Compact wheel loaders are not new. In fact, Kubota sold its first small wheel loader in North America in 1986 (the esteemed R400). They’re hugely popular overseas. Apparently, Germans love them. The majority of the global sales for compact wheel loaders are sold in Germany (some 70 percent of the market), and German manufacturers like Wacker Neuson have been making small wheel loaders for 80 years. Now, small wheel loaders are migrating to America in a big way.
What are their advantages? For starters, on compact wheel loaders operators sit up higher, giving better visibility to the attachment and job at hand. That means more safety. It’s also much safer to enter and exit the machine than a skid steer (unless maybe it’s a JCB or Volvo one-armed skid steer), where you must climb over an often dirty and dangerous hydraulic attachment to sit in a moderately comfortable operator’s compartment. Also, compact wheel loaders articulate or use all-wheel drive which is: A) easier on tires; B) easier on turf and other surfaces; and C) better on fuel efficiency. And while compact wheel loaders are typically 20 to 25 percent higher in initial cost than a similar sized skid steer (prices range from $30,000 to $70,000) and definitely lacking in similar hydraulic attachment power, they save up to 30 percent on fuel, and the tires can last up to five times longer.
On the other hand, their size can be a little intimidating. There seems to be no across-the-board definition of a compact wheel loader. Some are categorized by horsepower (typically anything under 80 to 100 hp) and bucket size, which is measured in cubic yards (1 to 3 cu yds). Boasting big ranges of operating weights between 4,000 to 20,000 lbs and lifting capacities from 4,000 to 12,000 lbs, compact wheel loaders can cover a wide range. Luckly, a slew of big brands are releasing lots of cool products in the United States — Caterpillar, Kawasaki, Kubota, SDLG, Takeuchi, Wacker Neuson, John Deere, Gehl, Case and Mustang for starters — and you can read about all those product lines in this section.