Industry outlook: Skid steer and compact track loaders

Industry experts share insights on skid steer and compact track loader demand and use in rental operations; Larger and smaller models meet rental customer demands.

Compact track and skid-steer loaders have long been popular rental items and

JCB Teleskid

The JCB Teleskid with its telescopic boom, lifts higher, reaches farther and digs deeper than any skid steer on the rental market.

manufacturers are adding models that are filling in the gaps to meet the demand for smaller units that fit in tight areas to larger units that can power heavy-duty attachments. We asked leading compact track and skid-steer loader experts about where they see these tools continuing to fit into rental center fleets.

Buck Storlie
Product Line Manager, ASV Holdings, Inc.
Smaller units fill a niche, larger units power tools

The big trend with rental centers and their customers is small equipment. ASV’s new RT-25 and RT-40 are becoming very popular rental machines due to their compact size, which provides a number of benefits.

Buck Storlie. ASV Holdings
Buck Storlie

The most obvious benefit is the ability to complete work in tight spaces. The compact track loaders have a very small footprint – an industry-low 3.1 psi ground pressure for the RT-25 and 3.5 psi on the RT-40, which means less risk of turf damage.

Rental centers recognize the safety and comfort compact track loaders offer when compared with walk-behind and stand-on mini loaders. Track loaders provide operator with a seat and sealed cab that provides protection from the elements and flying objects. Plus, stability issues can cause mini loaders to tip, potentially injuring the operator. That is much less likely to happen in a sit-in compact track loader.

The compact track loader’s size and light weight also mean that contractors or homeowners can pull them with 1/2-ton trucks or SUVs. Another trend is a demand for serviceability improvements. Rental centers and their customers want to be able to complete maintenance quickly and easily to reduce downtime and improve profits. ASV engineers prioritize serviceability features on all ASV equipment, including our mid-sized models. Features such as swing-out radiator and cooling systems that allow easy cleaning from ground level and three-panel hoods that allow full access to the engine, filters and other daily check points. Finally, direct-drive pumps eliminate the need for servicing that comes with belt-driven pumps.

While radial-lift arm designs have been around a long time, they offer advantags in many applications. Radials have fewer moving parts, which means less service and maintenance costs. They provide better balance for improved digging and ground engagement. Radial-lift machines tend to have less slop or movement that results in better grading capabilities. 

The list of attachments available for skid steers and compact track loaders seems endless and it’s continuing to grow. This leads to many rental opportunities. One of the latest trends is using a large track loader in asphalt milling and stabilizing. The ASV RT-120 features the highest horsepower and flow available on a compact track loader, giving it the ability to effectively run large attachments. When paired with a meter-wide milling/stabilizing attachment from Schibeci, the unit can work almost as productively as a dedicated milling machine yet is far easier and cheaper to transport.

Debbie Townsley
Product Marketing Manager, Case Construction Equipment

Trend continues toward compact track loaders

Compact track loaders are gaining momentum as the preferred product, but there is still a place for both.


In general, the rental market consistently makes up approximately 30 percent of the total compact equipment market.

As with other sectors of the market, unit volume continues to move away from skid steers and toward compact track loaders, although both experienced growth in 2018 – attributed to the continued growth and power of the rental market.

A look at the total rental market shows significant growth in the low- to mid-sized size ranges. Machines in the under 2,000 and 2,000 to 2,300-pound size classes experienced growth exceeding 500 units in 2018.

Case machines in these size classes feature maintenance-free Tier 4 Final emissions solutions, are simple to use and can be outfitted with electrohydraulic controls that make it possible to dial in the operating pattern to the style preferred by the operator.

To flip that notion on its head, however, is the 3,000-pound and larger size class, which also saw comparable growth in 2018.

While the total volume is notably larger in smaller size classes, the increase in sales and the growth of that market indicates a demand similar to contractors who buy equipment: bigger, better, more powerful.

With that comes the need to manage diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) because most of these machines exceed 75 horsepower. The industry is realizing that DEF is not the boogeyman that many worried it would be. The operational benefits of the larger equipment provide great operational flexibility, the greatest of which is the ability to run larger, higher-capacity attachments. That makes that asset more likely to be rented more frequently,

The highest-selling machines in both product categories for Case equipment are radial-lift machines. Most rental businesses understand the time and place for radial- and vertical-lift styles of equipment.

 Radial-lift skid steers and compact track loaders are going to excel at ground-engaging work, such as digging, grading and shaping. Vertical-lift machines allow the operator to dump and place materials higher and farther away, carry loads closer to the machine and achieve better material retention. For many renters, the differences may be negligible, but it’s nice to be able to offer both styles for the customers who know the difference and have a preference for their application. 

Rental centers and the industry as a whole, continues to shift away from skid steers and toward compact track loaders. This is irreversible, but there will always be a place for skid steers in rental operations because they can operate on hard/improved surfaces. Compact track loaders have an overall preference due to their lower ground pressure, ability to work on sites without tearing up the ground as much as skid steers and greater stability that comes from the machine being consistently in contact with the ground. They also serve as an excellent platform for attachment use.

Kevin Coleman, Caterpillar
Kevin Coleman

Kevin Coleman
Product Specialist, Caterpillar

Vertical and radial lift arms have their places

Many manufacturers have standardized on vertical lift-arm designs for most of their models. However, the Cat skid steer and compact track loader family of machines features vertical- and radial-lift arm designs to allow a customer to select the machine and lift arm linkage design that best fits his or her needs.

Radial lift provides a compact and simple linkage design that provides good reach at mid-lift height and good performance in digging, dozing and finish grading/backfilling. The radial-lift design also provides a lower weight configuration than a vertical-lift models.

ASV RT40 on a trailer

Smaller compact track loaders can be transported with a 1/2-ton pickup or SUV. 

Vertical-lift design provides additional value with higher lifting heights and extended reach at the top portion of the lift cycle while preserving excellent mid-lift reach found with radial-lift machines. Material handling, truck loading, digging and stockpiling are applications where a vertical lift machine excels.

Skid steer loaders still have a place in rental for applications where ground conditions are firmer or where higher travel speeds are required. Also, skid steers typically weigh less than rubber-tracked machines, which allows for more transport flexibility and potentially allow more tools to be carried on the trailer with the machine. 

Skid steers also offer a low operating cost solution. Typically, tires are less expensive to replace than the wear components on an undercarriage.

However, customers are recognizing the value that the track machine provides. Compact track loaders offer higher rated operating capacity, more stability, less ground pressure, less ground disturbance and a broad range of application capabilities. Cat compact track loaders are suited where it is difficult to control the application, material, maintenance and operating technique of rental customers. The durable steel-embedded track as well as steel undercarriage components offer maximum life for rental centers. These machines feature the longest track on the ground, which provides excellent traction, great floatation and machine stability, especially when compared with a skid steer loader. The independent torsion axle suspension undercarriage helps provide longer track life, better traction, better operator comfort and more material retention. The compact track loader design fits a wide range of applications, and with any of Cat’s performance-matched attachments, makes for an ideal rental center machine.

Chris Trampush JCB
Chris Trampush

Chris Trampush
Skid Steer and Compact Track Loader Product Manager, JCB North America

Mid-sized models gain favor

We’re seeing more demand from rental centers and their customers, for mid-sized skid steers and compact track loaders with a rated operating capacity in the range of 1,750 to 2,200 pounds and a comfortable cab. Renters appreciate the features available in an enclosed cab, including heat and air conditioning and air suspension seats that boost productivity and allow them to consistently work for longer periods.

Choice of controls is also another option for which we are seeing increasing demand; the ability to switch from ISO to H-pattern controls with a push of a button allows the rental customer to select their control type and work more productively.   

From our experience, vertical-lift skid steers and compact track loaders are the preferred option for rental customers. Vertical-lift machines have better hinge pin height and they more easily allow the operator to keep the attachment level, which makes them good for material-handling and load-and-carry applications. Radial-lift machines are typically better for grading, digging below grade, pushing and breaking applications. Rental companies often have radial and vertical machines in their fleest, but typically offer more vertical-lift machines.

Rental centers that offer newly-released machines and machines with the latest features – especially features that boost productivity – will have an advantage over the competition.

For example, the JCB Teleskid with its telescopic boom, lifts higher, reaches farther and digs deeper than any skid steer on the rental market. It has a hinge pin height of 13 feet 3 inches and forward reach of 8 feet, allowing renters to complete tasks not possible with a conventional skid steer.

In addition, the Teleskid is the only skid steer that functions as a radial lift and a vertical lift machine, so it is a versatile solution for rental companies and their customers.

Renters are learning how to apply Teleskid’s extra capability and versatility to complete more jobs more easily, which is creating increased renter demand and resulting in more rental centers adding Teleskids to their rental fleets.

Dereck Betcher, John Deere, Hitachi
Derek Betcher

Derek Betcher
Rental Marketing Manager, John Deere, Hitachi

Mid-sized models gaining favor

Mid-sized skid steers are a healthy niche in compact equipment rental fleets. Skid steer sales were flat last year and down on smaller size classes, but in mid-sized skid steers, the market grew. It was up at a rate closer to the overall compact equipment segment growth of roughly 15 percent. These mid-sizes include the John Deere 320G and 324G that compete in the 2,000 to 2,200 and 2,200 to 2,700 ROC size classes, respectively. In rental, the 324G has emerged as the popular mid-size wheeled model to own and rent.

John Deere 324G skid steer loader
Compact track loaders are gaining momentum as the preferred product, but there is still a place for both.

On tracked machines, we’ve seen very good adoption of the 325G that was introduced in 2018. It competes in the mid-size 2,300- to 2,600-pound size class. It is a stronger performer than its 323E predecessor and includes the popular G-series cab and serviceability and reliability updates. The 325G’s popularity reinforces renter preference for powerful, productive machines in the medium and larger size classes.

Radial-lift booms offer a simple, durable design at a lower cost, with strong breakout performance and fewer moving parts. The design is also more compact and desirable in environments with lower overhead clearance. The tradeoff: vertical lift designs offer superior truck-loading performance, greater versatility and may be viewed as easier to operate. John Deere offers the 312GR and 316GR as its radial-lift models. We see strongest adoption of these radial models in price-conscious segments, including larger rental fleets.

Compact track loader sales in the rental grew at a rate comparable to the overall market and overall skid steer sales were flat last year. This could indicate the recent trend of compact track loader popularity will continue. The industry has slightly greater than 2:1 sales ratio of tracked machines to wheeled machines. The performance of compact track loaders is a leading factor, and renters typically do not see or feel the increased operating costs that can be associated with tracked machines.

Tim Boulds, Kubota
Tim Boulds

Tim Boulds
Kubota Construction, Product Operations Manager

Vertical lift good fit for rental

In general, the rental market consistently makes up approximately 30 percent of the total market. All of Kubota’s SSV and SVL Series models fit into the rental market.

 The smaller units lend themselves to a larger rental customer population of homeowners and small contractors due the ease of transport, while the larger units are often rented by larger contractors for an extra helping hand.

Traditionally, radial-lift machines were considered better diggers

and pushers while vertical-lift machines were considered higher lift-and-carry machines. Kubota skid steers and compact track loaders are equipped with vertical lift geometry only but their unique vertical linkage design tucks in the rear and sides of the unit when retracted, allowing these models to push and dig more like radial-lift machines. Vertical machines typically have a higher hinge pin height and are more likely to be found on the higher end of rated operating capacity for most manufacturers. The additional linkage providing vertical geometry comes with incremental cost, but that varies with designs among the manufacturers.

Ryan Anderson, New Holland
Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson
Marketing Specialist Skid Steer/Compact Track Loaders, New Holland Construction

Large-frame equipment gaining popularity

The trend for skid steers and compact track loaders is heading away from mid-sized equipment toward large-frame equipment.

Rental centers are asking for larger compact track loaders in particular, wanting more lifting force and hydraulic power because customers don’t want to be without enough power to complete their tasks.

The demand for more lifting force is driven by operators needing to lift heavy loads like trees and concrete. Attachments are coming into the market that require more hydraulic flow and relief pressure. Attachments like mulchers are becoming more popular for landscapers and land developers to clear brush and trees. 

In most cases, a tracked machine will have better overall performance in these types of applications. Seeing the direction of the industry, New Holland has come out with products like the new C245 with 4,500 pounds ROC to answer the call for more lifting force and hydraulic power.

Though radial-lift machines offer more reach, vertical-lift machines are still the dominant loader design in rental, construction and agricultural applications. Skid steers and track loaders are being used for loading materials into trucks and handling pallets because they are able to achieve more lift height over radial machines. Vertical-lift machines have better tipping load ratings than comparable radial machines.

As of 2016, compact track loaders have taken over the loader industry. In the past, there was a legitimate argument about wheeled vs. track machines from a traction and tread life standpoint. While wheels on solid surfaces make for an easier ride, tracks have become more durable with a wide variety of tread designs, giving customers superior traction and stability in various environments with longer track life.  

There is nothing worse than a customer with a down piece of equipment. There is an opportunity for rental centers to become more responsive to their customers and more efficient in maintaining their rental equipment.

Fleet management technology has been around for some time now and is progressing. Telematics allows a service manager to monitor and keep real-time data and feedback from equipment.

New Holland offers FleetForce as a telematics solution. This tool can aid a rental center by having a more effective preventive maintenance schedule, thus preventing downtime for their customers. Technology is evolving to allow remote machine diagnostics. This is a huge advantage as it allows a service technician to be better prepared when making a service call.

Lee Padgett, Takeuchi
Lee Padgett

Lee Padgett
Product Manager, Takeuchi-US

Compact track loaders suited for dirt work

Radial-lift arm configurations have been popular from the start. It really depends on the application. Operators who do more grading and dirt work tend to prefer the radial-lift designs as they generally have greater bucket breakout and lift-arm forces. Radial-lift loaders also have excellent mid-height reach.

However, operators who primarily do load-and-carry applications and truck loading prefer vertical-lift units for a higher rated operating capacity and better reach at full dump height.

Track loaders are certainly more prevalent in true dirt work rental applications. The increased traction and stability that comes with a track loader makes the machine much more efficient and productive.

Skid steer loaders will be used for rental applications involving work on hard surfaces. Rental centers are getting very good at communicating with their customers to determine the best machine for each need. One of the biggest questions asked is, “What type of surface – asphalt, concrete, dirt, sand, mud, or rock – will you be working on?”

Nathan Ryan, Wacker Neuson
Nathan Ryan

Nathan Ryan
Product Manager, Skid Steer/Compact Track Loaders, Wacker Neuson

Compact track loaders offer all-season versatility

In recent years, track loaders have been displacing skid steer loaders in rental centers and they continue to make headway in applications where skid-steer loaders typically held the advantage.

We are seeing more track loaders with all-season tracks being stocked for their versatility; they are year-round machines being used by contractors during warm weather and in snow removal during the winter months.

From a spec standpoint, switchable controls have become a staple feature of rental machines as operator preferences vary and the correct control type can greatly improve efficiency.

An advantage that Wacker Neuson’s rental customers appreciate is regeneration-free engine operation, which increases user efficiency and eliminates the chances of customer-induced regeneration errors.

Radial-lift arm skid steer and track loaders are still commonly found on dirt-engaging job sites and agricultural applications. These are typically smaller, cost-effective machines with basic features and specs. Operators and rental centers appreciate their simple functionality and reliability; however, vertical-lift arm machines are still the predominant choice for most rental centers. 

Vertical-lift machines offer the same rated operating capacity with roughly a 15 percent lower operating weight, making them easier to trailer and have less fuel consumption. For applications in which trailering is minimal or nonexistent, like agricultural applications, radial-lift machines are commonly used.  Smaller radial-lift units are also common in rental where the target end user is weekend warriors doing work around their property.

While non-residential construction pulled back slightly in 2018, residential construction, road and bridge work continue to be strong, making these units attractive for rental. Track loaders are often the renter’s choice given the extreme conditions they are capable of navigating and their versatility. Home builders are able to move materials around and grade in clay, sand or mud early in their projects and the machine’s light footprint make them ideal for finish work and landscaping during later project stages.

Another reason renters like track loaders is their ability to extend the work season.  Their lighter footprint and higher tractive effort allow them to be productive earlier in the year in areas where skid loaders would be ineffective. 

This story was originally published in the March-April 2019 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine. © Urbain Communications LLC. All rights reserved.