20 March 2008

Richard Pedtke and Scott Nelson, Bobcat's global and European presidents respectively

Richard Pedtke and Scott Nelson, Bobcat's global and European presidents respectively

Bobcat Is Arguably The Strongest Brand in the compact equipment world. It has an instant association with skid steer loaders in the same way that many would refer to a backhoe loader as “a JCB” or a crawler dozer as “a Cat.”

Part of Ingersoll Rand's Compact Vehicle Technologies subsidiary, which also includes the Club Car 4 x 4 utility vehicles, Bobcat's pre-eminent position in the global market is largely thanks to its dominance in skid steer loaders. The global market for these machines is about 72000 units per year, but 80% of these are sold in North America.

Little wonder then that Bobcat is perceived as being somewhat US-centric. This is despite building European-style telescopic handlers, following the acquisition of French manufacturer Sambron in 2000.

But the fact remains that the loaders and excavators the company sells in Europe are manufactured in the US. As well as the time and expense involved in shipping, this inevitably makes it difficult to incorporate some of the features European customers would like to see on machines.

But according to Scott Nelson, president for the Compact Vehicle Technologies division in Europe, that will change shortly. “We're putting about US$ 28 million (€ 21 million) into a new facility in Dobris just outside Prague, to help us get to a goal of producing 80% of the products we sell in Europe here in the region, rather than exporting from North Dakota.

“Why are we doing that? For design reasons first – to design products for the region. We have examples of products that are just really European. That's new for us, even though we've been in business for 50 years we're now putting a lot more emphasis on the European market.”

His sentiments are echoed by Compact Vehicles Technologies global president, Richard Pedtke. “Business has been very good for us here in Europe, and we're projecting that to continue. We're also taking a lot of measures to globalise our business through regionalisation.

“While Bobcat is the global leader in compact equipment, we have been very much a North American organisation. We have had a lot of success in the US, but if we had the same sort of market share around the world as we do in the US we'd be about US$ 1 billion larger in size,” he said.

European Spec

Bobcat is clearly ambitious about capturing more of the European market, but its plans should also mean customers in the region are better served. For one thing, delivery times should get shorter, as Mr Pedtke explained, “Lead times were a huge, huge challenge for us in 2003, 2004 and 2005. We're now in pretty good shape and I think we've improved quite a bit. The area that will take a lot out here in Europe is that we currently have at least 20 days on the water shipping machines over from the US.

“When we can ship straight out of the Dobris factory we will eliminate three to four weeks of lead time. Typically we'd want to deliver within three to four weeks to our customers.”

Besides this improvement in service, there are plans afoot to use the design and engineering capability that the new factory will bring to produce more of the kind of machines that are popular in Europe, but less so in the US.

“We need to focus on the 2,5 tonne and smaller excavator classes. On the loader side we're focussing on the smaller side as well, and both of those will be produced in the Czech Republic. We will also focus on things like tracked loaders in a size class that makes sense for our customers here. In telehandlers we want to get out of just pick and place machines and get into tool carriers,” said Mr Nelson.

“If we had the same sort of market share around the world as we do in the US we'd be about US$ 1 billion larger” Richard Pedtke, Compact Vehicles Technologies global president.

But more than just this excavator, or that loader, Mr Nelson has a real sense of having his eye on the end-uses for machines. “Across all of these the real value for customers is in the attachments,” he said. “We have 385 attachments in our range – no one has more than us. What we want to do is take those tools and make sure they're specific to what the European customer wants, and get them to him quickly, on whatever tool carrier platform he wants. If you focus on the solution – which is the attachment – that's where a lot of our development work is.”

Summer Opening

The Dobris factory is scheduled to start producing machines later this year, and there is a palpable sense of excitement about what it means for the company. “Let me tell you, when we open up in June, we will have the most advanced compact equipment manufacturing facility anywhere in the world here in Dobris.

“This facility will be unbelievable. We've got state of the art equipment in there. We got every lean, 6 Sigma expert in Ingersoll Rand there to help with the layout of the factory to make sure there's no waste, and the flow of materials is correct. We're really excited about the doors that will open for us,” said Mr Pedtke.

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