Compact Telehandlers Make Move in the Market

By Guy Ramsey | September 28, 2010

The Telehandler Showcase featured 5,000- and 5,500-pound telehandlers with lift heights up to 19 feet.

JCB with Sweepster powered collection brush.

Gehl's new grapple bucket puts on an impressive show.

Xtreme's attachment can handle just about any baled material.

Genie demonstrates the use of an auger attachment

The truss hook is another popular attachment.


Compact telehandlers are certainly not new products, but only now are they finding a place in the North American market. Having been used extensively in Europe for 20 to 30 years, compact telehandlers started appearing in the United States only in the late 1990s. Today, the North American market abounds with growth opportunities for this product segment. According to research conducted by Gehl, West Bend, Wis., three backhoe-loaders are sold for every telehandler in the United States —but in eight other industrial nations in the world, telehandlers outsell backhoe-loaders. Three key markets are driving compact-telehandler growth: agriculture, industry, and construction. Features that make compact telehandlers attractive in these applications include their compact size (they can pass through a standard double-wide door), their maneuverability (two-wheel, four-wheel, and crab steering), and their ability to place loads up to 11 feet in front of the tires.

In industrial applications, compact telehandlers are a viable option for replacing pneumatic-tire, straight-mast forklifts — especially in outdoor-storage situations. In construction, contractors are ordering compacts for the sole tasks of unloading materials from trucks and marshalling these materials around the jobsite. This use of compact telehandlers allows their larger counterparts to stay on task — that is, building the structure.

Limited supply in an emerging market translates into higher rental rates, producing a better return-on-investment for rental companies. But these products are going to be hot sellers for retail buyers, as well, and with the variety of attachments available for so many applications, an owner can logically justify the cost of entry for a compact telehandler.

Although manufacturers see sizable potential for the compact-telehandler in agricultural applications, for example, using attachments to handle hay bales and buckets to handle silage, feed and clean-up tasks, the biggest opportunities for both rental and retail lie in the construction industry. From the supply yard to the jobsite, the number of applications that the compact telehandler can take on are as varied as the attachments it uses.

Attachments are amazing, and the tasks that they can complete are equally impressive. For example, among the more notable tools on display at the Telehandler Showcase included the all-new, high-carbon-steel rock bucket, with a grapple option, unveiled by Gehl. JCB also brought a pair of aftermarket attachments that were of great interest, a Bradco grapple and a Sweepster powered-collector sweeper. The sweeper demonstrated how easily debris can be brushed from a paved surface and then deposited into a dumpster. Xtreme Manufacturing displayed an attachment designed to handle rolled hay bales, but this tool could also easily be adapted to many material-handling tasks, from bulk insulation to bundled recyclables. Both Manitou and Genie brought powered auger attachments; in highway and road construction applications, the ability to punch holes in the ground with the same machine that you use to safely unload and distribute materials makes this a valuable tool.

Specifying a compact telehandler

When considering a compact handler, be specific in outlining what tasks are intended for the machine. Generally speaking, compact handlers are divided into two different classifications: Those that are “ground-engaging” units and those that are “pick-and-place” machines. Although there seems to be some debate as to how to delineate between the two, there are a few critical objective differences. Probably the best way to gauge a machine's robustness and ability to engage the ground is its rated breakout force (see chart on pages 4-5), which is the maximum vertical force that can be applied at the bucket edge. It could be done either with the boom's lift function or the carriage tilt function.

Another key attribute to be considered is the machine's hydraulic-flow rating, which is especially important if the unit will be used more as a tool handler rather than a material handler. Many powered attachments require considerable hydraulic flow to perform properly and, thus, careful attention should be given during the purchase process both to the machine's hydraulic capability and to the attachment's hydraulic requirements in terms of flow and pressure.

Always look closely at the machine's specifications and discuss your expectations for using attachments with the dealer or manufacturer before you make that purchase. This is the only way you can make sure you are buying the right machine or the right attachment for the job. Individual Telehandler Showcase machines are reviewed in the following pages and are presented alphabetically. Additionally, three models not available for the Showcase are briefly reviewed at the end.

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