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By James MacPherson, Associated Press Writer, Published June 10 2009

Bobcat touts new products

BISMARCK – Trade media representatives got a first look at Bobcat Co.’s newest machinery and toured the company’s Bismarck manufacturing plant one day before the facility was to temporarily shut down due to slow sales.

The West Fargo-based maker of skid-steer loaders and light construction equipment unveiled eight new machines, ranging from loaders to excavators, Tuesday to about 20 industry media representatives from the U.S. and Canada.

Bobcat spokeswoman Laura Ness Owens said the event was held in hopes of spurring sales in a sluggish worldwide economy. The prices were not advertised, but industry writers were allowed to test-drive Bobcat products and were treated to a riverboat cruise and a barbecue.

The company hopes for favorable reviews, publicity and sales from the event.

“Their readers are our customers,” Owens said. “Hosting this now is more critical than ever, given the economy.”

Bobcat announced last week that its plants in Bismarck and Gwinner will shutter for part of June and July due to the sluggish worldwide economy.

The company says its Bismarck plant will be closed Wednesday through Friday and again July 6-10.

At the Gwinner plant, production workers will be off the job from today through Friday, from June 24-26 and June 29.

Media representatives seemed generally impressed with Bobcat’s new offerings.

“Awesome,” said Katie Ernzen, an editor with Rental Equipment Trader, after using a Bobcat excavator to dig a huge hole near a race car track in Mandan.

Ernzen, who covers the rental equipment industry for her Overland Park, Kan.-based publication, said most equipment manufactures have cut back on media events, though she said they help industry journalists understand products.

“The amount of media events this year has definitely dropped because of the economy,” Ernzen said.

Allen Zeyler, managing editor of Roads & Bridges magazine, based in Arlington Heights, Ill., said publications also hope the coverage will lead to advertising revenue.

“It’s nice to know about the equipment and what the manufacturers are doing,” Zeyler said. “It’s important for us to write about them. But we also want Bobcat to advertise with us – that’s how trade magazines work.”

Owens said Bobcat’s new machines have been under development for at least three years and began rolling off assembly lines in April.

The company produces 55 types of construction machines – the smaller ones costing more than most automobiles – and has the only compact excavator built in North America, she said.

The company has been “building to order” over the past six months at its plants in Bismarck and Gwinner, “in part due to the economy,” she said.

South Korea’s Doosan Infracore Co. purchased Bobcat in 2007 from Bermuda-based Ingersoll-Rand in a deal worth $4.9 billion.

The company said it has a network of more than 3,500 dealers worldwide and 20 manufacturing plants in the U.S., Europe and China.

Earlier this year, Bobcat laid off about 250 workers at the two North Dakota plants. It has said it expects the construction market to improve next year.

Owens said Doosan is committed to keeping plants in North Dakota operating.

She said the company employs about 2,000 workers in North Dakota at present and it expects to rehire the 250 laid off workers “later this year or early next.”