It might not have the 2007 fever, but some markets are alive. ALH reports

During the construction boom, housing starts led to several years of excellent telehandler sales, but because of the sharp decline in the housing market - where starts have been at sustained record lows in many key regions of the country for quite some time - most telehandler work has suffered severe declines.

North American telehandler sales were off 70 percent last year, industry sources say, and the first quarter of 2010 shows it at off 30 to 40 percent, as well. The market continues to be challenged.

While manufacturers look to fill model gaps, update product families and shift research and development into the Tier 4 arena, noticeable trends have surfaced in both machine types, as well as markets that telehandlers serve.

Compact trend

In the past few years, several new entrants have made their way into the compact market.

With shorter boom lengths, more attachment flexibility and overall greater flexibility than some of their bigger brothers, compact telehandlers can serve multiple applications on a construction site, whether it be a residential home or a parking garage.

They have the ability to move around with materials easily, and that ability is catching on.

"I've been to several companies where the facilitation of material around the yard is so critical, and these products provide you more than a forklift, provide you more than skid steer and allow you to safely move product at height," says Dave Gillrie, telehandler general manager for Terex Aerial Work Platforms (AWP).

"That jobsite flexibility, the ability to have more lifting capacity and more lifting height certainly is becoming quite popular."

While gaining popularity on the jobsite, compact telehandlers thus have seen a small boost in sales for many companies. Chris Giorgianni, general manager for product marketing at JCB, says there has been a growing interest in compact units, especially when they start addressing applications where compact wheel loaders, forklifts and skid steers were once used.

Giorgianni says for JCB in 2005 the sub 6,000 pound market was only 8 percent of the overall opportunity in the telescopic handler arena but by the end of 2009, it represented almost 19 percent of JCB's telehandler market.

"Compact machines open up opportunities that larger machines cannot address," he says. "Low boom designs, as opposed to high boom, lend themselves to be good digging or ground engaging machines as well. More versatility with tool carriers and Universal SSL quick hitches continues to expand machine versatility."

Meanwhile, for some manufacturers, such as Xtreme Manufacturing, which specializes in larger capacity telehandlers, compact units are still a new, emerging market.

"From our perspective, people are just seeing these as our line of compacts came out in January," says Randy Reeves, vice president of sales and marketing for Xtreme.

"Masonry contractors will like our compact units because they have frame leveling with high pivot booms."

Twist and turn

Manulift, a Canadian importer of Italian-manufactured Merlo telehandlers, has also witnessed a bump in interest for the 6,000-8,000 pound lifting capacity telehandlers.

Jonathan Ledoux, national marketing director of Manulift, says compacts are fairing well in Canada, but even more so, customers are interested and asking about rotating telehandlers.

"They're [made] available by very few companies," Ledoux says of rotating telehandlers in North America, which aren't seen much, if at all, in the United States.

"We have a lot of rotating machines in bridge and infrastructure work because since they rotate, they don't need a lot of space and only one lane of the highway will be blocked versus two."

Due to a billion dollar investment from the Canadian government in Quebec for infrastructure and bridge building, Ledoux says the market there is faring well and has been somewhat safe from the economic crisis.

Ontario and Western Canada, mainly Manitoba, aren't doing as well, and Alberta, Ledoux says, is also being hit harder.

"A lot of high capacity machines, 10,000 to 12,000 pound machines, are working on the infrastructure work," Ledoux says. "A lot of our rotating machines are on the bridge work because they have an 82-foot reach."

Ledoux is not shy to say a lot of customers in Canada have JLG-manufactured SkyTrak 10,000-pound units that reach 54 feet. "That's the classic machine across Canada," he says.

"But the rotating telehandler market is going up... it offers productivity to every type of work and that's what we're looking to do. We have had a good response in the last two years."

Terex AWP has large capacity rotators that are utilized in construction sites where the unit has to pull from one specific area and place in another area, however, all of this occurs in Europe and not the United States. The trend might cross borders and jump the pond eventually, however.

"I absolutely see a need in North America [for rotating telehandlers]," Terex AWP's Gillrie says. "There's absolutely an opportunity for that product because it's very well designed, it has excellent user interface in the cab such as being able to lower the outriggers from the cab, and it has 360 degree visibility and great jobsite flexibility.

"I absolutely see the need and the benefit of entering the market with that product."

Niche applications

With non residential construction and the housing market both at declines, it can sometimes be forgotten that handlers are still working in other areas, such as energy and mining.

"We're seeing a lot of activity in energy - wind farms, oil, derricks and refineries," says Brian Boeckman, product parent for telehandlers at JLG Industries.

With wind farms, Boeckman says telehandlers are used for moving crane mats. "So, a crane for the erecting process moves from one stem to another stem and the telehandler has to lay the mat to stabilize the crane and to allow the crane to transverse the terrain from one stem to another," he says.

Another decent market has been agriculture, with many low boom machines being used for a variety of applications.

"Industrial and farming sectors are areas where telehandlers are doing a bit better since housing is down," Ledoux with Manulift says. "A guy this morning called and wanted a telehandler for a snow removal solution instead of a wheeled loader."

Or, in some cases, a landscaper might choose a telehandler over a skid steer because there's more reach with a telehandler, and can also be used with backfilling landscape walls.

Landscapers might also value the ability to offload trucks without having to go around the other side of the truck. "This sounds minor, but a telehandler can reach a pallet that's sitting on the far side of the flatbed."

Market predictions

The telehandler business has typically and historically followed the construction curve, and many are seeing signs of uptick. However, many agree there won't be a V-like recovery.

"During the first quarter of the North American market, we've seen it kind of bouncing along at the bottom, but we have seen some signs of activity in markets that [are] more insular to the cyclicality," Gillrie says.

"We think we will be better than '09," Boeckman says. "We're seeing a different, higher level of activity that I think, from a telehandler market perspective, you'll see more growth in 2010 compared to 2009."

"The need to move, lift and place is not going to go away," Gillrie says. "It is just a matter of what that configuration will look like."

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