Telehandler Market Awaits a Comeback

By Katie Weiler, Managing Editor | June 7, 2011
Telehandler Market Awaits a Comeback

Just a few short years ago, compact telehandlers rolled off the production lines to serve not only niche markets but also construction. In early 2008, we reported about 6,000 units were sold—twice that sold earlier in the decade. Since then, the telehandler market in general has been hurting…until now.

“The telehandler market is coming back mainly due to the rental world coming back alive,” says Jim Blower, JCB’s senior product manager. “With the downturn, big national rental accounts stopped buying and then started downsizing their fleets. With the majority of telehandlers sold into rental first, that dramatically slowed the market down. But now things are turning around, the market is coming back, and rental companies are upsizing again—not as strong as it was, but it’s certainly coming back in the right direction. So it’s all good news.”

Current growth seems to be in the 9,000- and 10,000-pound lift capacity machines—even up to the 12,000-pound units. JCB offers five machines in that range (plus a sixth just released at Conexpo—the 512-56, which can lift and place up to 12,000 pounds). The company has four distinct groups in its line: compact, ground-engaging, lift-and-place, and toolcarrier. Each is designed for specific applications. For example, there are two 10,000-pound toolcarriers with different lift heights, as well as two lift-and-place machines. A ground-engaging version features more power in bucket breakout force and more strength in the structure of the machine to handle digging duties.

“On the ground-engaging machines, the boom telescopes out hydraulically; when you put a bucket on it and you’re pushing into the pile, you’re pushing against the hydraulic cylinder,” Blower explains. “On the lift-and-place machines, hydraulic cylinders push the first stage of the boom out and then the third and fourth stages of the boom are taken out by chains. The boom extends fully out a lot quicker. The down side is if you put a bucket on it, you’ll be pushing against the chains rather than the hydraulic cylinder, and there is not as much structural strength in the boom for pushing with that design.”

Caterpillar’s Scott Cooper, telehandler marketing manager, concurs with the trend toward larger machines in the 10K and 12K size. Those machines are growing the most for Cat right now.

“I believe what is going on now in our industry is mostly commercial—bridges, highways, big nuclear projects—applications where the customer needs the ability to be able to pick up a lot heavier loads and have more versatility,” says Cooper. “And the 6s and the 9s are more of your residential construction machines, and residential hasn’t come back yet. Right before the recession we did start to see a pickup on 10s and 12s even into the residential sector, because some of the larger housing developments required the ability to pick up heavier material using the machine for various applications throughout the jobsite lifecycle.”

Caterpillar recently completed year 5 of a 20-year alliance agreement with JLG Industries. As most readers will remember, Cat sold its design rights to JLG, and JLG manufactures Cat-branded machines. Just a few weeks ago, Cat also sold its telehandler work tools to JLG, according to Cooper. So the attachments will be owned and housed out of the same group that is responsible for the telehandlers instead of having two different companies own two different parts—one owning the work tools and one owning the machines.

“The Caterpillar product team, which is made up of Cat and JLG team members, is actively involved in the daily ins and outs of the telehandler operations. Both play a major role as stakeholders in these products,” Cooper says. “So if there are going to be any changes to this product for all new product-development programs, for example, Cat and JLG are both deeply involved in those changes.”

Caterpillar currently offers eight models—four in the “price-competitive, rental-spec” TL Series and four in the low-boom TH Series with more features and benefits. The TL943 and TL1055 fall into the 9,000- and 10,000-pound category, respectively, with lift heights of 43 and 55 feet. Both are powered by Cat C4.4 TA engines with gross horsepower ratings of 99 and 125. The latest feature in the TL Series is a transmission disconnect located on the joystick. An operator can actually kick the transmission out when he’s loading a truck or unloading a truck just by pushing a button. The TH Series sports a new electronic LCD display with angle indicator and self-diagnostic information.

Although Cat’s TL Series was built off of JLG’s G-Series models, both companies made sure there was plenty of product differentiation. JLG makes a total of 24 telehandlers for distribution in North America, two of which are exclusively for the U.S. military. Lift capacities range from 5,500 to 12,000 pounds and reach heights up to 55 feet. Six machines land in the 9,000- to 10,000-pound range. With the exception of the G5-18A, which has a hydrostatic transmission, all machines feature four-wheel-steer and powershift transmissions. 

Of course, JLG’s parent company, Oshkosh Corp., also owns the Lull and SkyTrak brands, which add another four models to the 9,000 and 10,000 range. Marketing the three different brands isn’t difficult as each is geared toward specific applications.

“We target the Lull toward masonry contractors because its traversing carriage makes it really nice to set block onto scaffolding,” says Brian Boeckman of JLG. “A traversing carriage allows the machine to slide perfectly in a horizontal plane front to back by 80 inches, so it allows an operator to set a load block on top of a piece of scaffolding very easily without disturbing the masons who are on the scaffolding,” he says.

“The SkyTrak brand is the
No. 1 selling telehandler in North America,” according to Boeckman. “While it finds itself mainly in rental companies, it also has a retail following. The G Series from JLG is positioned with more bells and whistles and more features and options. It’s the premium brand of the three we mentioned. The JLG has pilot operated hydraulics where the SkyTrak uses cable operated. That gives you a little different look and feel as you sit in the cab and run the machine. We use Tier 3 Cummins engines in both the JLG and SkyTrak as well as the Lull. But the axles are different; the transmissions are different; the structures are different. The machines really appeal to a different set of operators.”

Boeckman says JLG has seen a lot more activity on the larger end of its telehandler line. “The G12-55As, our 12,000-pound units, are doing very well. We’re seeing them on a lot of wind-farm jobsites right now, as well as the oil and gas industry.”

Genie’s telehandler product manager Scott Krieger backs that up as well. He says, “With the economy growing again, there appears to be strong interest in the larger-than-10,000-pound telehandlers. These machines are able to do the heavy jobsite lifting that many compact units aren’t designed for.”

Top end of Genie’s line—the GTH-1056—has a 10,000-pound lift capacity up to 56 feet 10 inches high. It features an outside turning radius of 13 feet 3 inches, so it maneuvers easily on tight jobsites. A single hydraulically piloted multi-functional joystick features integrated frame leveling control up to 10 degrees either side. Power comes from either a John Deere or Perkins four-cylinder Tier 3 diesel with up to 125 horsepower. Standard twin-axle-mounted stabilizers can be deployed from the cab.

Bright future ahead

Manufacturers cite many positive indicators for increased sales. Because an average of 70 percent of telehandlers go into the rental market first, and 30 percent retail, the fact that rental orders are starting to come back is key for this equipment segment. And with residential construction slowly picking up, rental houses and fleet managers will be renting/buying more in the near future.

“We are starting to see the beginning of the replacement cycle now,” Boeckman says. “We certainly don’t believe that telehandlers as a product have penetrated all the markets that they possibly could, so we see increased opportunities there. We’ve got a lot of further growth ahead of us as an industry in terms of penetration of the Americas, and certainly the global markets are opening up to us as well. We are certainly in more markets around the globe than we have been in the past.”

That said, telehandler companies are convinced they are positioned for a comeback. And likely it will start with 9K, 10K and 12K machines with compacts soon to follow. Emerging markets and new applications, coupled with highway/bridge projects and residential’s eventual return, will soon bring higher profits for equipment manufacturers and contractors.