CASE North America VP Discusses the State of the Construction Industry

Dolan says machine guidance, satellite positioning technology and electrification will be innovation areas in 2024.

Terry Dolan
Terry Dolan
CASE Construction Equipment

The Equipment Today team talked with Terry Dolan, vice president, CASE Construction Equipment, North America. He discussed innovation areas in 2024 and much more for the State of the Industry Report.         

What was the construction industry’s biggest challenge in 2023?

The biggest challenge we’ve seen across all sectors of the construction industry has been the shortage of labor—whether it’s operators, manual laborers or technicians. Being able to find people, bring them into the industry, develop their skills and retain talent continues to be a challenge for contractors and suppliers alike. And with massive government investment into infrastructure kicking into high gear—we’ll see even greater demands for labor.

That challenge has really driven the solutions we’re bringing to market. [During] the past year, we rolled out an unprecedented number of new machines—more than 30 in all—directed at helping contractors of all sizes get more work done easier and more profitably than ever before. Whether it’s incorporating more intuitive electrohydraulic controls in dozers to minimize the operator’s learning curve or now offering new, subcompact machine markets to give small contractors construction-grade options for getting more done with fewer people, we’re innovating to meet customers where they are today so they can overcome those labor challenges.

In the same vein, we’ve innovated our financing models to address the high-interest rates that have also dogged the industry over the past year. We started offering a first-of-its-kind lease for heavy excavators, with aggressive lease rates for 36 months or 3,000 operating hours, plus an option to apply a credit for up to 300 unused hours at the end of the term toward the purchase of a new CASE excavator. With financial innovations like these, contractors have more ways to successfully navigate the high-interest rate environment.

What will be the biggest challenge in 2024 for the industry?

Heading into 2024, we don’t expect the construction equipment industry to see the same extraordinary levels of growth we saw in 2023. That’s partially because 2023 was such a watershed year, but it’s also because the marketplace is facing a lot of uncertainty.

Economically, high-interest rates will continue to be a struggle as the country tries to get inflation under control. Globally, we’re seeing more conflicts and rising tensions in multiple regions, along with the market disruptions that result from those conflicts. And politically, we’re entering an election year, which always creates an unpredictable market environment.

On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity. We’re seeing unprecedented public investment into infrastructure that is beginning to be dispersed state by state. There are lots of roads that need to be repaired, fiber optic that needs to be laid, water lines that need to be replaced … the list goes on and on. And on the private side, there is an immense amount of investment happening to increase housing stock, which is desperately needed.

That means contractors big and small can have plenty of work to bite into if they’re equipped to be competitive on the job. That’s why we’ve launched a whole new range of machines over the past year, with more to come in 2024. We’re giving contractors of every size the equipment they need to take advantage of those opportunities and grow their business despite the broader economic challenges.

In what technological areas do you see the potential for the most innovation in 2024?

There are lots of exciting developments happening in machine control and guidance that will be increasingly important in 2024. These innovations can simplify operation and lower the learning curve while improving precision and efficiency. Electrohydraulic controls like those found in our compact wheel loaders offer advanced lift and tilt functionality with adjustable responsiveness for more precision on the jobsite. Automated bucket metering is also available to provide more consistent, stable movement.

Innovations like machine guidance and satellite positioning technology will further enhance machine control, giving operators more precise information on a grade or the depth of a dig to improve productivity. With automation features that help keep digs or slopes to spec, operators can meet their goals more easily and with pinpoint accuracy.

Electrification is another area where we are seeing rapid advancement and innovation. The technology is finally at the point where we can deliver the power, battery range and charge times needed to make electric vehicles (EVs) an attractive option for some contractors. CASE is launching a variety of new EV models—including the next iteration of the industry’s first fully electric backhoe—that offer the same, if not more, power and performance as their diesel counterparts. And they have multiple charging options to ease integration into a contractor’s business.

These machines come with [several] important benefits. With zero emissions and little to no noise, contractors can work in a wider range of environments, including indoors, at any time of the day or night. EV machines also require less daily maintenance because they don’t require engine oil or filter changes. They can have a lower total cost of ownership; they improve communication on the job because crew members can hear one another, and they can satisfy customers seeking to meet environmental, social and governance goals and environmental requirements.

What innovations or improvements do you anticipate in construction equipment in 2024?

We believe that, with so much public investment happening in infrastructure, contractors will need to be more flexible than ever. They’ll need machines that can be easily transported or roaded from site to site. They’ll need more attachment versatility to handle a wider range of work, and they’ll need machines that can easily maneuver in tight spaces.

Equipment like wheeled excavators or small articulated loaders, which are already quite popular in Europe, offer the agility contractors will need without tearing up existing turf or other surfaces, all while operating in a very compact footprint. CASE is releasing a full line of small articulated loaders that bring construction-grade muscle to small machines and a massive range of powerful attachments.

But beyond entirely new equipment classes, we see a lot of potential for machine upgrades like:

  • Zero-tailswing designs that minimize footprints
  • Electrohydraulics that improve operator control and experience
  • Side-shift functionality on backhoe loaders to maximize their versatility and safety

The new CASE 4-metric-ton to 5-metric-ton mini excavators, for example, are the only machines in their size class with zero tailswing, making them ideal for close-quarter urban environments or roadwork where lanes need to stay open to keep traffic moving. We’ve also expanded our backhoe offering to include models with crab steering and side-shift designs that improve maneuverability, visibility and control in tighter spaces. Crab steering lets operators drive the machine diagonally or side-to-side. With a side-shift backhoe, operators don’t need to reposition the machine as often. They can simply move the boom to the left or right to get the visibility they need to work more safely and efficiently.

Do you expect the infrastructure bill to affect your business or your customers’ businesses? How, if you can explain further?

With $1.2 trillion of U.S. federal money earmarked, we’re on the cusp of the biggest government investment in infrastructure construction and repair since the building of the interstate highway system in 1956. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for contractors who will reap benefits for years to come.

But there’s a catch. Over the next decade, a huge portion of the construction workforce is expected to retire. That means contractors will need new ways to meet demand with the challenge of a diminishing workforce. To take advantage of the coming investment, they’ll need ways to do more work with less.

The industry is positioned to evolve. That’s why CASE has expanded and enhanced our product offering to ensure that contractors have the right machine with the right attachments at the right time. With the next generation of CASE machines, we took a practical approach to innovation and intentional design based on where the industry is today and where we see it headed.

With machines that are more versatile, more cost-effective and more productive, we are confident that contractors of all sizes, in a range of specialties, will be able to get more work done faster and more profitably than ever before.