Could Telehandlers Be the New Skid-Steer Loader?

By Larry Stewart, Executive Editor | September 28, 2010


Bobcat V723 telehandler
If you're in the market for a telehandler that can handle bucket work, find a boom that extends on hydraulic cylinders only, such as the two-section boom on Bobcat's V723. Chain- or cable-actuated booms don't withstand digging and backdragging forces like wheel loaders.
Lull telehandler
Many contractors swear by the sliding carriage of some Lull, Pettibone and Liftking telehandlers. Boom mounts smoothly slide 70 or 80 inches forward and back to place loads easily. Driving raised forks out from under a load is dangerous on a rough construction site because any change in grade will wave the boom around and could tip the machine.


A flurry of European and Euro-inspired compact telehandlers introduced to North America seems to be creating two functional classes within the fast-growing telehandler market: lift-and-place machines and tool carriers. Low-boom, compact machines were virtually unheard of here until a few years ago when manufacturers began bringing them to our shores and convincing contractors, agri-business, landscapers, building-supply stores, and others to buy machines with width and height like a skid-steer loader but considerably more reach.

The sales pitch for these low-boom telehandlers focuses on versatility. Most models carry the same quick-attach couplers as their skid-steer and backhoe-loader-line mates.

Not every telehandler is built to compete with skid-steer loaders for bucket work, though. Digging and back-dragging stresses are hard on the chains or cables used in traditional pick-and-place telehandler booms, but tool-carrier booms are designed to handle that work.

A hydraulic cylinder extends the first boom section of telehandlers that are built as forklifts, and chains or cables fixed to that section simultaneously extend the third and fourth boom sections. Boom sections don't come to rest against a firm stop.

"Any time you use the joystick by itself, you're OK -- the boom is designed to withstand the force of the crowd cylinder," explains Mike Popovich, training director at JLG. "So it's OK, although not recommended, to boom in while pushing down on material. But when you have the boom retracted to its limit, don't put the machine in reverse and drag the bucket with the ground drive."

That kind of force will break the boom's chains or cables. If you're tearing up the bucket you bought with your telehandler, you're over-applying the machine and the boom will likely be the next casualty.

Machines manufacturers often refer to as "tool carriers" are usually low-boom-mount machines, and they are typically limited to two boom sections (although JCB makes three-section tool carrier booms). All boom sections extend under the direct pressure of a hydraulic cylinder, and there are no chains or cables.

The versatility sales pitch notwithstanding, most telehandlers here in North America are still primarily forklifts. Eleven pick-and-place telehandler models are available with sliding boom carriages -- four from Pettibone (two 6,000-pound machines and two 8,000 pounders), three that carry JLG's Lull brand (one 6,000-pound unit, one 9,000-pounder, and one at 10,000 pounds), and Liftking's 12,000-, 15,000-, 20,000- and 30,000-pound models.

Smooth horizontal movement of the entire boom discourages operators from trying to back the forks out from under pallets. Driving the machine with the boom raised is dangerous, particularly on a construction site where any change in grade or underfoot conditions will wave the boom around and could cause the machine to tip.

There are four models available -- two French Manitous and two Italian Xtremes -- with boom-mounts that rotate, slewing like a crane. Manitou fields a 6,300-pound model with 45 foot-7 inch lift height and a 10,000-pound model with nearly 68 feet of lift height. Xtreme's 8,000-pound machine has a maximum height of 43 feet 2 inches and the 10,000-pounder reaches 67 feet 7 inches high. The 10,000-pound machines are the highest-reaching telehandlers in the market.

"Previously, the best year for telehandlers in North America saw about 14,000 machines shipped," says David Baxter, JLG director of marketing. "Although final numbers are not yet available, the total number of machines shipped for 2005 will be on the order of 20,000. That's a significant increase and we attribute it to the realization by new end-users of the versatility and productivity a telehandler provides."

Manufacturers that are serious about North American market share can't afford to ignore that kind of sales growth. In a very practical sense, those that want to be taken seriously by equipment dealers need a telehandler line. And it's typically most economical for the dealer to get the telehandler from the same manufacturer from which they buy skid-steers and backhoe-loaders, or boom and scissor lifts.

Lifting-equipment manufacturers and dealers can trade on their expertise, using the telehandler's aerial-equipment nature as a way to reach customers who may not buy work platforms or cranes.

As a result, we see Terex painting its telehandlers blue and marketing them through Genie dealers. Work-platform specialist, MEC, has launched its own telehandler line, and Haulotte is building a new plant in Spain to make, among other things, its own telehandlers.

Case and New Holland expect to re-enter the North American telehandler market with new product by the end of this year. Thomas purchased Tovel to add a telehandler to its compact-equipment line, and Gehl is investing $6.5 million to expand its Yankton, S.D., facility and increase telehandler production by 50 percent.

In an uncharacteristic outsourcing, Caterpillar signed a supply agreement with JLG for its telehandlers. Clearly telehandlers are an important part of the Cat product line, but it appears they're unique enough that the Peoria giant, traditionally a do-it-yourselfer, wants JLG to supply the Cat-spec'd machines.

Perhaps even more unusual is the decision by the owner of the country's largest privately held equipment-rental company, Don Ahern, to enter the telehandler business. Ahern founded Xtreme manufacturing, despite the number of brands already in the marketplace, because of the perceived lack of competition for sales of a rugged, highly durable machine.

"In our opinion, the single most dynamic market factor affecting the telescopic-handler industry is manufacturing consolidation that has reduced competition," says Elesha Rasmuson, vice president of administration and sales for Xtreme. "It has reduced technological development."

Nevertheless, marketers are speaking of telehandlers with the kind of fervor for versatility reserved for backhoe-loaders or skid-steer loaders. And given double-digit growth in sales of telehandlers, tool-carrier models may just turn out to be the skid-steer-loader alternative that some claim them to be. If you're in the market for a machine to do some bucket work with, though, pay close attention to boom construction. Make sure you're getting a machine that will withstand the versatility promise.

Average Telehandler Costs
Capacity List Price Hourly Rate*
* Monthly ownership cost (based on list price and 5.125 percent interest) plus operating expenses (including fuel at $2.49 per gallon and $40.18 per hour for mechanic's wages) divided by 176 hours.
Source:, 800-669-3282
Average list prices for the biggest machines aren't substantially higher than 10,000-pounders, but hourly ownership and operating cost increases disproportionately. Maintenance and repair cost must be significantly higher for these large machines.
5,000 to 6,999 lb. $75,435 $32.37
7,000 to 9,999 lb. $96,549 $40.64
10,000 to 10,999 lb. $126,205 $49.09
11,000 to 20,999 lb. $130,618 $63.81

Telehandler Specs: 6,000-Pound Models
Model Max. Lift Height Capacity (lb.) At Max. Height Engine/Gross HP
* Sliding boom-mount carriage
** Stabilizers used in measuring capacities
JCB 527-55 18' 0" 6,000 JCB/83
Gehl CT6-18 18' 3" 6,000 Perkins/101
Manitou MLT 630T 20' 0" 6,000 Perkins/101
Manitou MVT 628T 20' 8" 5,000 Perkins/101
Xtreme XRM621 20' 10" 4,400 Iveco/99.5
JCB 530 Turbo 22' 11" 5,000** JCB/100
Liftking LK 630R 30' 0" 6,000** Perkins/110
Gehl RS5-34 34' 3" 4,000 Deere/99
Mustang 634 34' 3" 4,000 Deere/99
Manitou MT 6034XT 34' 3" 4,000 Deere/115
JCB 506C 36' 0" 6,000 JCB/82.5
Genie GTH-636 36' 0" 6,000 Deere/99
Pettibone T6036 Traverse* 36' 0" 5,000 Cummins/110
Pettibone 6036 Extendo 36' 0" 5,000 Cummins/110
Sky Trak (JLG) 6036 36' 1" 6,000 Cummins/99
Liftking LK 60R 37' 0" 6,000** Cummins/100
Thomas Laser TL 6-44-36 37' 2" 6,000 Perkins/108
Liftking LK 641R 41' 0" 6,000** Perkins/110
MEC TH60 41' 6" 6,000** Deutz/100
Sky Trak (JLG) 6042 41' 11" 6,000 Cummins/99
Carelift ZoomBoom ZB6042 42' 0" 6,000 Cummins/110
Lull (JLG) 644E-42* 42' 0" 6,000 Cummins/99
Thomas Lazer TL 6-44-42 43' 0" 4,000 Perkins/108
Genie GTH-644 44' 0" 6,000 Deere/99
Pettibone T6044 Traverse* 44' 0" 5,000 Cummins/110
Pettibone 6044 Extendo 44' 0" 5,000 Cummins/110