Take a Second Look

March 21, 2014 09:53 PM
Take a Second Look

New telehandlers built for capacity, steering and speed

After a somewhat ill-fated start in the North American ag equipment market 15 years ago, telehandlers are getting a second look from farmers who swore they’d never have another one.

In the 1990s, a number of farmers took advantage of bargain prices on used telehandlers from the construction rental industry. The machines were primarily designed to lift pallets and were bulky, heavy and slow. 

Early ag machines were designed for European markets, sporting small cabs and inconvenient control panels. The air-conditioning systems good enough for Europe couldn’t keep up in the heat of summer in the U.S. Small buckets and limited lift capacity didn’t fare well with U.S. farmers, either. There was that annoying cycle-time problem of having to power down the boom once the load was dumped (similar to a tractor and front-end loader).

"Those problems didn’t gain the telehandler many fans in the U.S.," says David Wagner, New Holland 
Agriculture’s brand market manager. "In fact, the problems drove away customers to the point telehandler sales have never taken off here as they have in Europe."

That’s all changing, Wagner says. Today’s ag-specific telehandlers are built for capacity, steerability and speed.

Take two.
"The new machines have ergonomically designed cabs and controls aimed at North American pro­ducers. They have air-conditioning sys­tems that will keep the all-glass cabs comfortable even on an August day in the Great Plains. They have lift capacities in the 9,000-lb. range and booms that will take service that most Europeans would consider ‘abuse’," Wagner explains.

When some major manufacturers left the telehandler market several years ago, that sent signals to North American farmers that "telehandlers must not be a good idea," says Ray Bingley, ag products sales manager for UK-based JCB. He and Wagner both disagree with that assumption.

Sales figures also indicate there’s life in the telehandler market with Americans buying about 1,000 ag-specific machines per year, compared with 400 to 500 units per year in the late 1990s.
FJ 056 F14127

An engine on one side, driver on the other and boom up the middle is indicative of the JCB design for agricultural telehandlers.

Wagner says material handling is why folks buy skid steers, wheel loaders and telehandlers. 

"If you’re running a huge operation with lots of space, you’re probably happy with one or more wheel loaders," Wagner explains. "If you’re a smaller-scale operation with small stalls to clean, then more than likely you’re already committed to skid steers, or a fleet of them."

But if you’re in that 60% to 70% of the market that isn’t locked into larger wheel loaders or smaller skid steers, Bingley and Wagner say the new telehandler could be a wise choice. The telehandler serves many uses because of its ability to lift more and higher than a skid steer, as well as attach to a variety of tools.

Bingley says of the roughly 20,000 tractors sold in the U.S. each year, half of them are for field work with some loading chores. The other half are primarily sold with loaders to do material handling—and that’s where the telehandler has a chance to increase its market share.

"A modern telehandler will handle loads up to 9,000 lb. with a much larger bucket than a skid steer," Bingley notes. "The telehandler is like a Swiss Army knife when you add multiple sized buckets for feed and manure."

Wagner points to hard figures to help producers wade through the higher price tag for a telehandler, saying it comes down to productivity. 

"A telehandler can free up time for a producer to do other things," Wagner explains. "For instance, if you’re loading silage into a mixer using a tractor and front-end loader, it can only load three-quarters of a yard at a time, and the cycle time is slow. A telehandler has a purpose-built bucket and will lift more; you can fill the mixer in half to three-quarters the time it took with the tractor and loader. After several loads, you’ve saved 45 minutes to an hour."

Other benefits of a modern telehandler include the ability to reach over obstacles to load bales or feed without opening gates or driving around stalls. There’s the ability, like the Europeans have found, to pull trailers and "road" a telehandler.

"If a guy has to go anywhere, a telehandler is better with its selectable steering features," Wagner says. "A wheel loader always wiggles on the road, while a telehandler offers front-wheel steering like a pickup. If you need to turn tight, select four-wheel steer. It won’t turn in its own length like a skid steer, but it’s typically more maneuverable than a wheel loader."

Machines that do more.
The productivity message is one that manufac-turers will continue to put in front of American farmers. 

New Holland, which started building telehandlers designed for the ag industry in 2008, will bring its second-generation machines to market later this year using what it has learned on American farms. 
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Caterpillar’s TH255C compact telehandler has the ability to lift 5,500 lb. more than 18' high and reach forward nearly 11' with 1,700 lb.

Caterpillar has taken notice of the opportunity to better serve farmers and recently introduced the TH255C compact telehandler built to meet the size, lift capacity and reach needed to fill bunks or handle hay. The new machine can lift 5,500 lb. more than 18' high, reach forward nearly 11' with 1,700 lb. and has quick-attach mounting for a variety of skid-steer tools.

Meanwhile, JCB is "rationalizing" its telehandler design for the North American market.

"Going forward, you’ll see a continuing of the rationalization of our product line," Bingley explains. "We’ve had a mixture of machines with the cabs on the front, cabs on the side, engines in the rear and engines on the side, etc. Now, you’ll see one common design with a side engine, a side cab and a boom down the middle.

"Everything in the engine bay will be bigger or smaller, depending upon the machine size and capacity," he adds.

Wagner says the new machines should help begin dispelling "hard feelings" from the past.

"I’ve talked with folks who say they wouldn’t know how they’d use a telehandler, but once they try one, it’s ‘What would I do without it?’ " he says.

"We’ve had bigger operators who bought one to go with their skid-steer and wheel loader fleet," Wagner says. "They find operators tend to gravitate toward the telehandler because it’s more versatile and comfortable."

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