As Kubota recently achieved the landmark sale of its 50,000th unit in the British and Irish market, Construction Plant News looks back at the significant milestones for one of the pioneers of the mini excavator concept in the UK
It would be fair to say that, with no comparable product like it on the market, in its early years there was some serious scepticism directed at the mini excavator. In fact, with the industry questioning the value the machines could add to building projects, just 41 Kubota minis were sold in 1979, with one of the first being the classic KH10 model, a unit that can still be found working 37 years later.
Fast forward thirty seven years and these small wonders have established themselves as an integral feature of the construction sector, with their ease of operation, compact dimensions and relatively low cost supplanting the likes of the backhoe loader as industry favourites.
After 41 Kubota machines were sold in year one (1979), it took five years for the manufacturer to reach 1,000 machines in 1984. By 1988, yearly sales had increased to 1,000 per annum and by 1998, approximately 20 years since the concept was first introduced, 10,000 machines had been sold within the British and Irish market. This exponential trend continued into the new millennium, with 25,000 mini-excavators sold by 2006.
In the last 10 years, the Japanese manufacturer reports that growth has been phenomenal, with the 50,000 landmark achieved following a stellar 2015 for the firm. In addition, whilst the brand is widely known for its mini-excavators, Kubota has also expanded its product offering with the launch of new ranges of wheeled loaders and tracked carriers.
To commemorate its achievement, the business will be exhibiting its original KH10 model at Hillhead, where it will be positioned next to a ‘special edition’ gold painted KX-71 machine, considered to be a modern day equivalent in terms of size and power to the KH10.
Kubota will then donate the ‘gold-digger’ to the Lighthouse Club, who will be auctioning it off at its prestigious summer ball, with all money donated going to the construction industry charity.
Hawes Plant Tool Hire
Back in the late ‘70s, Kubota was little known in the UK construction market, yet Roy Hawes, Managing Director of Hawes Plant & Tool Hire, was one of the early adopters of the Kubota mini-excavator in the UK; the first in the South-East to own a Kubota KH10.
Now in his 70s and still with a hunger for the industry, Roy recalls vividly his early memories of the machines: “I remember receiving a small bright orange leaflet in the post with ‘Kubota’ emblazoned on it.
It was my wife (who established the company with Roy in the mid ‘70s) who suggested we enquire about the machine as I had a few hand digging jobs on the go and needed a machine that would speed up operations.”
Roy took the plunge and purchased the new mini-excavator, through F Clarke & Sons, which was the only UK dealer at the time. Roy acquired a new KH10, together with three buckets, which marked the beginning of what would go on to be a long and enjoyable working relationship with the company.
“I completed the factory job in record time and was amazed with how well the Kubota performed. I knew straight away that there would be a market for these mini-excavators, despite what others were telling me that the compact machines were not able to operate in the toughest of conditions or be effective within larger projects.”
The orders started rolling in for Roy and his fledging team thereafter, but it was following a visit to a recently bankrupt demolition company in Swansea where the success of the mini-excavator really kicked into gear.
“I’d heard that a hydraulic breaker was up for grabs. When we tested it with the KH10 we were blown away. Small, compact jobs, which would usually have taken weeks by hand, were now being finished in record time. Since then, I’ve not looked back, buying only Kubota mini-excavators for over three decades.”
Young Plant Equipment Sales
Long standing Scottish Kubota dealer, Young Plant & Equipment Sales, was quick to recognise the business potential
of the then new mini-excavators. In 1979 it was the second dealer in the UK to stock Kubota’s first model, the KH10D.
Business founder, the late Tom Young, was one of just a handful in the industry professionals who identified the potential of the mini-excavator. However, it wasn’t easy at first, in fact the construction sector at large needed convincing, meaning it was an uphill struggle for Young Plant to get the message across.
At the beginning, the only way to convince users was to offer free demonstrations and trials. Young Plant also acted as a plant hire company for the Japanese manufacturer in the time before bespoke hire specialists became aware of the high productivity levels mini-excavators can achieve.
“Back in the early days there was no bulk buying, we were selling Kubotas one-by-one – we had a demonstration model and one to sell,” explains Brian Young, Managing Director of Young Plant.
In the 37 years selling Kubotas, Young Plant has seen over 6,000 machines leave its forecourt and has continued to enjoy sustained growth, regularly seeing a 10-15 per cent increase in sales year-on-year.
“The Kubota product is remarkably reliable. When machines leave the forecourt we never see them again; there’s very rarely issues with servicing or maintenance and the introduction of its new larger range, the eight tonne KX080-4, for example, continues to be popular across the hire sector, alongside all other weight categories.”