From backwaters to bustling cities: India's mini excavator boom reshapes landscape

Sales of mini excavators in India witnessed a substantial 24% jump in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

By Shahkar Abidi calendar 20 Feb 2024 Views icon7354 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
From backwaters to bustling cities: India's mini excavator boom reshapes landscape

At one point of time these machines were reserved for excavation work in the backwaters of Kerala. India's pint-sized excavators are now clawing their way into construction sites across the country. These nimble hardworking machines, enjoying a staggering 60-70% of demand solely from the southern state, are finding their sweet spot in the tight confines of bustling cities and hilly terrains, where their larger brethren stumble.

Forget bulldozing through narrow lanes; these compact champions can weave through intricate alleyways, delicately sculpting new infrastructure or tackling renovation projects. Their light footprint makes them ideal allies for tricky mountain roads, where larger machines risk tumbling off the edge.
Abhijit Shinde, Associate VP-Head Sales at Escorts Kubota Ltd, informed Autocar Professional that the mini excavators are touching new heights primarily because of the continuing expansion of urban areas and cities where bigger machines cannot operate. "The noise levels and other issues, apart from manoeuvrability, remain a concern," Shinde explained while picturing the example of bungalow under construction, wherein there is a requirement for digging but the place around is too small to operate for larger machines like a backhoe loader or a bigger excavator. Now these multitasking mini excavators are used on multiple applications in busy urban areas.

Offering perspective on the demand spread, Shinde highlights that Kerala continues to be the biggest market for mini excavators, commanding more than 50% of total volume sales in the country.

In fact, Kerala's market share was even higher a few years ago, at close to a whopping 60-70%. Even though the percentage share has gone down, it has been compensated by increasing volumes, he pointed out. "So, in other areas of the country, like the North or Northeast, where earlier it was almost nil,. So, there is also a consistent demand and requirement from there," Shinde explained.

In the world of construction, mini excavators have become a popular choice in several parts of the world, including Europe, China, and other geographies. These compact hydraulic machines possess a maximum operating capacity of six tonnes and have the ability to rotate a full 360 degrees. 

In 2023, Off-Highway Research, a research firm, recently released a report on the mini excavator industry. The report said that sales of these compact excavators surpassed a remarkable 2,700 units last year. Although this figure may appear modest for a country that holds a prominent position among the top five global equipment markets, it is worth highlighting that mini excavators were virtually non-existent in India until about a decade and a half ago. 

According to Off-Highway Research's data, sales of mini excavators in India have experienced growth in four out of the last five years, with only a slight decline in 2020 due to Covid. In 2018, these sales surged by an impressive 29% compared to the previous year, reaching a total of 1,322 units. By 2022, this figure had more than doubled, soaring to an astounding 2,736 units, as reported by Construction Briefing, citing off-highway research. This surge in popularity shows no signs of abating, as sales witnessed a substantial 24% jump in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

Shalabh Chaturvedi, Managing Director, CASE Construction Equipment, India & SAARC, emphasised that mini excavators are an upcoming and large segment globally. "In India, it is an upcoming market that has started proliferating beyond the state of Kerala, where most were previously sold," he said on the sidelines of an industry event, while adding that the mini excavators are now finding applications in urban municipal areas across India due to their versatility and suitability for use in hilly terrain and narrow roads.

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