MARKET GUIDE: Mini-excavators (under 2 tonnes)

Peter Anderson reviews the market for mini excavators below 2-tonnes operating weight

For thousands of contractors and builders around the world, mini excavators provide them with the capability to clear, dig, load and grade, even when access to the site is limited and working space restricted. When access and space is severely restricted, zero tail swing designs are an ideal solution.

With a 3.5-tonne maximum gross towing weight for standard vehicles applying throughout Europe, sometimes surprisingly less, mini excavators below 2-tonnes play a key role in many industry sectors. Together with a heavy-duty trailer, a hydraulic hammer and a couple of buckets, such combinations can be legally towed on the road by many large 4x4 vehicles, by an appropriately qualified driver.


It has been over 40 years since the first mini excavators arrived in the UK. Since then, there has been exceptional growth in total sales and the number of manufacturers, with both continuing to increase. In addition to minis being a high-volume item in the range of full-line manufacturers, a number of specialist compact equipment producers also serve this sector of the market. Increasingly, Chinese-based compact equipment manufacturers are establishing a dealer network across the UK and Ireland, in addition to the big two full-line players of Sany and LiuGong.

Within this sector of the excavator market, cabs are treated as an optional extra, particularly when they are operated for short busts at a time in direct support of groundworkers, one of whom operates the machine. Not having a full cab also reduces the weight of the machine, to keep within towing limits. At the other end of the scale, countless owner operators spend long periods in high-spec minis, with cabs available as a factory option on most models.

Over recent years, such small compact equipment has been treated leniently within the emissions regulations, but this has now changed. The flurry of new models on the market reflects that such machines now come with Stage 5 emission compliant engines and can be classed as ultra-low emissions vehicles.

Small mini excavators are an ideal candidate for running on battery-power, for zero emissions on site, with significantly reduced noise levels. Many manufacturers now offer such a machine, or have one in development, which are on the verge of becoming commercially accepted. Leading the field by a short head, JCB has recently upgraded their offering with a variety of recharging technologies, to the point where many will accept that an electric mini is a now practical alternative.

Another school of thought within the industry is to offer dual fuel minis, which are normally powered from their diesel engine, but also have an electric motor, allowing them to work from an external electrical supply.


Bobcat offers seven small minis, a mix of conventional and zero tail swing designs, starting out with the E08 and E10Z models, together with the battery-powered E10E. The larger E17, E17Z, E19 and E20Z models feature a hydraulically retractable undercarriage, to enable them to squeeze through a 1m wide door.


Three minis below 2-tonnes are offered by Carmarthen-based Carter Diggers, a dealer for Chinese manufacturer Shandong Carter. These use Yanmar engines, KYB or Eaton hydraulic components, with many of the fabrications supplied by Komatsu, with a full cab available as a factory option.


Two C Series Case minis are available in this category, the 1.77t canopy CX17C and the 1.99t cabbed CX19C models, powered by a 16.8kW Kubota engine. Featuring a retractable undercarriage and configured with a 960mm or 1120mm dipper, providing digging depth of 2.35m and 2.4m respectively.


In addition to the micro 300.9D model, Caterpillar offers four models below 2-tonnes, powered by an in-house Stage 5, three-cylinder engine rated at 14.3kW. These are the conventional 301.5, 301.6 and the 301.8 models, together with the compact radius 301.7CR, all of which are available with long dipper arms.


Primarly aimed at the rental market and urban construction sites, Doosan offers three small minis, the DX10Z and DX17Z zero tail swing machines, together with the conventional E19 model. Produced by sister company Bobcat, these feature a retractable undercarrige and variable-position joysticks, rather than levers.


Founded in 1992, Italian manufacturer Eurocomach offers three small zero tail swing or short radius minis, the 12ZT, 14SR and the 18ZT models. The smallest two are powered by a 10.2kW Kubota engine, the 18ZT uses a 11.2kW Yanmar. The zero tail swing has a dig depth of 2.25m and a dump height of 3.6m.


Hitachi offers four minis below 2-tonnes, the ZX10U-6, ZX17U-6, ZX19U-6 and ZX19-6 models. These provide maximum digging depths between 1.78m and 2.36m, with engines rated between 9.5kW and 11.5kW. All except the ZX19-6 model are ultra short swing radius designs.


Hyundai has entered the micro-excavator market with the new HX10A model. This 1-tonner is usually powered by a 9.9kW Yanmar engine, but can be specified to also enable it to work from an external electrical supply. Hyundai says that this new Twin Drive concept is ideal when working indoors or in sensitive areas.


JCB offers a wide range of micro and mini excavators, from the sub 1-tonne 8008CTS to the canopy or cabbed 19C-1 model, with power outputs between 9kW and 11.7kW. Recent news is the availability of a full cab on their battery-powered 19C-1E model, which JCB claims is an industry first.


Kobelco offers four small minis, from the SK08 micro to the cabbed or canopy short radius SK18SR model. All are powered by Yanmar engines, with outputs from 5.9kW to 9.9kW, and provide dig depths from 1.46m to 2.42m and load over heights between 1.94m and 2.74m.


Komatsu offers five small minis, from the PC09-1 micro, to the new generation PC18MR-5 model. The PC18 is the smallest model in the new medium swing radius MR Dash 5 range, with is powered by an electronically controlled engine, which will use upto 5% less fuel than its Dash 3 predecessor.


Kubota offers four modern compact radius and two ultra short swing minis below 2-tonnes, however the firm says that the 980kg K008-3 micro model continues to be popular. Overall track width is adjustable from just 700mm out to 860mm, allowing access through narrow gaps, with good stability when digging.


LiuGong has entered the mini excavator sector with the 1.9-tonne 9018F model, one of their new F Series of machines. Powered by a 13.4kW Yanmar engine, it is configured with a 1m dipper, providing a dig depth of 2.29m and an unloading height 2.37m. The undercarriage is retractable, from 1295mm down to 990mm.


Sany offers two minis below 2-tonnes, the canopy-only SY16C model and the SY19C, which has the option of a cab. Weighing 1.75t and 1.85t respectively, this duo are powered by a Stage 5 emissions compliant 14.6kW Yanmar engines. Maximum dig depth is 2.36m with a dump height of 2.63m.


As well as Takeuchi’s new TB217R mini-excavator, the Japanese manufacturer also offers the compact radius TB216 and TB219 and the reduced tail swing TB210R and TB215R models. The TB216 is available as a dual fuel machine, able to run from an electrical supply.


Volvo’s new EC15E, EC18E and EC20E models replace the previous small D Series minis. The new addition to the range is the ultra short swing ECR18E model, which features a variable undercarriage can retract to just 995mm or expand to 1.352mm. All are powered by a 12kW Volvo engine.


In addition to the 803, ET16 and ET18 conventional minis, together with the zero tail swing EZ17 model, Wacker Neuson offer two alternatives when it comes to power sources. The 803 is available as a dual fuel diesel/electrical driveline, while the zero swing model is available as a battery-powered mini, the new EZ17e.


Yanmar offers six models below 2-tonnes, conventional SV models and ViO zero tail swing designs, all feature an undercarriage which retracts from 840mm to 680mm. The SV09, SV16 and SV18 models offer digging depths from 1.5m to 2.42m, compared to between 1.95m and 2.2m on the ViO10, ViO12 and ViO17.

Article featured in the January 2021 issue of Earthmovers Magazine. Subscribe to the industry-leading construction machinery publication here.