Why Are Kobelco Cranes and Excavators Yellow in the US?

28 February, 2024
By Waddah Taweel
Why Are Kobelco Cranes and Excavators Yellow in the US?

Have you ever wondered why KOBELCO's construction equipment, known globally for its distinctive blue-green color, appears in yellow across the United States? This striking color shift, contrasting with KOBELCO's core brand identity, is not just a design choice but a story of market adaptation and customer preference. Before we answer this question, let’s dive into this unique color scheme, and uncover the reasons behind KOBELCO's yellow equipment in the US, reflecting both historical alliances and current market dynamics.

The “True-Blue” of KOBELCO’s Blue-Green Turquoise Machines

Globally, KOBELCO is synonymous with its "true-blue" color scheme, a unique blue-green turquoise that adorns its machinery. This choice is far from arbitrary; it reflects KOBELCO's commitment to environmental consciousness and its aspiration to create machinery that harmonizes with both nature and urban landscapes. The blue-green color is a visual representation of KOBELCO's dedication to developing construction machinery that integrates seamlessly into the community and the environment.

KOBELCO SK35SR mini excavator in green blue
KOBELCO SK35SR mini excavator in green blue

But how did KOBELCO go from true-blue to traditional yellow? To answer this question, we have to look at what happened in the early 2000’s, specifically, KOBELCO’s agreement with CNH.

KOBELCO’s Ten-Year Pact with CNH

The strategic alliance formed in 2002 between KOBELCO and CNH (Case New Holland) marked a significant shift in KOBELCO’s approach in the US market. Through this partnership, KOBELCO America Holdings transferred a controlling interest in KOBELCO Construction Machinery America to CNH, ushering in a new era for the brand. This alliance significantly impacted KOBELCO's market strategy in the US, as their machinery was now distributed through CNH’s network. A notable change was the adoption of a standard yellow color scheme for their equipment, aligning with CNH’s branding preferences.

The collaboration, initially planned for a decade, concluded in 2013. This termination led to both companies unwinding their joint ownership and equity positions, marking a pivotal change in KOBELCO's operational independence. Post-2013, KOBELCO resumed marketing and servicing its products independently in North America and Europe, regions previously bound by the alliance agreement. Meanwhile, CNH, part of Fiat Industrial, continued to manufacture excavators incorporating KOBELCO technology. As noted by Mario Gasparri, head of CNH’s construction brands, this strategic shift was essential for CNH to directly manage its business in various regions and to leverage its technologies and resources more effectively.

KOBELCO 7250S crawler crane in true blue
KOBELCO 7250S crawler crane in true blue

Ending the ten-year agreement signaled the conclusion of the yellow color scheme era for KOBELCO equipment in the US market, or so it was thought. When KOBELCO reentered the US market on its own, certain other developments had been going on.

Putting the Customer First and Staying True to the Brand

KOBELCO Construction Machinery U.S.A. celebrated its independent return to the North American market at the close of its alliance with CNH in December 2012. Katsuhiko “Pete” Morita, the company's president and CEO, was optimistic about re-promoting the brand in the US. Contrary to initial expectations of reverting to their signature “true blue,” the newly imported machinery maintained a traditional yellow color. This decision was made in response to specific requests from US dealers, indicating a preference for continuity in the market.

With the arrival of 55 machines in its first week, KOBELCO set forth an ambitious plan to build a robust dealer network, aiming for 30 dealers by mid-2013 and 50 by the end of the year. This expansion wasn't just a business strategy but also an effort to reconnect with past dealers who had familiarity with KOBELCO excavators from the CNH era. The continued use of the yellow color scheme was a strategic move, reflecting a blend of market familiarity and dealer preference, ensuring a smoother transition in a market already accustomed to the yellow KOBELCO machines.

A yellow KOBELCO SK350 - image courtesy KOBELCO Construction Machinery USA
A yellow KOBELCO SK350 - image courtesy KOBELCO Construction Machinery USA

This is basically why KOBELCO is yellow in the US, contrary to its signature blue elsewhere. So, why has yellow been the standard color of heavy construction equipment for so long?

What Made the Color Yellow the Standard Color of Heavy Equipment?

The distinct yellow color prevalent in heavy construction equipment is not just a matter of style but serves crucial functional purposes. This vivid hue stands out, even under challenging conditions, acting as an effective warning color. Yellow ensures that construction equipment is highly visible, enhancing safety for both workers and pedestrians by drawing attention and signaling caution. This visibility is not just a matter of brightness; it's rooted in color theory. Yellow triggers both the long-wavelength (red) and mid-wavelength (green) cones in our eyes, unlike colors like red, which activate only one type of cone. This dual activation makes yellow exceptionally noticeable.

KOBELCO yellow excavator USA
Yellow stands out, even under challenging conditions - image courtesy KOBELCO Construction Machinery USA

The choice of yellow extends beyond safety and visibility. Caterpillar, one of the largest equipment manufacturers, has made "Caterpillar Yellow" a trademark of its brand. This branding move has influenced the industry, setting an expectation for heavy equipment to be painted yellow, a trend that competitors often follow for market parity. Furthermore, from a production standpoint, yellow paint is often more cost-effective than other colors, adding a commercial rationale to its selection.

In short, yellow grabs attention to ensure safety and visibility, aligns with market expectations, and is economically viable for manufacturers. This combination of factors has cemented yellow as the color of choice in the heavy equipment industry, a standard that even brands like KOBELCO, known for their distinct blue-green, have adopted in certain markets.