Manufacturers have worked hard to make compact wheel loaders better at their traditional applications, but they’ve also expanded features to meet the demands of customers who want more versatility.
Robbie Southerland, Caterpillar compact wheel loader product specialist for North America, says compact wheel loaders have distinct advantages over other compact equipment.
“They are versatile, easily configurable, upgradable and have a long service life, often having three or four owners over the life of the machine.”
For loading applications, compact wheel loaders stand out with their higher efficiency and greater ground speed. These traits also support other applications when customers want to use their CWLs instead of other compact machines.
So is a CWL always the right choice?
No. Southerland offers three tips to help customers choose the right machine:
- First, as always, is the application. Do you need zero-turn? Are you working in tight spaces? Do your attachments require more hydraulic power than a CWL can provide? If so, consider another machine. But if you’re doing a lot of loading, or if you’re doing other work on a site with room to maneuver, the greater lift, carry and travel speed numbers favor a compact wheel loader.
- Second, what are your operator qualifications? A wheel loader comes with some familiarity because it has a steering wheel and pedals for brake and accelerator. In addition, the Cat 906, 907 and 908 have operator assist modes. These features make it easier for less-experienced operators.
- Third, consider value. What is your business? What utilization rate can you expect, or what rate do you need? CWLs have higher initial cost but also lower owning and operating costs, longer service life and greater residual value than other compact machines.
The Gehl AL650 and AL750 feature a Z-bar linkage for mechanical self-leveling in both the up and down directions and provide bucket dump angles in the mid- and upper ranges of the lift path. The Z-bar design also delivers greater forward reach.
The Power-A-Tach mounting system simplifies attachment changes, while an optional three-way auxiliary circuit directs hydraulic flow to the front and rear and includes high-flow. An oscillating articulation joint provides 45-degree turn angles right and left and 10 degrees of oscillation in both directions. A multifunction joystick offers low-effort control.
Options for the AL650 and AL750 include an air suspension seat, LED work lights, Hydraglide ride control and a three-speed transmission with speeds up to 19 mph.
Hitachi Construction Machinery Americas has three compact wheel loaders in the 25- to 66-horsepower range:
- The ZW30-5B has 25 horsepower and a bucket capacity of 0.52 cubic yards.
- The ZW50-5B has 44 horsepower and a standard bucket of 0.8 cubic yards.
- The ZW80-5B has 66 horsepower and a standard bucket of 1.2 cubic yards.
“All three are engineered with the same reliability, safety and efficiency as our larger production loaders,” says Matthew Koester, wheel loader production manager, HCMA.
The full front glass contributes to the 360-degree visibility and allows the operator to see the front wheels and attachments, he says. Suspension seating provides operator comfort, enhanced by the oscillating rear axle, which also improves stability and traction when working on uneven terrain.
In keeping with its tiering strategy, Deere introduced G Tier compact wheel loaders in October 2022.
“As a reminder, G Tier is for customers who need Deere reliability and performance but don’t need premium features,” says Luke Gribble, solution marketing manager, John Deere Construction Equipment.
The 204 and 304 went from L Series to G Tier; the 184 G Tier is a new machine. These CWLs are good with buckets and forks but also with grapples and other standard-flow attachments.
High flow is available on the 324 P Tier, which also has a high-lift option and offers more features than the G Tier models.
Regardless of Tier, customers can spec’ either skid steer-type quick-attach or European-style pin-grabber couplers.
Deere offers toolcarrier linkages on larger wheel loaders, “but the demands of toolcarriers are typically beyond the weight, power and hydraulic performance of compact models,” says Gribble.
He also hastens to point out that although G Tier models are more basic, Deere has made significant improvements to them, especially in the cab. The left-side door is now full glass. The right-side window swings 180 degrees and latches open. Glass on both the left and right of the steering column has been extended to the floor.
Kubota’s next-generation R540 and R640 are available with ROPS canopy or cab and have more weight and better lift performance than the R30 models they replace.
“We’ve also made a number of changes to improve the operator experience,” says Bill Holton, Kubota product manager, construction equipment. The console has been reconfigured; it and the switch layout have been moved to the right side to provide more foot and leg room while keeping all controls at fingertip access. The standard multifunction control lever selects forward-neutral-reverse and engages the differential lock.
Visibility has also been improved. The front window has been enlarged. The right-side window is now full glass and is the same size as the entrance door. Arms have been reconfigured for better visibility of buckets, forks and attachments. That improved visibility combined with the standard auxiliary port switch make attachment change-outs and operation easier, the company says.
Mecalac has offered wheel loaders since 2001 when it bought the German company Ahlmann, which had been making wheel loaders since the 1950s.
The 75-horsepower AX1000 is its best-selling model. Mecalac has four categories of wheel loaders: traditional articulated, such as the AX1000; swing loaders; telescopic loaders and rigid-frame loaders, the latter two with four-wheel, three-mode steering.
The AX1000 features the clean-sheet Monoboom design that is strong and improves visibility. The standard bucket is 1.3 cubic yards, although buckets of up to 2.1 cubic yards can be fitted. The self-stabilizing center-pivot (Mecalac Self Stabilizing Concept) improves handling and stability.
Mecalac chose the low-noise Deutz TD 2.9 L4 turbo diesel engine for the AX1000. Travel speed is 19 mph. Lift capacity is greater than 5,000 pounds, even at full articulation.
“We acknowledge that in many categories of equipment, our extensive engineering advantages and unique design features put Mecalac at the upper end of cost,” says Peter Bigwood, general manager, Mecalac North America. “But our traditional articulated wheel loaders are configured to meet the needs of the broadest range of customers, not those receiving benefit from advanced features. As such, these loaders are very cost competitive.”
Miniloaders.com has been selling small articulated loaders under the Intrepid brand and manufactured by Knickmops in Belgium.
“We are now also bringing in Paus loaders from Germany,” says Chris Sleurink of Miniloaders.com. “We’re currently doing the first demos.”
The 75-horsepower TL 9065 is the one compact model. The standard bucket is 1.3 cubic yards. A multifunction joystick and proportional control provide ease of use when loading or operating attachments. Options include high-speed travel of 24.8 mph, a second hydraulic circuit with 21 or 31 gallons per minute of flow, and PTO for attachments not paired with the standard hydraulic four-point quick-change coupler.
Also standard on Paus wheel loaders is a telescopic boom “and from March 2024 onward, we’ll have swing boom variants, as well,” says Sleurink.
Volvo’s two electric compact wheel loaders, the L20 and L25 Electric, were launched in North America in late 2022. Both use lithium-ion battery technology.
Charging from zero to 100% takes about six hours with the 6 kW onboard charger when using a 240V service or Level 2 charging station, which is the most common EV charging setup.
Maximum speed is 12.4 mph. An electric parking brake also provides automatic hill-hold. Compared to a traditional disc brake, the spring-applied, hydraulically released wet disc brake improves performance and reduces maintenance costs.
Total cost of ownership for an eCWL is lower than for an equivalent diesel model, despite the higher initial purchase cost. Obvious savings result from not requiring diesel fuel, engine oil, filters and related items.
But there’s also potential for jobs where noise and emissions restrictions favor electric models. “The ability to not disturb others in densely populated areas and to work indoors allows owners to bid on jobs from which they would otherwise have been excluded,” says Darren Ashton, product manager - compact equipment, Volvo Construction Equipment.
Idle time is another factor, as there is none with an electric machine. It’s on when it’s working and off when it’s not, and accumulated hours reflect this. Lower hours result in higher residual value in the secondary market.
Wacker Neuson’s newest compact wheel loader is the 45-horsepower WL28. The 3-ton, 0.5-cubic-yard loader has a Yanmar 3TNV86 engine rated at 45 horsepower for the W2801 Construction and or 54 horsepower for the W2802 Construction, High Performance versions. There are Winter versions of each, the W2803 and W2804, configured for cold-weather applications, including snow removal.
The drive system is electronically controlled, and control switches are color coded for easy reference. Auto and Eco modes are standard, while optional Attachment mode can be spec’ed to match intended use. Attachment mode prioritizes power to the front auxiliary attachment to maintain consistent flow and hydraulic power to the work tool.
Besides the new WL28, Wacker Neuson’s compact wheel loader line includes the WL34, WL38 and WL52 with 34, 74 and 75 horsepower, respectively.
“Operator comfort is the foundation of wheel loaders’ design,” says Jay Quatro, commercial product manager, Wacker Neuson. Comfort features include mechanically suspended and heated air-ride seat options, adjustable wrist rests and tilting and telescoping steering wheels. “These all help maximize comfort and minimize fatigue.”
Frank Gangi, product manager, compact wheel loaders and attachments, Yanmar, says the 72-horsepower V10 and 62-horsepower V8 shared prominence in the company’s three-model lineup. “But recently the V10 has pulled ahead. Customers are looking to do more with their machines, and the V10’s specs work well for them.”
Yanmar also offers the 39-horsepower V4-7 and recently announced the new V7 CWL.
He says snow removal is the market showing the greatest growth. The V10’s horsepower and 22 mph travel speed are good matches for that. Even so, customers are looking for more hydraulic performance, in the range of 28 to 30 gallons per minute, for bigger attachments; the V10 has 20.3 gpm.
Yanmar used Deutz engines in their three compact wheel loaders until a few years ago, “but we’re justifiably proud of the reliability and performance of our own engines and made the switch,” says Gangi. The company also switched from bright yellow to red exteriors around that time.