Rental, Residential Markets Cause Telehandler Takeoff

May 30, 2013

Now that many rental operations have re-fleeted and residential construction is climbing out of its abyss, telehandler manufacturers are adding comfort features, some new models and Tier 4 solutions to their product lines.

The activity in the market is leading to a description we haven’t heard about many equipment categories lately: “The telehandler market is strong,” says Wayne Goodall, telehandler product specialist for Caterpillar. “With the growth in new residential construction and the need to expand rental fleets, there is good demand for the product.”

Cost of Ownership

Size ClassAverage PriceHourly Rate*
<2.1 metric ton$59,664$30.50
2.2-2.7 metric tons$69,434$33.80
2.71-3.0 metric tons$86,664$43.52
3.1-3.5 metric tons$96,044$46.39
3.6-3.9 metric tons$106,663$51.24
4.0-4.4 metric tons$110,514$51.51
4.5-4.9 metric tons$133,654$57.58
>5 metric tons$172,137$82.05

*Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Unit prices used in this calculation: diesel fuel, $3.98 per gallon; mechanic’s wage at $51.24 per hour; and money costs at 1.75 percent.
Source:, 800.669.3282

Telehandlers also have the advantage, in smaller sizes, of benefiting from a strong agricultural market, where commodity prices have been up for the last five years, meaning farmers have money to spend. No matter where the money comes from, it’s all good news for OEMs—and telehandler buyers seeking new iron with updated features.

“The market has followed the same pattern we’ve seen with all construction equipment, with 2006 being a peak, and then we hit the bottom in 2009,” says Bobcat’s Bryan Zent, North American product manager for telehandlers and compact excavators.

Rental still rules for telehandlers

One thing that hasn’t changed in recent years is the ratio between telehandler rental and ownership. “The telehandler product has always been predisposed toward rental and this disposition has not changed,” Goodall says.

Zent sees the breakdown as “fairly well split,” but he acknowledges business conditions have stacked the decks for rental.

“Lately, coming out of the recession, business was heavier on the rental side because the contractors didn’t have as many jobs to support or justify owning,” Zent says. “And as the recovery moves along, there’s still kind of a wait-and-see attitude to make sure the jobs are going to keep coming in, so they rent until they feel confident.”

Rental operations are keeping units anywhere from three to five years, according to Goodall. “This variable is contingent upon the dealers’ go-to-market strategy and depreciation methodology,” he says.

From small to large

Bobcat offers a unit on the small side of the telehandler range, the V417, with 4,000 pounds of lift capacity and a 17-foot lift height.

“Dimensionally, it’s the same height and width as our skid steer loaders and it has a Bob-Tach system so it runs many of the same attachments you can run on a skid steer loader or a compact track loader,” Zent says. “It’s very much a tool carrier and capable of doing so much more than just picking and placing pallets, because it’s got the auxiliary hydraulics to run hydraulically powered attachments.”

Zent says that on both sides of the telehandler range, the smaller 4,000- to 5,000-pound lift capacities all the way up to the dedicated pick-and-place machines, the sizes aren’t really expanding. “There’s a limit on how big they can really get,” Zent says.

However, JCB is one OEM that has expanded its own size range. The new Loadall 550-200 has a lift capacity of 10,000 pounds and can lift loads up to 65 feet 6 inches. Modifications to the boom and boom nose have helped make it possible to lift heavier loads to greater heights.

The boom of the 550-200 has been specifically designed for the construction market, using lighter, higher-grade material to improve the capacity of the machine at reach.

It utilizes a five-stage boom design driven by an internal extension ram and chain system, providing proportional extension of the boom. The design of the chain and roller system uses a pre-lubricated chain. The system is designed to visibly show the operator and service engineer when chain adjustment is necessary. To maximize stability while working at height, the stabilizer package is set forward.

The boom nose is a one-piece design, which minimizes the stresses placed on the inner boom during operation, providing maximum strength and rigidity, according to the company.

Telehandler trends to watch

Manufacturers are also making modifications to engines and hydraulic systems to make machines more efficient, just as they have in other equipment categories.

“We’re seeing changes in hydraulics,” Bobcat’s Zent says, “with more efficient hydraulic pumps used to get more out of a given horsepower and engine, with an eye toward greater performance and less fuel consumption.”

Think Outside the...Pallet You're Lifting

Telehandlers can be more than pick-and-place machines that only use forks, jibs and winches for bulk material handling.
Take a look around your job sites and think about a telehandler being on par with a skid steer, loader or backhoe, as far as versatility through attachments. If you could equip a telehandler with less traditional attachments, could you eliminate or redeploy other assets?
Bobcat’s Bryan Zent suggests several scenarios and combinations.
• Site clearing with a rotary brush cutter, combination bucket, rock bucket or grapples
• Landscaping with an auger (for fencing), soil conditioner, tiller, landscape rake, seeder or mower
• In northern climes, snow removal with a snow pusher, snow blade, v-blade or snow blower.
• Site cleanup with an angle broom or sweeper
“A lot of these machines are used on a construction site moving pallets or putting material up two stories on a building, but at the end of a day you need to clean up the worksite,” Zent says.
“There are also a lot of municipalities that are really cracking down on dirty job sites generating mud and dirt that makes its way onto roads and gets into sewer systems, so if you’re able to run a hydraulically driven broom to sweep up at the end of the day, you don’t have to have a dedicated loader on site—you can use the same machine that you’re using all day for a pick-and-place operation.”

Zent also notes in-cab changes for operators. “You see more features, particularly in the type of machine where an operator is going to spend a lot of time in it,” he says. “There are more comfort features, better visibility, low-mount booms so you can see that panoramic view from the cab, and to help with maneuverability as well.

“With dedicated pick-and-place machines,we’re starting to see more machine awareness, where you’ve got these sensors, whether they’re pressure or angle sensors, that can alert operators when they’re getting into potentially dicey situations,” Zent says. “Situations such as when they’re getting toward the threshold of the machine’s capabilities, or maybe operating on unlevel terrain, or attempting to lift something at a given extension of the boom that’s going to exceed the machine’s lift capacity.”

Working on uneven terrain inspired Caterpillar to put a frame level feature on their C Series machines. They have frame level capability up to 10 degrees when operating in rough terrain. “Frame level for the extended reach machines are a must-have for stability at height,” Goodall says.

Zent notes that Bobcat’s next generation of telehandlers in Europe already has some sensor technology.

“I think Europe is where we’ll see a lot of these technologies coming from, as Europe tends to be more regulated as far as work conditions,” he says. “We might see more of the technologies used there migrating to the U.S. as we go forward.”

Before buying a telehandler

Managers thinking about purchasing telehandlers need to think about sizing and application first. “There are some units that are more specialized at pick-and-place operations or ground-engaging digging operations, versus running hydraulic attachments,” Zent says. “Then the questions become how much are you going to have to lift to what height, and how much reach do you need?”

As with all machinery, cost of ownership and ease of maintenance will also be top of mind.

“Ease of maintaining the fleet is important, as well as common components across the machines to make it easier to stock parts,” Zent says.

“All machines require service for the best performance and lowest owning and operating costs,” Cat’s Goodall says. “For telehandlers, durable components are very important. That’s why we use Cat XT hydraulic hoses throughout the machine.”

In addition to emphasis on reducing fuel consumption and cost of ownership while increasing the durability of machines, Zent sees an increase in automation on the horizon.

“When you look at wheel loaders and some of the larger excavators, there are features like return-to-dig or return-to-dump-height, and we could conceivably see those things coming to telehandlers,” Zent says.

“Imagine having a pallet up high and extended out, and you want to bring it back in,” Zent continues. “And at a push of a button, the machine does it for you, retracting the boom and keeping the pallet level without you having to do those multiple functions manually.”