Mike Anderson’s American Iron

Mike Anderson Untitled 1Good Show! That’s A Start

By Mike Anderson

These words, at least those at the beginning of this column, are being spit out en route to the much-anticipated CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011 extravaganza. Killing time between the crackers and ginger ale on yet another thrilling Southwest Airlines flight? Sure.

But there’s a little more to it than that.

For the first time in a couple of years, optimism for the construction equipment industry seems a little more than the wishful thinking of a heavyweight business trying to use the ring’s ropes to not just hold itself up. Rather, with a little luck, those ropes may just be ready to catapult this business back to the top of the heap. The ol’ “if we can only just get to CONEXPO” refrain isn’t so much a fantasy at the moment; it’s yesterday’s song. Showtime is upon us. The lights come up in a mere few hours.

A down market, optimistic equipment manufacturers will tell you, has provided a couple of prime years for research and development – the result being new products that will make your work the best, easiest and most cost-efficient it’s ever been. And at this particular moment, a few hours before the gates kick open at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the newest, greatest and shiniest gear is . . . well . . . at its finest moment.

A few years from now, how will we look back at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011? Heck, how about a few days from now? We could pretend to know. Failing that, I just want to hang onto the feeling of where we are right this moment. Hence, these first few words.

As for what’s to come? We’ll just have to see . . .

Well, here we are, in the afterglow of what may not have been the greatest CONEXPO-CON/AGG yet, but a very good one nonetheless.

The wishful thinking did indeed become reality. The show attracted nearly 120,000 registered attendees, a record 24 percent of whom came from outside the United States to take in the more than 2,000 exhibits. Most importantly, veteran and new exhibitors alike conveyed repeatedly onsite that they were being visited in their booths by decision-makers. In other words, those 120,000 attendees included the men and women who ultimately will buy the equipment and services needed to run this industry. It’s not the good ol’ days – maybe never will be again – so those company owners and equipment managers probably didn’t have as many guys from the crew in tow for a little Vegas vacation. Anecdotal evidence supports such, meaning the 120,000 total could be just about as solid as the 145,000 or so reported for CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2008 – proclaimed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Of course, it’s too early to tell if the climb back is hitting a high gear. Six months from now, we may have a clue. A year from now, let’s really talk. But, in the meantime, the buzz is good . . . and that’s a start.

Last month, we were pondering the shifting sands of equipment specifications, specifically Case Construction’s new F-Series 921 wheel loader being more than one full cubic yard smaller in standard bucket capacity than the predecessor 921E. Could, we wondered after the 921F introduction at World of Concrete in Las Vegas, there be a new model coming between the new 4.75-cubic-yard 921F and the top of the line’s 6.3-cubic-yard 1221E model? Well, sure enough, among the new product intros at CONEXPO-CON/AGG were the 5.5-cubic-yard 1021F and 6.25-cubic-yard 1121F.

Sticking with the Vegas theme, any bets on the capacity of the 1221F when it comes out?