Q&A: Talking Skid Steer and Track Loader Trends with John Deere’s Emily Pagura

John Deere 317G compact track loader using pallet forks

The January/February print issue of Compact Equipment is at the printers. It’s already online for those who can’t wait. In that issue, we deep dive into the skid steer and compact track loader industry with a 6,000-word mega feature. To build that story, we interviewed more than 10 manufacturers. Some of those interviews make equally compelling copy. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing those interviews, asking top brands from Cat to Kubota to detail their skid steer and track loader lines but also share their opinions on trends changing the industry, sales numbers, attachment insights and buying and maintenance advice. Here comes one of those interviews right now. Emily Pagura, solutions marketing manager from John Deere, was kind enough to share her time and insights on the small loader market.

Compact Equipment: Emily, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Compact Equipment today. We’re big fans of the brand. Maybe we can start off our discussion by giving a brief history of John Deere in the skid steer and track loader markets. How did you start, but also how many units do you offer today?

John Deere 320G skid steer loader working in gravel

Pagura: John Deere has been involved in the compact construction market for over 50 years when we started manufacturing skid steer loaders. Currently, the John Deere compact construction lineup consists of six skid steer loader models, including the 316GR, 318G, 320G, 324G, 330G and 332G models, and four compact track loader models including the 317G, 325G, 331G and 333G machines. Our compact track loaders are designed to provide lower ground pressure with extra flotation and traction to handle challenging underfoot conditions. John Deere compact track loaders are capable in uneven, muddy, soft and sandy, snowy or wet environments, sloped and varying surfaces and frozen earth.

We designed our skid steer loader models to primarily support with digging and hauling materials. These machines offer high power in small frames and can perform heavy tasks in small spaces. They also reduce the need to have more heavy-duty machines for different jobs, as many attachments come with every size and model. When you add one of over 100 attachment options offered by John Deere to your compact track loader and skid steer loader, customers can maximize versatility in preparing sites and moving landscaping materials such as mulch, rock, and dirt with root rakes, rotary cutters, mulching heads, augers, buckets, blades and levels.

Emily Pagura, solutions marketing manager from John Deere
Emily Pagura, solutions marketing manager from John Deere

Designed for customers seeking superior performance and versatility from their machines, the John Deere 332G large-frame skid steer offers a powerful tool for jobs of any scale. The 100-hp 332G is powered by a smooth-running, turbocharged Tier 4 Final engine with optional electrohydraulic boom performance for shorter cycle times and speed production in repetitive boom applications.

On the track loader front, we are seeing an abundance of activity amongst our entire lineup of small, medium and large frame compact track loaders. When looking at the broader CTL market, the trend continues to go towards customers buying larger machines. This doesn’t necessarily mean the entire market is shifting to one size class, but rather customers who historically needed machines in our small frame size class 317G may now be looking to go up to our midframe model 325G. The same is true for historic mid-frame model customers 325G now looking to move up into the large frame CTL category with our 331G or 333G machines.

Compact track loaders are the most popular category of compact equipment in America. Learn why with loads of track loader features right here.

All of the John Deere compact track loaders come with vertical-lift configurations, and the vertical-lift design rises high and reaches far for quick and easy loading. John Deere skid steer loaders are offered with radial or vertical lift. Both designs are optimized to keep the load close for better stability.

What are the biggest markets for skid steers vs. track loaders in 2023/24? Ag? Homebuilders? Dirt work? Are we seeing skid steers and track loaders diverge even more in usage from contractors?

John Deere track loaders and skid steers are used in a wide variety of applications with the most popular being ag material handling, site development, landscaping and rental. Within these applications, there is often a good mix of models going into each.

How big is the rental market for skid steers and track loaders? What units generally go into the rental industry?

The most common size class of machines that we see going into rental fleets consist of our small and mid-frame machines due to their reliability and low owning and operating costs. However, over the last couple of years there has been an increase in demand for large frame machines due to the high levels of productivity they bring to the table.

Customers are consistently demanding more from their equipment, and skid steers and track loaders are no different. As these machines have become larger and more powerful, they are being used for tasks that used to require full-sized construction equipment. That trend drives growth in specialized areas such as high-debris applications that require extra guarding and protection, milling asphalt with a cold planer attachment and even bringing entire small jobsites like parking lots to grade with 2D or 3D grade control technology.

What new attachment categories are gaining popularity for skid steers and track loaders? Mulchers? Micro trenchers? Grading systems?

John Deere currently has over 100 models of attachments available. In terms of popularity, it very much depends on the most common type of jobs that customers are working on. For general construction, we often see buckets, brooms and grading attachments as common but for a more agricultural application, attachments such as bale spears and huggers, manure scrapers and silage defacers come to mind. Other popular choices include pallet forks, rotary cutters, mulching heads, augers, trenchers and snow attachments.

2D and 3D grade control have continued to see increased demand from customers that own and operate skid steers and compact track loaders. To address this, John Deere developed the 333G SmartGrade CTL, a fully integrated SmartGrade CTL that eliminates external masts and cables that enables grading tasks to be completed faster, in fewer passes, and with less rework compared to machines without grade-control technology.

Customers that are not ready to take the full dive into full 3D grade control can look to other options like John Deere’s On Board Grade Indicate system the allows the operator to check the cross slope (roll) and mainfall slope (pitch) of the machine from the comfort of the cab. Other third-party options like box blades with laser control can also be effective in helping customers maintain proper grade on their jobsites and are compatible with a range of John Deere skid steers and CTLs.

Another item that continues to be demanded by customers is optionality for control types. While mechanical controls are still offered on machines, EH controls have been growing in popularity. John Deere’s large frame machines come standard with EH ISO-pattern joystick controls and these are optional on all other machines as well.

Adding the EH joystick performance package adds maximum versatility in that it allows the operator to choose between four-way switchable controls (ISO, H-pattern, foot controls and ISO + foot controls). The EH joystick performance package also allows control of customizable settings such as switching accelerator/decelerator pedals and going into creep control mode to perform precise tasks while at full power.

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Does John Deere offer any battery-powered skid steers or compact track loaders? Do you see electrification having an impact on the industry?

At this time, we do not have any battery-powered skid steers or compact track loaders in our lineup. John Deere is working on multiple battery electric projects, including the 310 X backhoe, 145 X concept excavator and 244 X compact wheel loader, which have all been announced publicly. While these models are not yet commercially available, Deere has committed to offering over 20 diesel-electric and battery electric models by 2026.

Are hydraulic systems getting more complex and powerful? What technologies are changing the hydraulic capacity (power, cooling, efficiency) of these tool carriers? Think things like pressure compensating load sensing (PCLS) hydraulic systems.

John Deere’s Stump Shredder attachment on a compact track loader

The full fleet of John Deere compact track loaders and small frame skid steers offer the advantage of Electrohydraulic [EH] controls, which offer increased functionality to allow operators to customize machine operations based on preference. The EH controls also require less operator effort and are not as fatiguing over longer periods of operation compared to manual linkages. With fewer physical components and maintenance requirements, EH control machines provide operators with increased productivity across a variety of job applications. The EH controls on the John Deere track loader and skid steer models also offer differential steering, an exclusive John Deere feature that speeds up the outside turning of tires/tracks for faster jobsite maneuvering.

What new products or technologies has John Deere recently released that has changed the landscape of the skid steer or track loader marketplace?

Remote access to critical machine information is something that is very beneficial to customers. These models offer JDLink capabilities through the John Deere Operations Center, which is a telematics solution that provides customers with vital information on their machines including alerts, service intervals and machine performance. JDLink also monitors machine location that can assist fleet managers in understanding where machines are working and also be a tool to help locate the machine in the event of theft. We believe every customer can benefit from this tool in some way, so we now include JDLink telematics and Operations Center on every new skid steer and track loader; this feature doesn’t require any additional fees or subscriptions.

John Deere is proud to be on the leading edge of bringing grade control technology to the compact equipment space, with the industry’s first fully integrated grade control track loader, the 333G SmartGrade.

What advice would you give a contractor looking to buy a new skid steer or track loader?

John Deere SmartGrade 333G compact track loader in the dirt

In general, the market has been trending more and more towards track loaders over skid steers regardless of size class for the last few years. Therefore, it is still important to consider a number of items when trying to best determine whether or not a CTL or skid steer is the best fit for your company. Knowing the typical ground conditions of the majority of your jobsites is an important issue to consider. When you need lower ground pressure or better flotation, a tracked machine is the way to go. A tracked machine is also going to provide a lot more stability and allow you to work on steeper slopes as well. If you know you are going to be lifting heavy objects or doing a lot of clearing or demo work, a CTL is a great option to consider as they typically have a higher lifting capacity and more pushing power than skid steers.

The versatility of these machines only continues to increase as different types of attachments come to the market. While a lot of work can be done with a bucket and a set of pallet forks, adding a few other attachments to your fleet can help maximize a machine’s productivity. John Deere offers over 100 attachments, each suited for a particular job. When considering purchasing a new machine, customers should make sure they equip the machine to their existing attachments or for attachments they may choose to purchase in the future. Coupler types, hydraulic flow requirements and other features should all be considered.

John Deere EH Joystick Performance Package is a great example of a group of features that improves the versatility of the machine. This package includes the electrical harness necessary to run some attachments — also included are creep control, adjustable control response and switchable accelerator/decelerator pedal — all of which improve the operator experience and efficiency with attachments like blades, brooms, cold planers, snow blowers and rotary cutters.

Awesome info, Emily. We really appreciate you taking the time.

Keith Gribbins is publisher of Compact Equipment.