A new respect

18 April 2008

Since its inception in the early 1960s, the boom truck has been a product with many attributes, but conversely, didn't generate much excitement. Versatile, flexible and cost-effective, the boom truck is a simple machine that is easy to operate, maintain, maneuver and rent. And even though the market has always been relatively stable, the boom truck was still positioned at the bottom of the crane totem pole - until recently. Until this latest boom truck boom.

“Every day we get a new industry and a new part of the construction sector interested in the boom truck,” says Dominic Giuffre, Sr, co-owner of Giuffre Brothers Cranes, a Terex boom truck dealer that sells some 300 boom trucks a year and maintains a rental and lease fleet of some 135 units. “It seems like there's no end to the types of contractors interested in this machine. You can't just target one industry. We sold a boom truck to an elevator contractor who installs elevators in small apartment houses.”

A boom truck customer can be found in every conceivable market in the construction and industrial sector, says Giuffre, a pioneer in the distribution and sales of boom trucks. With the upswing in the economy, the boom truck is an even hotter commodity, he says.

“The manufacturers can't keep up with demand,” says Giuffre. “We have suffered with the same backlog [as other dealers], except we have put in big orders and on any given day we have 50 machines in stock and ready to go. Right now we probably have 350 machines on order.”

Outstanding market

Todd Elkins, boom truck product specialist for H&E Equipment, says his company's boom truck sales and rentals are “outstanding” and he is “betting on it getting substantially better.” “I don't know if you can average 100 percent utilization, but we have had a problem growing our rental fleet because retail demand has been so strong,” he says. “We intended to grow our boom truck rental fleet, but we've been selling offused pieces and the new units we anticipated going into our rental fleet went to retail. I guess it's a good problem to have.”

While Elkins says that sales are diversified, close to 50 percent of H&E's boom truck sales are to the oil and gas industry. “Oil field service is big business for us,” says Elkins. “Mainly, the boom trucks are used to go out and service the wells, wire line work and coil tubing.”

Elkins points to National's and Manitex's 26-ton and 30 ton rear-mount boom trucks on which auxiliary winches are mounted onto the bottom of the boom, especially for the oil and gas market. “These units are particularly suited for wire line and coil tubing work,” he says.

While there have been boom truck booms in the past, the difference about this one is a “new respect”for the lowly boom truck, according to Randy Robertson, director of sales and marketing for Manitex. With higher lift capacities, longer booms and more operator conveniences, the boom truck now appeals to a wider segment of the market, although the core boom truck customer is still sold on the machine as well, he says.

“I don't know if everyone will agree with me, but I feel like that by and large our biggest customer base is still the owner/operator, the husband/wife teams who started the business with the wife as the dispatcher/bookkeeper and the husband as the crane operator,” says Robertson. “They do general hook work, maybe setting an air conditioning unit one day, helping an arborist with tree trimming the next day, setting signs for a sign company the next day, working with homebuilding contractors setting trusses on another day.”

For the most part, the owner/operator customer toils in the small to mid-range capacity of boom trucks. These machines are reasonably priced and can perform a wide range of jobs, often three or four applications a day, allowing the owner to quickly see a return on investment.

Easy to finance

Heartland Wisconsin Corporation specializes in financing boom trucks/truck cranes, and president Scott Blair says his company has seen equity loans for boom trucks steadily increase each year. Heartland finances most of its boom trucks to the owner/operator customer purchasing a unit in the 17 to 23-ton capacity range. “The most recent trend we see is a great number of business start-ups with operators leaving the companies they are with to start their own business,” he says. “We're seeing an increased number of first-time buyers.” Because they are mounted on conventional trucks, boom trucks are often easier to get financing on that other cranes and equipment, he says.

With the 17 to 23-ton capacity boom truck considered the mid-range of the market, boom truck manufacturers have worked to create markets on either end of the spectrum, with Terex, Elliott and Tadano America doing very well with small boom trucks and Altec, Manitex, National, Elliott, and Terex also making waves with the higher capacity boom trucks, in the 30- to 40-ton capacity range.

“For us, the 17-ton capacity boom truck is by far the best seller,” says Scott Smith with Terex, which manufactures eight models ranging in capacity from 10 to 35-tons. “This is our most popular rental machine. It's a machine that every crane rental fleet has to have.”

A newcomer to the boom truck market, Tadano America has been successful with its 5-ton, 7-ton, 10-ton and 18-ton boom trucks. Tadano's Bryan Dammann is eagerly awaiting the introduction of a 20-tonner that he hopes to be “on the street,” by April or May.

“It does seem that with boom trucks, bigger is better,” he says. “The larger capacity boom trucks are taking the place of the smaller rough terrain cranes and truck cranes and I think that is pretty exciting. It saves the contractor a lot of money and it puts the boom truck guys on the map also.”

Bigger is better

Jim Glazer with Elliott Equipment, also a newcomer to the US boom truck market, says the trend is that customers are shifting to higher capacity boom trucks in each particular class, and they are looking for more fully featured products that bring certain efficiencies. For this reason, Elliott is willing to customize its boom trucks and do things a little different from its competitors, Glazer says.

“Our 28 to 32-ton machines are the best sellers,” he says. “At this higher end, we are competing with the conventional cranes.” Elliott sells boom trucks with capacities ranging from 10 to 32-tons, with its latest model the 32117, just released in late December.

Manitex is very forthright that they are gearing their product development dollars on “the big end,” says Robertson. “We're not convinced that 40 tons is the limit you can get on a three-axle truck,”he says.

Manitex's boom truck line ranges in capacity from 17 to 38-tons. National still officially builds the largest boom truck with its 40-ton capacity 1800 model, Robertson says.

“We do have a 40-ton capacity machine that we sell in the oil field,” says Robertson. “For a niche market in Canada we have rerated our 38-ton to a 40-ton capacity for one of our tractor mount units.”

The 35 to 40-ton capacity boom trucks with ride-around cabs are getting the attention of those who never gave the boom truck the time of day.

“We're seeing these units replacing some of the traditional truck cranes,” he says. “The bigger boom trucks have cabs and air conditioning and amenities that operators at crane rental houses are looking for, and didn't realize are now available in a boom truck.”

Several years ago, a conventional crane operator wouldn't consider stepping down from a Grove or Terex or Link-Belt and running a boom truck from stand-up controls, Robertson says. “But now we are offering, and our competitors are offering, some of the amenities and capacities that attract these operators, like the rider seat machines. It's going to be a big year for boom trucks.”

Another market that US boom truck manufacturers are assessing is those outside the United States, Canada and Mexico, traditionally the only boom truck markets in the world.

“In the last 45 days, we've had double the number of international inquiries than we typically do,” says Robertson. “We have inquiries coming from the Middle East, Europe and South America.”

Imagine that, an American boom truck in Europe.


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