Equipment Type

Compact Track Loaders Still Winning Converts

Product innovation continues as compact track loaders gain market share

April 01, 2013

The combined North American markets for skid-steer loaders (SSLs) and compact track loaders (CTLs) reached nearly 61,000 units in 2012. CTLs accounted for some 22,500 of those sales, approaching 38 percent of the total. In 2005, combined sales approximated 81,000 units, with CTLs accounting for only 15,000 units, about 19 percent. The CTL obviously is earning its way onto more and more job sites as equipment users continue to discover that its flat-footed, high-flotation undercarriage has the ability to claim bad-weather days as workdays and to open up new applications that need a softer touch.

CTL Cost of Ownership

*Hourly rate is the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating costs. Unit prices used in this calculation are diesel fuel at $4.13 per gallon, mechanic’s wage at $50.76 per hour, and money costs at 2.0 percent.
Source: EquipmentWatch.com, 800.669.3282

Rated Capacity (lb.) Average Price Hourly Rate*
700 and less $21,962 $17.34
701-975 $26,613 $18.76
976-1,250 $36,813 $26.26
1,251-1,350 $37,006 $28.98
1,351-1,600 $38,660 $28.33
1,601-1,750 $44,430 $32.63
1,751-2,200 $49,742 $34.85
2,201-and more $61,436 $39.70

“Many equipment buyers have gravitated to track machines, even though they are more expensive and typically have higher maintenance costs,” says George Chaney, SSL/CTL international sales manager for JCB. “The productivity gains and the added work you can do greatly exceed those factors—making the track machine a great value.”

Actually, says Chaney, rental firms were the first to capitalize on the CTL’s potential, because contractors initially were apprehensive about investing in a machine that had a considerably higher price tag than a skid-steer and an undercarriage that might be costly to maintain. But when the weather got too wet and too muddy and too much for their wheeled machines, says Chaney, they’d rent and discover the track machine’s benefits.

By Construction Equipment’s count, a baker’s dozen CTL brands are available in North America, most appearing in the market in the last decade. The first appearance of these machines, however, dates back to the mid-1980s, when Takeuchi and ASV (now Terex) developed compact rubber-track machines that could handle attachments.

From those early days forward, the CTL market has been characterized by continual product innovation and refinement, yielding machines that are increasingly more efficient (do more work on a gallon of fuel), more capable (higher rated operating capacities and gains in hydraulic horsepower), and more accommodating of the operator’s safety, comfort, and convenience (sealed-and-pressurized cabs and selectable joystick controls, for instance). The refinement process has been particularly in evidence during the past two years or so as manufacturers have introduced new models with honed designs.

CTL product refinement

Bobcat, for example, has been at work introducing its new M-Series models, featuring redesigned hydraulic systems, new lift arms (with hefty increases in section height and width), higher rated operating capacities, cooling system enhancements, longer tracks, and all-new cab. The M-Series range was completed in early 2013 with the 500-frame-size models. Says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat’s loader product specialist, operators of M-Series models comment most about the new models’ hydraulic power and operator amenities—larger cab, ease of entry/exit, heating/cooling capacity, sound reduction, and visibility.

Basic Choices for CTL Purchases

A basic choice when buying a compact track loader, says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat loader product specialist, is deciding whether a radial- or vertical-lift-path model is best for the buyer’s typical applications.

The vertical-lift loader provides more lift capacity and more reach at full lift height, says Fitzgerald, and because maximum reach is achieved at full lift height, the machine is adept at performing jobs that require repeated lifting at taller heights, such as clearing high-sided trucks and hoppers. Although the vertical-lift loader may have a higher initial cost, he says, its expanded utilization potential typically pays dividends—plus it usually has a higher resale value.

On the other hand, says Fitzgerald, a radius-lift loader—which raises the load in an arc that yields maximum reach at about truck-bed height—excels at work done repeatedly at the mid-range (or lower) point of the lift arc, such as dumping material over a wall, backfilling, loading and unloading flatbed trucks, and leveling or grading.

Fitzgerald suggests, too, that buyers assess the value of a high-flow auxiliary hydraulic system: “If using attachments makes up a significant portion of your operational time,” he says, “a high-flow system can increase productivity and overall return on investment.”

Just announced are four new John Deere E-Series CTL models that have up to 10 percent more horsepower than their D-Series predecessors and offer electro-hydraulic controls available in an ISO, H, or foot-control configuration—with an optional system that allows switching among the patterns. Auxiliary couplers have a new connect-under-pressure design, and mid-frame models feature greater lift height and reach. D-Series features retained, says Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager, include sealed-and-pressurized cabs and fuel-saving auto-idle systems. Options include keyless start, ride control, and reversing fan.

Among Caterpillar’s most recent CLT introductions are the 299D and 299D XHP, which, says Kevin Coleman, senior product engineer for compact equipment, “raise the bar for premium control features.” Specifically, says Coleman, the Cat Intelligent Leveling system (ILEV) enables three features: electronic dual self-leveling (levels the load when both raising and lowering); work-tool return to dig; and work-tool positioner, the latter automatically returning the work tool to a preset angle. An electronic throttle pedal provides a “decel” feature, which, says Coleman, is an industry exclusive.

For the past two years or so, JCB has been bringing to market its New Generation CTLs, seven models in all, engineered and manufactured at JCB’s North American headquarters in Savannah, Ga. Designed with the company’s hallmark feature, the single-lift-arm PowerBoom, New Generation models use JCB’s Ecomax engine that meets current Tier 4 regulation without after treatment. Features include a 17-percent larger, sealed-and-pressurized cab that tilts for service access, multifunction joysticks, hydraulic quick hitch, O-ring face seals for hydraulic connections, and optional heated air-suspension seat.

The latest Takeuchi models, the TL-10 and TL-12, feature a selectable attachment-control system that provides three adjustable settings for programming specific hydraulic flow rates. According to David Steger, product manager, the new models use larger, sealed-and-pressurized cabs and pilot-hydraulic joysticks with a pattern changer for selecting either an ISO or H configurations. Heavy frames with integrated cross members distribute working stresses, says Steger, and the tracks use an optimized rubber compound and feature steel pads that provide a riding surface for the track rollers.

Terex most recently introduced its PT-110 and PT-110 Forestry models with rated operating capacities, respectively, of 3,800 and 4,300 pounds at 50 percent of tipping load. Common to all Terex CTLs, says Jamie Wright, product manager, the new models are purpose-built to run on a suspended undercarriage designed for optimum traction, flotation and ground clearance—and using proprietary rubber tracks that have no internal steel. A load-sensing, high-flow auxiliary hydraulic system provides flows to 45 gpm and delivers 98.7 hydraulic horsepower at 3,800 psi.

Gehl’s all-new RT-Series models (RT175 and RT210)—built in the company’s plant in Yankton, S.D.—feature a patented HydraTrac automatic track-tensioning system that pressurizes a load device at machine startup for optimally tensioning the track, and then releases tension at machine shutdown. Says Gehl, the system reduces both track wear and horsepower requirements at the tracks. A new electro-hydraulic “5 x 5 Drive-Control” feature allows choosing from five drivability settings to suit operating preferences.

A relative newcomer to the CTL market, Kubota has been successful with its SVL75-2 and SVL90-2 models. According to Erik Ouwersloot, CTL product manager, the Kubota models are purpose-built as CTLs and, therefore, can integrate the undercarriage frame with the mainframe, a design, he says, that contributes to rigidity and balance. The Kubota cab has especially generous dimensions, says Ouwersloot, and features a tilt-up front door to facilitate cab entry/exit, attachment changes and crew communication.

New Holland’s 200 Series CTLs are the company’s second-generation models, and the two largest feature the company’s patented, vertical-lift Super Boom. According to Paul Wade, brand marketing manager, the new models feature a dozer-style undercarriage with crawler-style rollers that use metal face seals and a large inner-diameter flange to prevent “de-tracking” on inclines.  Convenience features include keyless start, Glide Ride option, available heated or air-ride seat, and self-leveling bucket.

According to Case, the sealed-and-pressurized cabs for its Alpha Series CTLs are up to 25 percent larger than those of predecessor models and are available with a choice of controls: mechanical and mechanical/servo in the Case hands-only H-pattern (which can convert to a hand-and-foot configuration) and available electro-hydraulic controls that switch between H and ISO patterns with a touch of a button. Three auxiliary-hydraulic packages are available: standard, high-flow, and enhanced high-flow (high-pressure/high-flow).

The Volvo C-Series range, MCT85C, MCT125C and MCT135C, is manufactured by JCB through an agreement of cooperation for the engineering and manufacturing of CLTs for global distribution under their respective brands. As such, the latest Volvo models feature single-loader-arm design, large left-side door, hydraulic connectors with O-ring face seals, tilt cab, and joystick controls.

According to Mustang, design features for its latest and all-new CTL pair, the 1750RT and 2100RT, include and automatic track-tensioning system and a new control system that provides “customized operation” by allowing operators to vary operating parameters to suit the application or personal preference.

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