Chinese off-highway major LiuGong had a strong presence at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023, with trade media at the manufacturer's well-attended press conference hearing about a strong growth strategy reaping dividends in North America and beyond. Guy Woodford reports
Zeng Guang'an, LiuGong chairman & CEO, and Andrew Ryan, president of LiuGong North America, were not short of things to highlight after welcoming those gathered for the LiuGong press conference at CONEXPO/CON-AGG 2023 (14-18 March). But the pair did not need to open their mouths for their audience to realise there was a lot of ground to cover. Anyone visiting LiuGong's Festival Grounds stand at the Las Vegas Convention Center will have seen the company's impressive 19-machine line-up, including eight new products and two new battery electric vehicles.
One of LiuGong's battery-electric vehicles, the mid-sized 856H-E MAX wheeled loader, was among the machine highlights. The 856H-E MAX can enhance job sites where traditional combustion engines aren't allowed or fixed-site operations where investments in charging infrastructure make sense.
The 856H-E MAX has already proven its reliability in the field, with more than 2,000 electric wheeled loaders operating in the world's toughest conditions as of October 2022, and exponential growth is expected.
LiuGong debuted two new quarrying application-suited large-size excavators at the exhibition. The 36-ton class 936F excavator is a step above medium-size excavators, while the 95-ton class 995F excavator will become the largest in the LiuGong excavator portfolio.
LiuGong, whose North American subsidiary is headquartered in Katy, Texas, also featured at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 its HV Series wheeled loaders (838HV, 856HV, 890HV). The HV Series of products have progressed to Stage V emissions standards and include updated transmission and hydraulic systems.
"While we have 19 pieces of LiuGong equipment on our stand, it is only a fraction of our global product line. We manufacture over 300 products and actively market about half that product line in Mexico and around 30% in the US and Canada. We expand that product line yearly as we invest more in research and development to update those products with emissions-compliant engines, enabling us to sell them into our [North America] markets," said Andrew Ryan during LiuGong North America's exhibition press conference.
The last two years for LiuGong have seen records in profit, revenue and growth. While other manufacturers scaled back production, LiuGong has increased its production and inventory, making it, the company claims, the world's largest single producer of wheeled loaders.
LiuGong ranks as the world's 15th-largest construction equipment manufacturer. In 2020, the Liuzhou-headquartered company achieved US$4.046bn in sales revenue, selling more than 75,589 units with 37.1% year-over-year growth.
Renowned globally for its wheeled loader design and production, since 1958 LiuGong has produced more than 420,000 of the machines. As well as wheeled loaders, Liugong manufactures excavators, forklifts, Dressta dozers, pipe layers, motor graders, rollers, pavers, cold planers, skid steer loaders, backhoe loaders, aerial working platforms, truck cranes, lorry-mounted cranes, off-highway trucks, rotary drilling rigs, hydraulic diaphragm wall grabs, hydraulic diaphragm wall drilling rigs, trench cutters and hydraulic cutting and mixing rigs.
"Regarding our forklift product business, it will represent nearly 50% of our US and Canada revenue in 2023," said Ryan. "That business has grown rapidly with the help of some very good dealer partners.
"The 856H-E MAX wheeled loader is the world's first commercially available, battery-electric mid-sized wheeled loader. We've made the first sale of it in North America and will be handing over the keys [during the exhibition] to the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.
"These are readily available machines rather than science projects. We can have these machines on a customer site and operational within 90 days."
LiuGong employs approximately 10,000 people, with over 1,000 engineers working in five world-class research and development facilities. In 2019, LiuGong invested over $65mn into its R&D programme.
In the coming years, LiuGong expects to add to its current line-up of strategically placed regional offices in the United States, South Africa, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Russia, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the UK.
As well as its US parts distribution centre, LiuGong has overseas parts distribution centres in Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, India, the Middle East, South Africa, Moscow and Chita of Russia, Singapore, Poland and the UK.
A rapidly growing network of more than 300 dealers across six continents in over 100 countries supports LiuGong's global product lines.
Ryan said one of LiuGong North America's big CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 goals was to engage with its dealers and new dealer candidates. "We've significantly expanded our North American construction dealer network. In the last 12 months, we've nearly doubled our footprint, securing some great partners in the US and Canada. I mentioned our great forklift business, and we've added 15 forklift dealers in the US, and another 15 are being appointed to fill out our distribution footprint.
"We want to continue to help our North American customers become acquainted with the LiuGong brand and its meaning. There has long been an association with Chinese products being inexpensive. There might also be a perception of low quality. I am proud to say that we have very competitive prices and we have nothing to apologise for on quality. These are top-notch, excellently engineered machines with world-class components that deliver great on-site performance.
"Our plans for North America are to continue to grow. In broad terms, our North American business grew by around 90% between 2020 and 2021 and by around 75% between 2021 and 2022. We also expect to grow by more than 50% this year."
As Ryan's press conference comments indicated, LiuGong places intense emphasis on quality, demonstrated by a commitment to Six Sigma methodology and compliance with ISO 9000 standards. As a result, after a rigorous review, LiuGong was awarded China's National Quality Award in 2008 and again in 2014.
Responding to a press conference Q&A question about LiuGong's partnerships with leading global machine telematics providers, Ryan said: "In the North American market, we have two different solutions on telematics: our homemade iLink for customers in Mexico and Central America comes offers all the basic telemetry functions like operating hours, fault codes, and monitoring fuel burn. In the US, we partner with Topcon. We made a breakthrough with them in integrating all Cummins engine data into the Topcon database. This lets us share complete information about their machines with customers to help guide their fleet planning and maintenance."
Acquired by LiuGong in 2012, Dressta has a rich heritage of more than 80 years as a global manufacturer of heavy construction equipment and seeks to redefine crawler dozer productivity and durability with a customer-focused approach to design and manufacturing.
The company's global headquarters are based in Stalowa Wola, Poland, with seven global offices and parts distribution centres, a growing network of more than 70 dealers in 60 countries, and regional offices in the USA, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Russia and Singapore.
As one of only five dozer manufacturers in North America, Dressta places significant focus on this category of the heavy equipment space. Great emphasis is placed on maximising operator comfort, optimising owner costs and providing unrivalled technical support while reducing inspection time.
Dressta offers crawler dozers that range from 190 to 575 horsepower (hp). The company can configure its products to provide excellent performance in various applications.
In 2023, Dressta is launching two new crawler dozers to the North American market, the TD-15M and TD-25M. Built for mid-size and heavy-size classes, the duo offers operator cab enhancements and a mix of versatility and power that follow Dressta's tried-and-true, rugged and reliable mantra.
Ryan commented on Dressta's telematics and machine control offer: "We will integrate Leica's machine control and guidance plate control technology into our Dressta products, ready for installation when they leave the factory. We are also brand agnostic on retrofitter aftermarket machine control solutions. We can work with Topcon, Leica, Trimble and others."
Guang'an highlighted the efficiency gains telematics solutions could deliver for the company's quarrying customers. "We run these solutions in a quarry with a fleet of 30 to 35 machines. We connect all the machines, and the quarry's operating efficiency improves by 30% in the first year. In the second year, it improves by 40%. Just think how much this will reduce our quarry customers' operating costs. This new technology can also improve quarry site safety by identifying and acting on operators with bad habits."
Commenting on LiuGong's plans to develop its battery electric product lines in North America and beyond, Ryan said: "We are proud to be out in front on this [with the 856H-E MAX], but we have a whole range of wheeled loaders that need to undergo electrification. Our view is that there will be more than one technology. We focus on battery electric if the available technology can power that equipment size. After that, we look at more hybrid solutions. Under the chairman's leadership, every LiuGong product line must create electrified options. We have pilot lithium-ion battery skid steer loaders and a 20-ton lithium-ion battery excavator on test with a European customer. We will be ready to scale up production on those machines before long. I expect any of our excavators from 1.8-20 tons to have an electric option in time."
Guang'an added: "When you use a battery electric machine, it is zero emission, and the noise level is 30% lower [than a diesel-hydraulic machine]. This bothers people in a city, for example, far less.
"Also, if the battery electric machine works two or three shifts daily, you get a far bigger cost saving. In China, the average saving from these machines is 60 to 70% as electricity is very cheap. You don't have trouble with the engine and need so much weekly or monthly machine maintenance. You also get, on average, more than 10% more productivity."
Ryan said that LiuGong North America had not, unlike many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), suffered from significant supply chain disruption in the last couple of years. "We are joint venture partners with Cummins in China, and our very close relationship helps us supply customers. Similarly, we have a joint venture manufacturing arrangement with ZF on transmissions. We have partnered with them in research and development on axles and driveline components. Our ability to leverage our strategic partnerships and China-based supply chain throughout those [market] constraints put us in a good position to respond when dealers came calling in 2021 and 2022 and so far in 2023. The reality is that customers have good experiences with our products, and dealers are making good money selling them. We are seeing customers from 12-18 months ago returning for repeat purchases and buying in more quantity."