In an industry segment that some construction equipment analysts were close to writing of five years ago, the hydraulic truck crane is again strong and vibrant, according to manufacturing, distribution and rental business executives.

“The truck crane market is a viable portion of the crane market,” said Doyle Bryant, director of new product development and product marketing for the Manitowoc Crane Group, which produces Grove truck cranes. “It seemed like for years everyone had written it off, thinking the all–terrain crane market was going to take over, but it didn't. There's still a good market for the under 100–ton truck crane in North America.”

For the most part, the “new momentum” in the sales and rental of truck cranes is attributed to innovative designs incorporating longer, more technically sophisticated booms and offering heavier lifting capacity, while still allowing the machines to be roadable on US highways.

“In the rental industry, the truck crane products we are most excited about are the ones that can make legal road weight with long booms on board,” said Bryan Carlisle, senior vice president of Maxim Cranes in Cincinnati, OH. “New machines with heavier capacities are changing our buying habits. We are looking for the largest models that are roadable that we can permit and move without disassembly.”

With a feet of more than 400 truck cranes, Maxim will likely purchase as many as 40 new truck cranes this year and perhaps that many in 2006, Carlisle said. The company also plans to order several 40 ton truck cranes fitted with remote control.

Truck crane sales have been impacted by new designs that focus on mobility, capacity and ease of use, according to Carston Larson, vice president of American State Equipment, Inc., based in Milwaukee, WI.

“We think that there is still a good, strong market for the truck crane simply because it is convenient to be able to take a crane down the road at 50 to 65 miles per hour,” Larson said. “Our customers like the simplicity of getting the crane to the job and the fast set up and tear down. The larger capacity truck cranes will increase demand.”

Grove's new TMS800E, launched at ConExpo in March, has a maximum lifting capacity of 80 tons and slots into the lineup between the 60 and 90 ton models

Over the last decade, the big question for customers has been whether to buy a truck crane, which is designed to travel at highway speeds between job sites, or to purchase the European–designed all terrain crane, which may have to be transported from job to job, but can lift heavier items and be used in a variety of tighter and hard–to–get–to job sites.

“For a time, the introduction of the all–terrain crane hurt truck crane sales,” said Larson. “But now, with the efficiencies of the European designs being incorporated into the conventional truck crane, I think the truck crane is a product that people want. Some customers have modified their behaviors for the all–terrain crane, but I believe there is still a good market for the truck crane.”

Advanced design

Using integrated product development, manufacturers are now merging technologies and designs across crane lines, including boom design, cab design, steering and controls.

“Manufacturers have committed to this market and listened to what the end–user wants and needs in this type of machine,” said Larson.

Both Link–Belt and Manitowoc Crane Group's Grove division have recently added new machines to their truck crane product lines, offering machines with larger lifting capacity and that are also easier to set up and take down.

In March 2005, Grove introduced the TMS800E, increasing its truck crane offering to four models and filling the gap between the company's 60 tonner and its largest model, the 90 tonner.

Rated at 80 tons, the TMS800E has a 128 foot, four–section full power boom and a 56 foot, bi–fold lattice swing–away jib as standard. The boom has the curved Megaform profile, which is designed to eliminate excess weight and increase capacity over traditional boom shapes. The TMS800E also has new cab designs on both the chassis and superstructure that are more rounded for better visibility. It has ergonomic controls similar to those used in Grove's all terrain crane line.

TMS800E production started in April, and Grove's TMS 900E, introduced in 2003, is still getting a lot of attention as the first truck crane in North America that combined the European technology of the boom with the North American truck crane chassis.

“The TMS900E helped the upper end of the market,” said Bryant. “Here's a truck crane with 142 feet of boom, but it is light weight and meets the axle spacing required in North America. Plus, it has the counterweight typically used on the all terrain cranes, so you can run different combinations.”

The TMS900E also has the Twin–Lock boom pinning system, as used in Grove's all–terrain GMK product line.

Link–Belt has made transportability and lifting capacity the focus of improving its truck crane line, introducing in March 2005 the HTT–8690. Th is machine has rear steering and joins other Link Belt models, including the 75 ton HTT–8675 and the HTT–8675LB Long Boom. All models that have rear axle steering have the prefix HTT, which stands for hydraulic truck terrain, and incorporate all the same features as their corresponding HTC, or hydraulic truck crane, models.

“It is the next logical step for us to add the rear steer feature to this successful 90 ton crane,” said Rick Curnutte, telescopic crane product manager. “Maneuverability is critical to a crane's productivity, and by adding rear steer, the market appeal of this crane should only get better.”

Alongside its all terrains and boom trucks at the recent ConExpo exhibition in Las Vegas Tadano America, showed its TT800XXL 80–ton capacity truck crane with 144 foot 4 inch five–section boom, 58 foot jib and 205 foot maximum tip height.

Also at ConExpo, of the six cranes Terex had on display one was the 75 ton capacity T775 truck crane with 133 foot maximum tip height. Terex claims a best–in–class, cost–to–performance ratio for this crane.

Rental rates

Carlisle contends that while the truck crane market appears to be growing, it will also continue to be highly competitive, if not “cut throat”, in terms of rental rates.

“From a pricing standpoint, the truck crane market is a lot more volatile than the other crane products, the towers and the crawlers. In the other markets, there is a lot of rational pricing and it doesn't change much. Typically monthly pricing stays about the same. But the truck crane rental market is a daily market.” Because of this distinction, pricing often fluctuates and competition is fierce.

“It's a daily business,” Larson explained. “You are typically serving existing markets or plant or maintenance type work. The cell tower business generated the most work for truck cranes we have seen in years, but most of those towers have now been built. We saw some excess capacity as a result.”

Manitowoc's Bryant concurs, believing that the “daily market” is one that will always exist in the construction market. “There will always be a need for the daily work, the big signs, the roofing materials, the air conditioning units, the daily in and out lifting,” he said. “The conventional truck crane will meet this need.”

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