden", said Yuchai international trade department manager Li Jiangfan, speaking at Intermat.

Yuchai was represented at Intermat by its distributor, Eurotek Distribution, and showcased three new mini excavators in the 0.8 t to 2.5 t sizes.

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