Vertical-Mast Forklifts Work Hard for the Rough-Terrain Market

By Larry Stewart, Executive Editor | September 28, 2010


Case's G Series forklifts have a load-control option, which the company credits with helping retain loads on rough terrain, and reducing stress on the mast and rollers.
Frame leveling is a standard feature on AUSA's 6,500-pound CH320. Operators employ the hydraulic cylinders connecting frame to axles to square up the machine for stable lifts. Manitou, Omega Lift and Tovel—all companies that also build telehandlers—offer frame-leveling systems as well.


Rough-terrain, vertical-mast forklifts continue to pick and place a lot of construction materials on jobsites despite the meteoric rise of telehandlers. Conventional-style lift trucks lost market share to telehandlers when that challenger made the construction scene, but sales numbers have stabilized, and vertical-mast forklifts appear to be regaining some lost ground thanks to their lower cost, greater productivity, and adoption of some telehandler-like features.

"There was a big swing when telehandlers came out — they took a lot of market share from the straight-mast forklifts — but we're seeing it start to turn around now," says Dan Hall, national sales manager with Harlo. "A lot of it has to do with the big difference in price. You pay, maybe, $80,000 for a telehandler, whereas you can get one of our 8,500-pound machines with similar capacity and lift height for about $50,000.

"Our customers are also telling us that as long as they don't need a lot of reach, a straight-mast machine will do twice the work that a telehandler will do because of ground speed and maneuverability. Rental houses are actually starting to get higher rates on straight masts, and utilization is going up, too."

Rental buyers are wielding significant influence in the rough-terrain forklift business. Half or more of all vertical-mast forklifts sold today go to a rental yard. These purchases are driven primarily by utilization, a factor followed closely by acquisition price. Telehandlers' popularity has given them a great advantage in terms of rental utilization, but their higher price has moderated the expansion. Even as competition among telehandler marketers has brought down their prices, some forklift users are finding that telehandlers are not nearly as productive in repetitive loading and unloading tasks that traditional rough-terrain forklifts have been doing quite well for decades.

"We used to sell 5,000 to 6,000 straight-mast trucks a year in the 1980s, but once telehandlers got a foothold the market flip-flopped," says Paul Gibson, general sales manager with Noble Construction Equipment. "Now telehandlers are selling 6,000 to 7,000 units per year, and straight-mast trucks are between 1,500 and 2,500 per year.

"Competitive pressure in the market has been such that a contractor may be able to rent a telehandler for not much more than the cost to rent a straight-mast lift truck," Gibson adds. "They can off-load a truck, even though the telehandler is a little more gangly, slow, and requires more skill to do the job—but they get the reach if they need it. There will always be lift trucks, though, because there are places that you can't get into with a telehandler.

"The rough-terrain lift truck is small, compact, and able to carry a heavier load vertically than a telehandler. If a guy wants to take 4,000 pounds 30 feet high, we can do that with a 6,000-pound lift truck. He has to go to an 8,000-pound telehandler to do the same thing."

Marketers of rough-terrain, vertical-mast forklifts have endured despite diminished sales. In North America, there are at least 19 distinct brands, with well over 100 models available. There are an almost identical number of manufacturers of telehandlers, although their products are being marketed under 24 different brands. Not surprisingly, several of the brands market both lift trucks and telehandlers—names like Case, Ingersoll Rand, JCB, Liftking, Load Lifter, Manitou, Omega Lift, Sellick and Tovel.

Lift-truck marketers have added to their maneuverability advantages by borrowing some features that make telehandlers popular. For example, AUSA, Manitou, Omega Lift and Tovel have hydraulic chassis-leveling systems that allow the operator to square up the truck's frame when it is sitting on uneven terrain so lifts can be made more safely. Liftking, Load Lifter and Swinger lift trucks offer the feature as an option.

Four-wheel steer is another telehandler-like technology. Liftking, Load Lifter, Omega Lift and Tovel all offer rigid-framed machines riding on four equal-sized tires. Coordinated four-wheel and crab-steering modes give these machines maneuverability that rivals the rear-wheel steering of a traditional lift truck. And the ability to shuttle sideways in crab-steer mode offers another dimension of pick-and-place flexibility.

Placement dexterity can be improved by buying a machine with a side-shifting mast or carriage sideshift. Mast sideshift is a fairly common feature throughout the lift trucks available, and allows the operator to move the mast hydraulically several inches to either side of center. Carriage sideshift is sometimes an option. It moves the carriage to either side of the center of the mast.

Generally, there are two types of masts available on rough-terrain forklifts—three stage or two stage. A three-stage mast is made up of three rails that extend to the full height. It has a lower profile when the forks are lowered. Two-stage masts are made up of two rails and present fewer obstructions to the operator's view through the mast when the forks are down.

Carriages, which carry the forks up and down the mast, are typically designed in two ways¡ªeither an ITA Class IV Hook carriage, or a shaft-mounted carriage. The hook carriage is a basic fixed-fork arrangement, while the forks hinge around a shaft on a shaft-mounted carriage to allow the forks to float. Carriages can also be equipped with a quick coupler so that the operator can easily swap forks for other attachments such as buckets, blades or brooms.

Hydrostatic drive amplifies a rough-terrain forklift's ease of operation by eliminating gear shifting. Ausa, Manitou, Waldon and Master Craft have hydrostatic machines. A few other manufacturers offer automatic powershift transmissions that also take gear shifting out of the operator's hands.

Kawasaki markets one of the automatic powershift machines, which is a version of its wheel-loader line with a Sellick mast in place of the loader arms. Waldon's machines and A & O's Swinger are smaller wheel-loader conversions. Articulated steering makes these machines very maneuverable (Waldon's 6000C has the smallest turning radius of any four-wheel drive in the RT forklift category), and they'll handle very poor site conditions with their four-wheel drive.

The Construction Equipment Universe Study indicates that the total number of rough-terrain, vertical-mast forklifts at work in the United States has grown 46 percent since 1995, to a total of nearly 30,000 machines, and the number of firms that own this kind of lift truck has grown by 11 percent. The population of telehandlers is growing somewhat faster, but these dynamics suggest that there are still plenty of construction applications for vertical-mast machines. Lift trucks should remain a vital part of the construction scene as manufacturers continue to improve the productivity of this material handler for contractors who don't need a lot of reach to place loads.

Average RT Forklift Costs
Capacity List price Hourly cost*
* Monthly ownership cost (based on list price) plus operating expenses, divided by 176 hours
Source:, phone 800/669-3282
Construction Equipment Universe Study data suggests that the average rough-terrain vertical-mast forklift works 1,150 hours per year.
Less than 6,000 pounds $44,980 $14
6,000 to 9,999 pounds $52,520 $16
10,000 pounds or more $94,480 $25


6,000-Pound Competitors
Model Highest Available Lift Capacity at Max. Height (lbs.) Turn Radius* Horse-Power Drive Weight** 2WD/4WD (lbs.)
* For the two-wheel-drive model. Without brakes applied.
** With largest available mast
All of these models are rated with 6,000 pounds capacity at 24-inch load center except the AUSA CH-280, which is rated at 5,732 pounds, and Harlo's HP6500, which is rated at 6,500 pounds. Specifications are given for comparison only and are subject to change.
Ausa CH280 22'2" 3,086 177" 59 4WD 10,141
Case 586G 22'0" 3,000 156" 75 2WD/4WD 13,750/14,110
Dahmer 6000 30'0" 3,200 143" 62 2WD 13,460
Ingersoll Rand RT-706H 22'0" 3,300 161" 80 2WD/4WD 12,900/13,190
JCB 930 28'0" 1,500 139" 76 2WD/4WD 14,490/14,830
Liftall L60 14'0" 6,000 150" 86 2WD 10,700
Liftall LT60 22'0" 3,000 150" 86 2WD 12,500
LiftKing LK 6M22 28'0" 1,500 130" 86 2WD/4WD 13,300
LiftKing LK6P44-B n/a n/a 153" 86 4WD 13,500
Load Lifter 4400-6D 30'0" 6,000 163" 86 4WD 14,700
Load Lifter 6000 Laborer 15'0" 6,000 120" 86 2WD/4WD 12,500/12,500
Manitou M30 22'3" 3,475 160" 80 2WD/4WD 14,455/14,955
Master Craft AE-6200 21'0" n/a 152" 80 2WD/4WD 13,767/13,767
Master Craft C-06-700 30'0" 1,680 169" 78 2WD/4WD 15,237/15,855
Master Craft HD-06-660 21'0" 6,000 157" 80 2WD/4WD 15,546/15,796
Master Craft RT/C-06-440 21'0" 6,000 137" 80 2WD 15,237
Noble R60 29'7" 6,000 180" 86 2WD/4WD 12700/14,800
Noble RC60 21'0" 6,000 152" 86 2WD 11,800
Noble RT60 22'0" 6,000 186" 80 2WD/4WD 14400/14,720
Omega Lift 2X236-6X 30'0" n/a n/a 86 2WD 11,940
Omega Lift 44236-6X 30'0" n/a 144" 89 4WD 12,260
Sellick S60 30'0" 2,000 n/a 83 2WD/4WD 14,710/14,842
Sellick SG-60R 30'0" 2,000 135" 86 2WD/4WD 13,105/13,195
Tovel TS 6-22 38'0" 6,000 162" 80 2WD/4WD 11,800/11,800
Tovel TS 6-44 38'0" 6,000 146" 90 4WD 13,800
Waldon 6000C Forklift 15'0" 4,000 137" 80 4WD 11,400
Xtreme MT60B 21'0" n/a 111" 84 2WD 12,440
Harlo HP 6500 28'0" 1,000 159" 80 2WD/4WD 13,340/13,514




Web Resources
  A&O Forklift
Ingersoll Rand
Load Lifter
Manitou North America
Master Craft
Omega Lift
Sellick Equipment
Taylor Machine Works
Tovel Mfg.
Xtreme Manufacturing