This year, Sany America Inc. became the first Chinese producer to host a meeting of the Association of Construction Equipment Managers. Hosting the exclusive, little-publicized meeting—considered a who's who of North American-based fleet managers—is thought to be a kind of rite of passage and a sign of U.S. market acceptance.

"Hosts must have a substantial fleet," says Andy Agoos, principal of Agoos Consulting, Orlando, Fla., and a co-founder of the organization. Although the event helped give Sany a high profile in the Western market, Sany Heavy Industry Co., the parent company of the firm that hosted last May's meeting, has seen less-than-exceptional sales in the North American market this year.

"Sany is making headway in the crane market here but nothing else," says Charles Yengst, president of equipment-market analyst firm, Yengst Associates, Wilton, Conn. North American excavator sales, which are Sany's bread-and-butter in other parts of the world, are miserable, he adds. 

The other big three Chinese manufacturers—Guangxi LiuGong Machinery Co., XCMG Construction Machinery Co. and Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Development Co.—are equally stymied in the North American construction-equipment market, says Yengst. "If LiuGong sells 100 to 150 units max in a year, period"—that's a fraction of a percent of the 150,000 units sold in North America last year—"they're lucky."

Although Sany and other Chinese manufacturers are coming off a major decade of growth in construction-equipment manufacturing they still face hurdles. Many are struggling to gain ground in North America's $25-billion construction- equipment market amid a glut of Chinese equipment.

There are many reasons Chinese manufacturers "haven't made inroads into America yet," says Mircea Dobre, senior research analyst at R.W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee, including a lack of support and communication and a reputation for producing subpar machines.

Thad Pirtle, vice president of equipment at Traylor Bros., Evansville, Ind., was concerned about the quality of Chinese equipment when it entered the North American market over the past decade. "We don't have a whole lot of Chinese stuff, but what I've seen is slowly improving, better than even one year ago," says Pirtle.

Chinese manufacturers have a reputation to overcome. Accounts of knockoff Caterpillar equipment and, recently, counterfeit Terex cranes continue to bedevil markets in China. But contractors give the machines exported to the U.S. good reviews and expect China's prospects to improve.

After all, it took Japanese companies 10 years to reach competitive U.S. quality, says Agoos. "They went from bad to adequate to good to Tier A. Same with the Koreans. The Asians will make good equipment."

Even so, success comes down to product support, says Frank Manfredi, owner of machinery analyst Manfredi & Associates, Mundelein, Ill. "It's impossible to find independent distributors to sell Chinese products. Distributors are tied in exclusive arrangements with five or six major producers," he says.