Hitachi to celebrate new beginnings at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023
By Jenny LescohierJanuary 11, 2023
CONEXPO-CON/AGG is just two months away, and at Hitachi Construction Machinery Americas (HCMA), anticipation is building for what the company sees as its coming out party. When the show takes place, March 14-18 in Las Vegas, it will be exactly one year since Hitachi parted ways with John Deere to stake its own claim on the North American market.
To find out what HCMA has in store for show attendees, and specifically its customers, at the show and beyond, we talked with CEO Al Quinn, and Rob Orlowski, director, product management & engineering, sales. Their excitement was contagious.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Start by telling us what brought HCMA to where it is today, and what’s happened since the company’s first product announcement last May?
Al Quinn, CEO of HCMA: A lot of our customers have a history with Hitachi products going back for generations. Back in the early 2000s, Hitachi made the decision to partner with Deere to expand the penetration of Hitachi products in North America. At the time, a lot of that penetration was through the Deere brand, but as time went by, Hitachi got a sense that we were losing some of our connection with our customers.
Everywhere else in the world, Hitachi has been a dominant brand, especially in the excavator market, but we were losing some of that visibility and connection with our
customers in North America. That drove the desire to move away from the partnership with Deere and reestablish that direct connection with our customers.
The customer reaction has far exceeded anything I could have expected. People recognize the Hitachi heritage on excavators - the focus on performance and reliability - and the interest has just been unbelievable.
That carried through to distribution. Once the announcement was made that Hitachi and Deere were ending their partnership, we started getting calls from national rental companies and dealer groups. We were thrilled with the quality of the dealer groups that reached out to us in terms of their financial capabilities, operational capabilities, and their interest and commitment to the equipment market.
In the last nine months we’ve added about 21 dealer groups, providing full coverage for excavators and loaders, and there are more still in the pipeline.
We intentionally took the distribution roll out slow. We didn’t have as much product as we wanted, so we made a commitment to the first dealer groups to make sure they get everything they need. We will not add new dealer groups until we have enough supply to make sure we can make the same commitment to them.
Our supply is growing very quickly now, and there will be some impressive newcomers coming to Hitachi distribution in the future.
Also, we’ve added about 140 people in the last year during a time when it was very hard to hire people. We had over 10,000 applicants. We’re like a North American startup with a global brand. People could see the opportunity to come in and be on the ground floor of building something that has the potential to be really special.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Can you expand on what gives HCMA its ‘secret sauce,’ if you will? What is so attractive to the people who want to work for the company and to the customers?
Quinn: The foundation is the focus on excavators first, and doing everything possible to make that machine perform the best it can in the most reliable way. It sounds so simple and basic, and it really is. It’s part of our Japanese culture, that emphasis on focus and fine tuning; listening to the customer and finding the ways to give them what they really need.
You won’t see a lot of ‘trendy’ innovations. We’re focused on doing the basics better than anybody else, and that’s really what you’re seeing in our products today.
Rob Orlowski, director, product management & engineering, sales, HCMA: I’ll second that. In my career I’ve gone against Hitachi in competitive testing and I knew
it was a great product. But from my point of view, it goes beyond that. We’re really like a startup, but also like a think tank in the way we attack a problem. We’re just starting out, and that’s given us the discipline to really get to know our customers and dealers on a very personal level. We need to because we’re growing this together. It’s a no ‘BS’ approach. We look for problems and we ask for criticism. We want to know how we can improve.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: It sounds like a mashup of Japanese and American culture – that American ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ kind of feel, but with the intense dedication to details the Japanese bring. Is that an accurate characterization?
Quinn: I’d say it’s very true. The Japanese are not here to tell us how to run this market. When I joined the company in 2017, I found out very quickly that our Japanese leadership wanted to learn the American way of doing business, but that doesn’t mean we do everything the American way.
There is a mutual respect. They want to learn and understand the way we do things, and we’re doing the same with the initiatives they have. We’re getting the best of both worlds.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: I sense a lot of excitement and I expect that will spill over to your CONEXPO-CON/AGG presence. What can attendees expect to see from you in Las Vegas?
Quinn: It’s a big show for us. This is our coming out party, and the products we’re selling today are a step up from what we were selling through the Deere partnership. What you’ll see at CONEXPO-CON/AGG is the next generation. We’ve been doing a lot of work on enhancing the core capabilities of the machines.
We’re going to show you the next generation of the things that have made Hitachi so great so far. No radical innovations, just significant, incremental improvements.
Orlowski: That’s absolutely correct. For example, we have the TRIAS III pump, which is a three-pump hydraulic system that allows us to direct oil flow to the best place. Without getting too technical, it’s about maximizing the efficiency of the machine and having a better use of power. That’s good for fuel efficiency, but it’s performance efficiency across the board. That’s what we’re aiming for with our product - maximizing the efficiency so you get more for less.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: You introduced three new products last spring and suggested there are more coming. Will there be new products at the show?
Orlowski: We’re coming out with a new generation of excavators and wheel loaders. It’s not an expansion of the product line, it’s an enhancement of the existing line. We’re taking the base product and continuing to make it better.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: There have been a lot of technological advancements in equipment over the past couple of years. What can attendees expect to see from Hitachi on that score? Where does Hitachi stand on electric machines, for example?
Quinn: We have electric excavators selling today in Europe and in Japan. We also have hydrogen, and we’re working on other innovations. I think the difference for us is that we’re trying to develop technologies based on customers’ needs rather than getting too far ahead of them.
For example, we have customers on the mining side that are demanding electrical drives. And we’re providing that; we’re ahead of the market in terms of using the electric drives on the big machines. That’s customer driven.
On the small machines, it still feels to us like that trend is manufacturer driven; the customers are not pulling for electric. We have the technology and the ability to do it, and we’ll move with the market. But we’re putting our primary focus on our core.
Telematics and information sharing continues to be really key, and there are some great innovations there.
Orlowski: Often what telematics are used for in our industry is telling you once a fault code trips that there’s a problem with the machine. We have what we call ConSite, which actively checks the engine oil and hydraulic oil quality and a lot of different parameters so you can see a problem before it’s even a fault code, which increases customer uptime.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: If there was one feeling or message that you would hope your customers leave the Hitachi booth with after the show, what would it be?
Quinn: We’re going to listen to you and we’re going to help our machines do a better job meeting your needs.
Orlowski: You’re not going to get a hard sell when you walk into our booth. We want to know where you’re at and what problems you have. And we want to understand your business better and listen to you first. The feeling in our booth will be people focused. Of course, we’re talking about a product, but the focus will be on listening so we can build Hitachi together.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Looking into the future - post show, maybe a couple of years down the line - what are the goals for the future of HCMA?
Quinn: We expect to get Hitachi to the same position in North America that it is everywhere else in the world. Hitachi is the number one supplier of excavators worldwide. We’ve just got to make sure we get distribution that can provide the kind of support our customers need, and we’re well on the way to doing that already.
One thing I would add is we’re not active on the construction side in South America at this time, and that will be coming over the next couple of years.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Is there anything else you would like our audience to know about what they can expect from Hitachi?
Quinn: Hitachi is happy and proud to be back, representing our machines directly to the customer. It’s exciting for us to be so directly close to our customers again.