Should you buy a new backhoe now or wait for the Tier 4 debate to subside?

The 2013 Equipment World Spec Guide had 10 new models of backhoes in the 14-foot and greater categories. This year, there’s only one new model. Since Tier 4 Final is set to come into effect next January 1 for most engines used in this backhoe size class, we wondered what manufacturers have done in addition to meeting these emissions regs. Is there a compelling reason for customers to invest in current models?

In response, all OEMs say they’ve gone way beyond the Tier 4 upgrade, making significant improvements to their large backhoes. Katie Pullen, brand marketing manager at Case Construction Equipment, summed it up by saying, “It’s actually a very exciting time in backhoe loader development. The market has remained strong as manufacturers have really stepped up their game in the last few years in terms of added features, capabilities and efficiency.” Much of what’s new relies on maturing electronics and advanced hydraulics. One example is a system to damp rocking-horse oscillations during lift and carry, increasing operator comfort and decreasing bucket spillage. Other examples include auto idle, auto shutdown, and multiple user-selectable work modes. Once offered only in larger machines, these features have come down to smaller models of all types of equipment. The net effect for customers is improved productivity and lowered costs. Reduced fuel consumption makes a big contribution to that cost reduction. 

Understanding lower fuel costs

Features such as auto idle and auto shutdown can make a big difference in fuel consumption, but if your operators already use fuel-conserving practices—by minimizing idling time, for example—the impact of these features will be reduced. Work modes also help reduce fuel costs and it’s hard for even a good operator to replicate the effect of work modes through careful operating practices.

Some manufacturers’ comparisons of fuel consumption are overall numbers of a new machine compared to its predecessor. Some are numbers for specific applications or may be comparisons to competitors’ machines. There is no construction equivalent to the EPA’s test cycle for determining mileage in passenger vehicles, so it’s up to customers to understand the numbers offered by OEMs. It’s not that manufacturers are being deceptive, but in the absence of standardized reporting they’re free to present numbers as they wish. JCB is among the companies offering big-picture fuel numbers for all the models it makes, including backhoes. “By early next year we will have saved our customers a staggering 264 million gallons of fuel,” says Tim Burnhope, JCB’s chief innovation and growth officer.  “The machines that we sell in 2014 alone will help our customers to save 80 million gallons in their first year of use, when compared to the machines that we were selling in 2010.” JCB’s 3CX backhoe loader from 2010 consumed about 2.3 gallons per hour. In current 3CX ECO models, the number is about 1.6 gph. Part of the improvement comes from JCB’s Ecomax engines, which have been optimized for Tier 4 Final. Part of it comes from electronic control systems. EcoDig harmonizes output from three hydraulic pumps to maintain performance even at lower engine speeds, delivering up to 15 percent fuel savings. The TorqueLock feature of the EcoRoad mode provides a 25 percent fuel savings when roading in higher gears, an example of savings cited for a specific application. 

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