“Cat” Got Your Tongue? The Well-Known Nickname for Caterpillar Equipment

Introduction

Caterpillar Inc., often shortened to CAT, is an American Fortune 100 corporation that designs, develops, engineers, manufactures, markets, and sells machinery, engines, financial products, and insurance to customers via a worldwide dealer network (https://www.caterpillar.com/en/company/history.html). Founded in California in 1925 by the merger of the Holt Manufacturing Company and the C. L. Best Tractor Company, Caterpillar is known for its heavy equipment products used in the construction, mining, forestry, energy, and transportation industries (https://www.ipl.org/essay/Caterpillar-Company-History-4287303EF4E36D75).

Nickname Origin

According to Caterpillar’s online history timeline (https://www.caterpillar.com/en/company/history/history-timeline.html), the “Cat” nickname for Caterpillar equipment originated in the late 1920s. As Caterpillar tractors and other machinery became more popular, customers and dealers started informally referring to them as “Cats.” This nickname caught on quickly due to the connection between Caterpillars and cats (the animals).

The “Cat” moniker was not officially used or promoted by Caterpillar in the early days. But by the 1950s, as the nickname had become widespread and well-recognized, Caterpillar embraced it and trademarked “Cat” as an official brand name. Today, “Cat” and the Caterpillar name are used interchangeably by the company, dealers, and customers worldwide.

Popularity of the Nickname

The nickname “Cat” is extremely widespread for Caterpillar equipment. It’s commonly used not just by Caterpillar owners and operators, but also across the heavy equipment and construction industries more broadly. According to The Story of the Caterpillar Name, “eventually the name ‘Caterpillar’ was widely accepted, but the nickname ‘Cat’ stuck.”1 In fact, Caterpillar itself has embraced the “Cat” nickname, using it extensively in marketing and even incorporating it into product names like the Cat D6 bulldozer.

The popularity of the “Cat” nickname means it’s often used interchangeably with the Caterpillar name, allowing for easy customer recognition. Operators and owners refer to their machines as “Cats” just as often as they call them Caterpillars. The branding power behind the “Cat” nickname has made it ubiquitous worldwide.

Uses of the Nickname

The nickname “Cat” is widely used to refer to Caterpillar equipment in various contexts across media, by operators, and within the industry.

In media, “Cats” are often mentioned in news articles about construction projects, mining operations, and other applications using heavy equipment. Tech and trade publications frequently reference the nickname when writing reviews or comparisons of Cat machinery.

Equipment operators commonly use the “Cat” moniker as shorthand speech and in informal writing when discussing Cat machines they use regularly. On job sites, operators will refer to specific models like “We’ve got three Cat excavators on site” or talk about “taking the Cat back to the yard.”

Within the heavy equipment industry, Caterpillar’s brand name recognition means “Cat” can be used between businesses as a catch-all term for the company’s products. Dealers, rental companies, and parts suppliers may ask clients “How many Cats do you have?” or “When were your Cats last serviced?”

Legal Status

The nickname “Cat” for Caterpillar equipment is a legally registered trademark owned by Caterpillar Inc. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Caterpillar filed for the CAT trademark on February 15, 2006 under registration number 78981305. The trademark covers “Machinery for earth moving, earth conditioning, and material handling, namely, articulated trucks, asphalt pavers, backhoe loaders, cold planers, compactors, track-type tractors, wheel tractor-scrapers, landfill compactors, soil compactors, wheel loaders, log skidders, track skidders, track-type tractors, motor graders, pipelayers, forestry swing machines, track loaders, vegetation management machines, landscaping and grounds maintenance equipment, waste handlers, generators, mining shovels, draglines, drills, longwall mining equipment, underground mining loaders, underground mining trucks, industrial engines, marine propulsion engines and natural gas engines”. This broad trademark protection gives Caterpillar the exclusive right to use the CAT nickname for its heavy machinery equipment in the United States.

Other Brand Nicknames

Caterpillar isn’t the only heavy equipment brand with nicknames. Here are some other notable brand nicknames in the construction and heavy equipment industries:

John Deere equipment is often referred to as “Green and Yellow” or “Deere” machines. Some specific John Deere models like the 310E Backhoe are nicknamed “Dinger.”

Komatsu equipment is nicknamed “Komats” or “Orange Ks.” Specific Komatsu models like the D355-A Crawler are called “Dozer.”

Volvo construction equipment is known as “Blue Ovals” or “Volvos.” Excavators like the EC480DL get nicknamed “Big Blue.”

Hitachi excavators have the nickname “Red Rocks.” Wheeled excavators like the ZX870LCH-6 are called “Mega Wheels.”

JCB backhoes and loaders are often called “Yellow Diggers” for their distinct yellow color. The 3CX ECO excavator is nicknamed “Mini Ex.”

These nicknames help operators and mechanics identify brands and models on busy construction sites. They add color and personality to the equipment.

Customer Recognition

The “Cat” nickname has become deeply ingrained in customer perceptions of the Caterpillar brand. The simplicity and catchiness of “Cat” makes it easy for customers to refer to Caterpillar products in conversation and reinforces brand awareness. According to an article on Peoriamagazine.com, Caterpillar’s event sponsorships, where its generators and equipment are branded with the “Cat” name, give the nickname “substantial boosts” in visibility and memorability (Reference). The ubiquity of the “Cat” nickname across sponsored events has created strong associations between the nickname and Caterpillar’s reputation for reliable equipment.

Marketing

Caterpillar has fully embraced the “Cat” nickname in their marketing efforts over the years. As early as 1925, the company was using “Cat” in advertisements and promotional materials along with the Caterpillar name (Caterpillar, 2020). Today, “Cat” features prominently across Caterpillar’s websites, social media, merchandise, events, and more.

According to their official history, Caterpillar views “Cat” as shorthand for the quality, durability, and service the brand provides (Caterpillar, 2020). Leanring into the nickname has helped strengthen brand awareness and customer loyalty. For example, Caterpillar holds an annual “Cat Trial National Championship” event where equipment owners compete in skill challenges. This generates enthusiasm among core customers.

The company even uses “Cat” in model names for some equipment, like the Cat 320 Excavator or Cat 745 Articulated Truck. This constant visibility reinforces Caterpillar’s brand identity and the association customers have with the “Cat” nickname.

Competitor Nicknames

Caterpillar’s competitors have tried to establish their own nicknames for equipment to build brand recognition. For example, Komatsu’s excavators are sometimes called “Komats” to mimic Cat’s “Cats” nickname.1 John Deere’s equipment may be called “Deeres” by operators.2 However, these nicknames have not caught on as widely as “Cat” for Caterpillar.

One reason is that Caterpillar established its nickname early and leaned into it heavily in marketing. Competitors were left playing catch-up. Additionally, “Cat” is short and rolls off the tongue easily compared to “Komats” or “Deeres.” Finally, Caterpillar has the first mover advantage, having pioneered various equipment that define segments. This gives the company outsized mindshare that is difficult for competitors to overcome.

Conclusion

The nickname “Cat” has had a long and popular association with Caterpillar heavy equipment. Though its origins are debated, “Cat” emerged as shorthand for Caterpillar sometime in the 1920s or 1930s and quickly caught on with equipment operators and enthusiasts. Today, “Cat” enjoys widespread recognition and is commonly used by customers, employees, investors and competitors alike when referring to the Caterpillar brand.

While not trademarked or officially endorsed, Caterpillar has embraced the “Cat” nickname in marketing campaigns and customer engagement initiatives. For many, hearing “Cat” evokes a sense of power, reliability and industry leadership – all associations the Caterpillar brand has cultivated over its 100+ year history. The future of the “Cat” nickname seems secure as long as Caterpillar maintains its dominant position in heavy equipment and dedication to quality.

In summary, “Cat” has become indelibly tied to Caterpillar equipment in the minds of stakeholders and the public. Its longevity demonstrates how an organic nickname can become an iconic part of a major brand.

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