Tracking the Industry

The spring monsoon season always makes finishing those first construction and landscape projects of the year a constant challenge. The wet weather makes
jobsites slick and unworkable, and your skid steers get no traction on those slippery inclines and delicate work surfaces. Your traditional wheeled loaders just end up flinging sod at co-workers, skidding around finely
manicured lawns tearing everything to hell.

That’s why it’s time to call in the mobile artillery — your little Sherman tank on tracks — your compact track loader. Tackling tough terrain and giving extra power are what compact track loaders are all about. Sometimes called rubber track loaders or multi-terrain loaders (depending on the manufacturer), these compact loader/tool carriers are engineered just like your skid steers (including the same attachment plate),
but with the added versatility of a dedicated track undercarriage.

Rolling on rubber tracks, compact track loaders
can spearhead operations and navigate jobsites with extra flotation — especially in the wet weather months. A dedicated undercarriage also gives added tractive power (great in dozing operations), yet dispenses the weight of the entire machine through multiple track contact points for a lighter footprint. Extra power, lower ground pressure and added flotation and traction — the advantages of compact track loaders are growing on all types of professionals.

“More and more customers are realizing the benefits of compact track loaders, including unmatched traction and stability, superior flotation, minimal ground disturbance for work on improved surfaces, smoother travel at higher speeds for work on unleveled sites, low center of gravity for work on side hills and overall improved productivity,” explains Brad Lemke, director of new product development at ASV, one of the pioneers of the industry. “As a result, the construction equipment industry is going through a major shift, with many observers predicting that sales of rubber track loaders will soon outpace sales of skid steers.”

That’s truly a bold statement, and though we’re not sure compact track loaders will ever outsell skid steers, these dedicated track machines are making a huge impact on the small loader market. According to the manufacturers CE surveyed (nine in all), unit sales for compact track loaders were expected to reach 20,000

in 2005 (there are no official numbers). In 2004, the compact track loader market had sales of about 16,000 units — an enormous leap from the 3,300 units sold in 2000. Compare those number with skid steer sales (which were around 66,000 in 2005), and you can begin to see the potential for compact tool carriers on tracks.

“The track loader market is undoubtedly growing with considerable percentage growth each year,” says Kelly Moore, product manager of skid steers and compact track loaders at Gehl. “Customers are finding that compact track loaders are a great additional
compact piece of equipment in their fleet — especially for use in soft, muddy conditions and where moretraction and flotation is required.”

Compact track loaders have discovered a niche — landscape, forest and construction jobs that need extra flotation, traction and pushing power (while still leaving a light footprint). Wheeled skid steers will always have their strong markets (especially when hard surfaces, cost of ownership or increased cycle times come into play), but we expect compact track loaders
to continue to eat up market share in their specific applications. With such impressive market growth always comes increased competition and customers, which is why so many manufacturers have begun selling their own unique lineup of compact track loaders in the last few years.

From Bobcat to Caterpillar, Takeuchi to ASV, Komatsu to Case — more than nine manufacturers are producing or branding these dedicated track machines today. Which unit is the perfect piece of iron for your operations? Peruse these next 11 pages and discover what each of these major manufacturers are offering (specs, product summaries and even prices) and begin to uncover the ideal track loader for your applications, jobsites and pocketbook.

Keith Gribbins is managing editor of Compact Equipment.

Jason Morgan is assistant editor of Compact Equipment.

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