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Making a stand

Conexpo: Once the US plant industry showcase, Conexpo is now a venue for every significant manufacturer of plant and equipment. Held over five sunny days in Las Vegas during March, Ian Brown reports for NCEI

Post-11 September, some may have expected a muted, atmosphere at this year's Conexpo. Not a bit of it. This was a defiant show - a show to let the world know that America is open for business. Greeting the more than 111,350 visitors to Las Vegas, Nevada were some 2,100 exhibitors scattered across 1.85 million square feet of stand space.

This was the USA at its best:

Stars and stripes flying in the sky and stars and stripes across lots of the machinery. It is almost impossible to be in Las Vegas and not wear a silly grin as you take on board all that excess.

The mood was caught exactly by JCB. It used Conexpo to announce no fewer than 14 new products, ranging from backhoe loaders to micro excavators, from telehandlers to wheeled loaders.

Everybody in the plant business knows that JCB is having a hard time in the US (and it isn't alone in that regard) but Sir Anthony Bamford had a knockdown, drag-out team of his top executives on hand to let the customers know that it wasn't quitting time. If chutzpah stood for sales figures then there'd be no problem.

The company's newish Savannah, Georgia, factory will play its part in helping the Staffordshire outfit conquer the USA but it's a hard slog given Americans' preference for the home-grown product. But the Japanese car industry broke through by building in the US why shouldn't JCB?

In contrast CNH, the giant company created by the merger of Fiat's New Holland subsidiary and Case, didn't display much pzazz. Boss man Paolo Monferino wasn't even due to arrive until Thursday - the third day of the show! Perhaps his mind is on other things, like how to wring a profit out of the behemoth he helped create three years ago?

Volvo had the biggest stand by area in the show. It used it to launch its new backhoe loader.

The new machines were received politely but the reception seemed muted rather than ecstatic, rather similar to the UK press response to JCB's revised 3CX backhoe loader launched just a couple of weeks before.

The newly-acquired skid steers and compaction kit were displayed in Volvo colours but the former in particular looked like a little judicious redesign might not go amiss - good looking they ain't!

Having just finalised its acquisition of tower crane manufacturer Potain, crawler crane maker Manitowoc slipped in an announcement of a further purchase. The US company has now bought Grove, which produces a full range of mobile cranes and access platforms, and now bids fair to be the major force in the crane market worldwide.

News from Caterpillar included the opening of a new plant at Waco, Texas which will produce the company's range of articulated dumptrucks, currently built at a facility in Peterlee, UK.

All in all, the atmosphere at the show was positive. Salesmen and visitors alike were looking forward to another good year.

It wasn't a great year for innovation. If there was a noticeable trend it was for tracked skidsteer loaders, which seemed to bob up on every second stand.

But it was a great show, well worth a visit with plenty to interst the visitor. And if it isn't as big as Bauma, next scheduled for 2005, a glance at the pictures will give a flavour of Conexpo's unique appeal.

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