Equipment experts from Al-Bahar and Powerplus discuss current requirements for wheel loaders in the Middle East and how they expect regional demand to evolve during 2024.
A job site wouldn’t be complete without a wheel loader or two. For decades, these powerful machines have played an instrumental role in the delivery of large-scale projects across the world, carrying essential materials from A to B safely, quickly and efficiently.
Despite a range of supply chain-related challenges during recent years, this segment has continued to demonstrate impressive resilience and growth. According to Future Market Insights, the value of the global wheel loader market is expected to pass $19 billion within the next four years, with an anticipated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1 percent during the period 2022-28.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looks set to drive a sizeable portion of this growth thanks to a slew of ongoing construction and infrastructure developments. More than $100 billion worth of projects were awarded in the region during the first six months of last year, according to data from JLL, contributing to a pipeline whose estimated value stands in excess of $3 trillion. As nations such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt push ahead with ambitious gigaprojects over the coming years, it seems safe to say that wheel loaders will continue to be in high demand among regional contractors.
As Caterpillar’s official dealer in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, Mohamed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar (Al-Bahar) is well-versed in supplying wheel loaders that meet the exacting requirements of end users across the Gulf. Samer Ismail, the company’s Product Manager – Earthmoving and Excavation, says that regional demand for these units remains very healthy.
“Al-Bahar’s overall performance was great throughout 2023 as we continued to support our customers in acquiring the right machines at the right time,” he tells Plant & Equipment. “This resulted in massive growth in sales. Thanks to the strong pipeline of projects across the segments of construction and oil and gas, we have continued to dominate the markets in which we operate. For this reason, we are forecasting further increases in sales to customers during 2024.”
Marcus Ong, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore-headquartered equipment manufacturer Powerplus, has also enjoyed a productive 12 months.
“Our organisation performed relatively well in MENA territories in 2023,” he explains. “This region has been one of our main markets since Powerplus’ inception. Our appointment of Gargash Motor & General Trading as our exclusive distributor for the UAE and the supply of equipment to Saudi Arabia through Al-Futtaim Auto & Machinery Company (FAMCO), coupled with an ongoing boom in construction projects, has resulted in an overall improvement during the post-Covid period.
“We also appointed a new distributor in Libya, Almassar Alhadeeth for Heavy Machinery and Equipment, and our existing dealer in Algeria – with whom we have worked for the past decade – succeeded in re-obtaining its import licence after changes in government policy some two years ago,” Ong adds. “Consequently, Powerplus is now registered as two of the 24 permitted resellers of construction equipment in Algeria.”
Commenting on current requirements for wheel loaders in the Middle East, Al-Bahar’s Ismail says: “Cat wheel loaders have proven to be a huge success. They are in demand among all types of customers, including owners, fleet managers and operators. The incorporation of advanced technology, best-in-class quality and unbeatable fuel savings are helping us stay ahead of the competition. Caterpillar has developed a range of innovations for the specific purpose of saving end users time and money.”
Ong and his colleagues are witnessing significant demand for Powerplus wheel loaders as well, especially in the markets of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon and Libya. The manufacturer’s units are also active across a range of high-profile projects in the UAE, including Emaar Properties’ premium lifestyle development, Arabian Ranches III. However, he notes that the availability of Chinese machinery has led to a degree of price competitiveness within this segment.
“In order to overcome this price war with the Chinese brands, we are adding new features,” Ong explains. “These include AI capabilities, imported components such as ZF transmissions from Germany, and premium hydraulic parts from Danfoss and Permco. We also offer the option of piston pumps for our wheel loaders, differentiating us from most units produced in China, which typically feature gear pumps as their only option.
“Such improvements to our core products, including bulldozers, excavators, off-road dump trucks (rigid & articulated dump trucks) and wheel loaders, help us to stay ahead of our competitors,” he says. “We are mainly focusing on capacities suited to agricultural and construction-related applications, as the larger categories used in the mining sector are still dominated by market leaders like Komatsu,” Ong continues. “Demand for wheel loaders in the Middle East is still rather stable, but we see a trend towards larger capacities. While we offer traditional diesel-powered wheel loaders with rated capacities of up to 7.5 tons, we are also in the research and development stage of producing hybrid-powered and fully electric models. We expect our first prototypes to be ready by the midpoint of this year.”
Of course, wheel loaders are not the only option available to contractors, so what factors influence customers when it comes to their purchasing decisions?
“Cat wheel loaders are known for their versatility,” says Ismail. “You will literally find them working on every type of worksite across the Middle East, from small residential developments to large-scale projects such as airports, highways, quarries and aggregates sites. They stand out from the crowd due to their long-term durability and their capacity to perform a wide range of applications within budget. From material handling and truck loading to general construction and tough applications, these units can perform a variety of jobs at the worksite. Fuel efficiency, high levels of productivity and easy serviceability are also key factors that appeal to end users.”
Ong says there are various elements that influence the buying behaviour of Powerplus customers, not all of which are specific to wheel loaders. “From the perspective of our distributors, which we share and agree with, the factors that influence purchasing decisions are product branding, quality, aftersales support, payment plans and resale value,” he explains. “This is why Powerplus is so stringent when selecting distributors. We only work with established companies capable of delivering customer experiences that exceed end users’ expectations.”
Commenting on the most sought-after wheel loaders in Al-Bahar’s portfolio, Ismail says: “The Cat 966 is currently our most popular model as it is ideally suited to the construction activities undertaken by our customers. This machine is efficient in meeting users’ expectations in terms of durability, reliability, productivity and fuel efficiency.”
“The Powerplus PP938T-VI, PP968T-VI and PP980T-VI wheel loaders are in highest demand among our regional customers at present,” Ong points out. “These models are well suited to the Middle East as they feature commonly used bucket capacities of between two and four cubic metres. The Powerplus PP980T-VI, for instance, features a Cummins engine, an imported German ZF 4WG210 Ergopower transmission and Meritor axles.
“Furthermore, over the last two decades, we have periodically refined our wheel loaders to cope with the harsh climate and working environment of the Middle East, integrating features such as enlarged radiators, reverse fans, desert air filters and more,” he adds.
So, how is regional demand for these units likely to develop over the coming 12 months?
“With the staggering growth of infrastructure projects and construction activities throughout the Middle East, demand for wheel loaders looks set to grow aggressively in 2024,” says Ismail. “These powerful machines deliver high levels of productivity and low costs while maximising safety on worksites. As the region’s construction industry continues to thrive, Al-Bahar expects the requirement for Cat wheel loaders to remain high.”
Commenting on Powerplus’ projections, Ong concludes: “We expect to see growth of 10 to 15 percent in the wheel loader market in 2024, thanks to the increasing number of large-scale projects taking place across the Middle East.”