Small Skid Steers Hold Their Own

June 28, 2012

Manufacturers on the smaller end of the skid steer loader universe (2,200 pounds rated load capacity or less) that have chosen to upgrade models in the last year have bolstered machine versatility with couplers and attachments, and incorporated features from the larger end of their lines, such as vertical lift. As the category continues to climb out of the recession, the strategy seems to be working.

Manufacturers on the smaller end of the skid steer loader universe (2,200 pounds rated load capacity or less) that have chosen to upgrade models in the last year have bolstered machine versatility with couplers and attachments, and incorporated features from the larger end of their lines, such as vertical lift. As the category continues to climb out of the recession, the strategy seems to be working.

“The 1,350- to 2,200-pound [rated load capacity] portion of the market is the bread and butter, and growing in terms of volume,” says Sean Bifani, skid steer loader product manager for Mustang.

Skid Steer Ownership Costs

Size (lb.) List Price Hourly Rate*
To 700 $17,402 $17.16
701 - 975 $21,257 $19.31
976 - 1,250 $23,203 $23.73
1,251 - 1,350 $25,603 $26.34
1,351 - 1,600 $29,475 $27.98
1,601 - 1,750 $31,057 $30.40
1,751 - 2,200 $35,551 $33.13

*Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Adjusted operating unit prices used in the calculation: diesel fuel, $4.13 per gallon; mechanic’s wage at $50.76 per hour; and, money costs at 2 percent. Source:

“It’s definitely recovering now; we see very encouraging signs in the marketplace,” Bifani says. “We’re also seeing some organic growth. By and large, it’s a very stable area of the market. And, there’s some movement toward rental versus purchasing, as there’s still some uncertainty out there in the overall economy.”

George Chaney, skid steer loader international sales manager for JCB, sees increased sales activity in rental, as well as in the overall market. “Aging rental fleets are now being replaced, and we see the overall skid steer market growing over the next few years,” Chaney says.

“With small-platform vertical-lift machines, operators get more capacity for their dollar with machines that are easier to transport, as they are smaller, lighter, and less expensive,” Chaney says.

Owners are also looking for vertical reach in smaller machines. “Vertical-lift machines give you more reach at full lift—with radial-lift machines, the boom follows an arc as it travels up, so you lose reach,” Chaney says. “To dump with a radial lift machine, the higher I go, the closer in I have to be to the dump truck or hopper.”

When New Holland introduced four new skid steers into the less than 2,200-pound size class last year, the L213, L215, L218, and L220, it put vertical-lift booms on the L218 and L220.

“The L218 and L220 skid steer loaders can load material to the center of trucks, finishing jobs faster,” says Curtis Goettel, brand marketing manager, New Holland Construction. “The 53-degree dump angle lets operators empty the bucket faster, increasing cycle times and productivity.”

Terex made vertical lifts a priority when it entered the skid steer market. Terex Product Manager Jamie Wright notes that additional reach, as well as additional lift capabilities, has contributed to another change.

“Wheelbases on skid steers have also increased to compensate,” Wright says. “Wheelbase is the distance between the center of the rear axle to the center of the front axle. A longer wheelbase helps give the operator a more stable platform when lifting weight to full height.”

JCB’s new small-platform vertical-lift units are the 175, 190, and 205. They provide maximum reach at full lift, which is not only important when loading dump trucks, but also when lifting and placing pallets or keeping an auger attachment aligned. The company’s new small-platform models are available with an optional hydraulic quick-hitch, as manufacturers continue to build greater versatility into the size class based on contractor needs.

“This size class is where you’re going to find the most broad application range for skid steer loaders,” Mustang’s Bifani says. “Skid steer loaders are to the commercial market like compact tractors are to homeowners and consumers, in respect to versatility. Rather than having machines dedicated to specific tasks, just one carrier with attachments provides a contractor with the ability to simply hook up different attachments for different jobs and get good utilization.”

What you use to get the job done, of course, depends on what you’re doing—or where you’re doing it.

“Attachment utilization tends to be regional, depending on processes and methods,” says Bifani. “For example, in the northern half of the country, snow removal implements are more popular. In the southern half you see more attachments for landscaping, brush cutting, and land clearing.”

Bifani says buckets and grapples seem to be the most popular, for construction demolition-material handling, and site clearance. “Second would be pallet forks, then it would break down into specific applications, such as brooms, augers, and snow implements,” he says. “In the last decade, we’ve seen several new applications, such as silt fence plows for erosion control.”

Caterpillar has responded to contractors’ needs for more powerful attachments by upgrading its 242B3 skid steer with a new high-flow auxiliary hydraulic system option that provides 31 gpm for high-flow attachments.

But perhaps the most interesting feature on the manufacturers’ side that is gaining increased user acceptance in recent years is the single-arm loader design. Two manufacturers, JCB and Volvo, now offer skid steer loaders with a single loader arm and a side-door entry as opposed to the traditional front, over-the-bucket entry. (JCB is building the Volvo units.)

Unlike the largely marketing-driven bluster that has occasionally flared between JCB and Case over who actually invented the backhoe loader, the origin of the single-arm design for skid steers is clear. Joseph Cyril Bamford, JCB’s founder and namesake, came up with the design.

“He always had a keen eye on applications and what could be done to make things safer or more productive,” Chaney says. “In the Midlands region of the U.K., he was watching as skid steer loaders used bale spears in agricultural applications. On twin-arm front-entry skid steers, the operator would have to drop the round bale to be able to get out of the machine to open a gate to travel through.”

This meant potential safety issues for the operator,  such as climbing over attachments, or maybe even under raised booms in some situations. “Mr. Bamford took the single boom, left-side entry design of the Loadall [telehandler] and integrated it into their skid steer. With this design, the operator enters and exits through the left side,” Chaney says.

“We have the weight distribution balanced left to right, as we offset the engine and other components. With side access, an operator can be more productive,” he says. “He doesn’t have to remove the load to get out.”

Traditionalists may still balk at the sight of one loader arm versus two, but JCB says testing confirms there’s plenty of power and also 270 degrees of visibility for the operator.

JCB recently introduced its first five small-platform models in the less than 2,200-pound category, part of a new line of 17 skid steers and compact track loaders that finally puts it in every size class. “We now have sealed and pressurized cabs, air conditioning, hydraulic quick hitches, and multifunction joysticks,” Chaney says. “We didn’t have vertical-lift machines previously, but now offer them in large and small platforms.”

If anything, manufacturers have brought large  machine features down to small-platform units, as John Deere did with its D-Series a couple of years ago.

“We try to offer the most power in the smallest package,” Mustang’s Bifani says. “Big-machine performance in a small-machine size that lets you gain access to places other equipment can’t go.” Mustang’s latest change in the category is a 20-percent torque boost to its 2056 Series II. It also went from 62 to 68 horsepower, providing more power in a machine with a width as narrow as 60 inches.

Terex, which entered the category last year, has five models at or under 2,200 pounds rated load capacity.

“We polled a variety of different customers and found that high ground clearances and rear angles of departure, high travel speeds, increased fuel capacities, and mechanical-faced axle seals are extremely important during the buying decision,” says Terex’s Wright. “Because they all contribute to higher productivity and a lower cost of ownership.”

Mustang’s Bifani also cites buyers’ bottom lines. “We’re looking at cost of ownership for contractors and customers,” he says. “A purchase is an investment, so we therefore take into consideration the total cost of ownership—durability and uptime are very important over the lifetime of the machine.”