Backhoe loaders, once the victims of cannibalization from compact excavators and skid steers or compact track loaders—and perhaps thought to be relegated to being a niche machine for municipalities and public utilities—are making a comeback with contractors.
Reports of their marginalization are premature, according to Dennis Tovar, a 40-year sales veteran of McCann Industries, a Case Construction Equipment dealer based in Bolingbrook, Illinois. It’s safe to say that he’s seen a cycle, or 10, during his career.
“Going back the last five to 10 years, probably longer than that, loader backhoe sales really diminished because of the advent of mini and midi excavators—midi being the 18,000- to 20,000-pound category,” Tovar says. “Contractors initially would say ‘I can send a skid steer or a tracked machine out with a mini or midi on one trailer and get the work done.’
“As time has gone on, what’s happened is there was a resurgence, a realization of what a loader backhoe could do,” Tovar says. “You can drive it across town. You don’t always have to put it on a trailer. You can dig a trench, lay the pipe, backfill it with the loader bucket, and you can load out a dump truck with it, so it’s like a Swiss Army Knife. That’s how the resurgence, or rediscovery, of the loader backhoe has come.”
When sales were down, Tovar says the backhoe banner was kept flying not only by municipalities, but also by major underground, mechanical, and utility contractors. “It was people who were doing major pipeline and gas contracts, and major electrical installs along the roads, because they can run up and down the roads with pipes strewn across the loader frame,” Tovar says.
According to Tovar, Case is the only backhoe loader manufacturer that allows a user to strap down five to 8 pipes across the loader frame and travel down the road.
Benefits of backhoe loaders
For the category, there are still the classic labor and cost efficiencies. One operator and one machine, for example. And if that operator has a CDL, they can also bring the backhoe in on a trailer.
“People are rediscovering the loader backhoe for its efficiencies and utilization of what it can truly do,” Tovar says. “A lot of that has to do with all you need to do is get them to a job site area, and start four or five crews going in any different direction with them, and you’re not talking about having two machines. Just one.”
He doesn’t think the recent resurgence is going to go away; rather it will have a peak and level out a bit.
“At one point in time in this industry, people were really kind of exalting the doom and gloom of the loader backhoe, that it’s going to go away and never come back,” Tovar says. “And what the utilization is actually proving out is that it’s not going to go away. It’s not going to be the doom and gloom, and I think it’s really out of economics.”
He also says that this older machine form will benefit from new technology. [See the nearby sidebar.]
“Trust me, the loader backhoe will enjoy the development of today’s technologies; Case has introduced an all-electric one,” Tovar says. “Given California recently saying they don’t want anybody to have gasoline or diesel vehicles, if all you did was sell loader backhoes to California at some point in time in the future, then case has that market—that would drive that market in an unbelievable way.
Read more: Backhoe Loaders Make a Comeback