The Rise of the Compact Utility Loader
How this equipment underdog is making a name for itself on today’s jobsite
by Amy Cash

The compact utility loader equipment class is gaining popularity, and the category may soon be giving compact track loader and skid steer loader manufacturers a run for their money. The compact utility loader (CUL) is only a little over two decades old in the United States, and has traditionally been marketed heavily towards rental stores. Construction and landscape contractors can pick one up for a week or so to supplement their current fleet or to use for a specific project that requires a more nimble, lightweight machine. CULs have also been popular with do-it-yourself carpenters and landscapers who have basic earthmoving projects or landscaping tasks to tackle on their properties.

While CULs fit into a useful niche in the light construction, rental and landscaping industries, engineers for CUL manufacturers have been busy behind the scenes, tweaking, tinkering, expanding and improving the equipment class. With recent technological advancements, key players in the CUL market have been gradually positioning themselves to directly rival their beefier cousins, the compact track loader (CTL) and the skid steer loader (SSL).

Reasons Behind the CUL Revolution

Even years after the Great Recession, contractors large and small are still looking for creative ways to maximize their capital equipment investments. It is no secret that a compact utility loader boasts a smaller up-front investment than a skid steer loader or a compact track loader, but does the CUL perform where it really matters?

Until this point, contractors have taken note of the smaller up-front investment, while remaining skeptical of the CUL’s ability to carry out the tasks required on a typical, large-scale jobsite. However, with major technological advancements in recent years, contractors are beginning to realize that they can lift as much, or more, with a compact utility loader as they can with an entry-level skid steer or track loader, all while taking advantage of the other benefits associated with a smaller machine.

Potentially more important than simply addressing cost and power is another factor that contractors should be thinking about when adding to their fleet: weight-to-power ratio. When you break it down, a lighter machine typically means lower ground pressure, which is usually more turf-friendly. It also means that it is easier to transport, offers more efficient operation and is typically more nimble and maneuverable on the jobsite. The weight-to-power ratio analysis essentially points to the amount of power a contractor can get out of the machine when compared to the overall footprint.

In an of a leading compact utility loader, skid steer and compact track loader, the results strongly favor the CUL when it comes to weight-to-power ratio. The TX 1000 compact utility loader had a weight of 2,790 pounds, with a tip capacity of 3,071 pounds and a rated operating capacity (ROC) of 1,075 pounds. A comparable skid steer loader had a total weight of 6,593 pounds, with a tip capacity of 4,200 pounds and a rated operating capacity of 2,100 pounds. A similar track loader weighed in at 7,822 pounds with a tip capacity of 6,000 pounds and a ROC of 2,100 pounds. By comparison, the CUL had a tip capacity of 110 percent of its weight, while the skid steer trailed behind with a tip capacity of 63 percent of its weight, and the track loader had a tip capacity of approximately 76 percent of its weight.

These numbers suggest that compact utility loaders pack a substantial punch for their size, and market trends imply we may be seeing more powerful compact utility loaders entering the marketplace over the next decade, easily surpassing the rated capacities of smaller skid steer loaders and compact track loaders on the market today. Between the three equipment categories, compact utility loaders have grown in popularity substantially since 2011, while compact track loaders have increased moderately and skid steer retail sales have declined.

Brains & Brawn

When addressing the attributes of the next generation of compact utility loaders, there are a couple of factors that come into play that allow CULs to provide high ROCs for their size. One of these factors is the incorporation of a vertical lift design as opposed to radial lift. This isn’t anything new in the SSL and CTL categories, but until 2015, this was unheard of in a compact utility loader. A vertical lift design essentially keeps the load closer to the center of gravity of the machine itself, not only offsetting the weight of the load, but also allowing the machine to get closer to a dumpster, truck bed or other receptacle for the materials.

The intuitive features that have been engineered into the category with the latest CULs are also important to address. Some smart features that make CULs a great choice for any contractor include: effortless and intuitive controls, which allow the operator to have all the controls of the machine on an easy-to-navigate control panel at his/her fingertips; a high-drive track system which mimics the design of many CTL models and ensures that it can withstand the demanding conditions of a construction site; and comparative height and reach statistics when compared to entry-level SSLs and CTLs.

CULs now have the power to rival their larger equipment counterparts and the intelligently engineered features to make the compact utility loader a legitimate option on the jobsite for light-, mid- and heavy-duty applications.

It Gets Better

For contractors who engage in a lot of different kinds of tasks on a daily basis, CULs also offer plenty of versatility. Like skid steer loader and compact track loader manufacturers, many compact utility loader manufacturers offer all the attachments a contractor could ever need on site. Finally, CULs are exclusively designed with a stand-on platform for the operator, which allows for better visibility and makes it easy for the operator to quickly get on and off the machine. Some studies have also suggested there are health benefits associated with standing as opposed to sitting during the workday. If we apply these same principles to the construction industry, it tips the scales even further in favor of a stand-on compact utility loader versus a sit-down compact track loader or skid steer.

Although CULs are being considered as a legitimate alternative to SSLs and CTLs now more often than ever, it doesn’t look like compact utility loader manufacturers are going to rest on their laurels. Contractors and construction business owners can anticipate additional innovations to the category, and may soon see the line between CULs and their larger counterparts blurred even further. Ultimately, when contractors and business owners add up all the benefits of the compact utility loader, it is easy to see that good things often come in smaller packages.