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The Most Popular Excavators


Excavators are essential machines for any construction, demolition or small earth moving projects, but which are the most popular? There is a definite trend towards the smaller, compact, convenient and even comfortable mini-excavators. This article looks at which are the most popular features that are making mini excavators the machines of choice.

Table of Contents
The growing excavator market
What makes mini excavators popular?
The most popular features explained
Final thoughts

The growing excavator market

the global excavator market is growing at a CAGR of 5.6%

The global excavator market exceeded USD 40 billion in 2021 and is anticipated to show a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6% CAGR from 2022 to 2030, rising to upwards of USD 65 billion. The mini excavator market is dominating the wider excavator market, with 80% market share in 2021, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2%, from a value of USD 8.12 billion in 2020 to USD 10.4 billion by 2027. Although larger excavators are still popular for heavy construction, they are durable and long-lasting, and often change hands second hand, so by sales volume do not show strongly.

What makes mini excavators popular?

A row of mini excavators lined up through a factory

Mini excavators are usually defined as weights below 5-6 metric tons, and can be as small as 1 ton, although they can also be found up to around 10 tons. The most popular range is between 3 and 4 tons, powerful enough to provide a lifting and digging capability that compares to larger excavators, yet compact enough to be versatile and flexible, as well as providing a better operator experience. Although smaller excavators come in wheeled versions or crawler (tracked) versions, the crawlers are by far the more popular due to their better handling in uneven and mddy conditions.

Mini crawler excavators have become popular for a few key reasons:

  • Their small size, compactness and minimal tail swing allow the excavator to operate in limited space. This makes them convenient for large sites with limited access, smaller construction and agricultural projects, and for residential and landscaping use.
  • Versatility is an attractive aspect, with many mini excavators providing multiple attachment options, ranging from digging, trenching, drilling, augering, hoeing and grabbing.
  • Mini excavators now come with improved cab design and a focus on comfort and convenience for the operator. Many provide spacious design, comfortable and adjustable seating, ergonomic controls, air conditioning, bluetooth and stereo systems.
  • Electrical power is a common offering for smaller excavators, running on lithium ion batteries. These machines can run throughout a work day and charge in less than 2 hours, have reduced emissions and noise reduction, and have low fuel and maintenance costs.

The most popular features explained

Compactness and minimal tail swing

The Komatsu PC35 mini excavator with zero tail-swing

The greatest appeal of mini excavators is their small size, compact track and cab, and their ability to maneuver in tight locations. The swing arc, the amount that the cabin and engine compartment extend beyond the track width when rotating, determines the space required for the excavator to operate. Having a small tail-swing, is an important aspect of compactness, and a zero tail-swing, where the excavator body rotates within the width of the base, is even better. An example of a zero tail-swing mini excavator is the very popular 3.5 metric ton Komatsu PC35.


The 2 ton Rhinoceros XN20 excavator with multiple fittings

A popular feature in mini excavators is their versatility with many optional boom fittings that are quick and easy to change. For residential and landscape applications this gives the operator a very cost-effective machine with several machines in one. The Rhinoceros 2 ton XN20 is one such machine that offers a wide range of customizable elements and multiple attachments.

Operator comfort and ergonomics

The Liugong 9018F compact mini excavator with closed cab

Another popular feature of the newer mini excavators is the attention given to the operator’s comfort and convenience in the cab interior.  Simple comforts are included, such as  adjustable seating, improved leg and head room, and ergonomic control positioning.  Add adjustable climate control with air conditioning and heating, phone and cup holders, bluetooth connectivity and stereo systems. The popular 1.8 metric ton Liugong 9018F closed cab is roomy, pressurized and features a heater and window defroster. 

Electrical power

The 2.5 ton Volvo ECR25 excavator with 20Kw electric engine

There is popular demand for electric powered excavators as an eco-friendly alternative to diesel-fueled machines, but there are still few choices in the market. The challenge continues to be getting sufficient electric power for the bigger machines, but smaller options are coming to market. Volvo is one of the first major brands to offer a product with the 2.5 metric ton ECR25. This model is powered by a 20Kw 48V electric motor that generates up to 24hp, with a 4hr estimated operating time. However, although the company is taking advanced orders, this is still to make it to market.  Instead, China manufacturers have been quick to market are there are several popular small options available in the 1 ton range.

Final thoughts

Mini crawler excavators are becoming increasingly popular, through the increasing global demand for residential housing, better infrastructure, and farm and landscaping expansion.  Mini excavators are more compact than their larger cousins, aiming for little or no tail-swing, and offer greater versatility with multiple fittings and usage choices. They are becoming more comfortable for the operator, with a greater emphasis on cab design, space, temperature control and advanced controls. As more electric versions reach the market, there are now quieter emission-friendly options available too.  This growing popularity is likely to lead to even greater innovations and choices in the compact machine market into 2023 and beyond. 

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