Liugong, XCMG, Sany, Zoomlion and Shantui—brands that, until recently, were unfamiliar to American and European contractors—now account for 80% of Chinese equipment exports, notes David C.A. Phillips, managing director of Off-Highway Research in London. All had prominent displays at this year's CONEXPO exhibition in Las Vegas, a sign that they are upshifting into established markets.

Sany America just completed a move into a new, $60-million, 400,000-sq-ft factory it built in Peachtree City, Ga. Although it is still outfitting the factory floor, it is the first Chinese equipment company to build a plant on U.S. soil. Sany hopes the move translates into $500 million in annual U.S. sales within five years, a company spokesman says.

Meanwhile, LiuGong is solidifying its North America presence with 15 dealers and plans to grow 20 outlets into 60. Earlier this summer, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman told The Wall Street Journal he believes that, in a few years, one or two Chinese manufacturers will emerge as serious competitors.

“It's sort of inevitable,” says Joske. “They are clearly ambitious, and they want to expand globally.”