The battle has begun. Mannesmann Dematic, Grove, Tadano Faun and Liebherr are all taking orders for their versions of a five-axle 100t-capacity all-terrain crane. Mannesmann Dematic has begun production of its AC 100; Grove starts delivering its GMK 5100 in the next couple of months; and Faun delivers the first six units of its ATF 100-5 in January. Liebherr is slightly behind the game. Its LTM 1100/2 will be premiered at the Intermat show in Paris in May.

Even Terex PPM is now joining in. It plans to launch its ATT 1300-2 in a few months, a five-axle AT rated at 100t, comprising the lower of the 110t-capacity ATT 1354 (which this new model will replace) and the 53m boom of the 80t ATT 900. No further specifications are yet available for this crane.

In the past, this has not been a market big enough to justify such frenzied competition. The worldwide market for ATs between 81t and 110t capacity was 68 units in the first half of 1999, down from 97 units in the first half of 1998. This suggests an annual market in the range 140 to 200. Mannesmann Dematic expects this class to grow to 250 units per year on account of these new 100 tonners. According to figures supplied by manufacturers, they have between them already received about 250 orders for the 100t models – all to be delivered in 2000. Add on sales of other popular models in the 81t to 110t range, notably the LTM 1090/2, and Dematic’s estimate for the class size looks low.

The 100 tonners are bound to take market share from 90t ATs, however, as fleet owners trade up. In fact, one can expect to see 80 tonners and even 120t machines traded in for one of these new machines. The five-axle 100t AT market is suddenly Europe’s hottest battle ground.

Demand has been created by tightening road regulations. Rental companies want a strong, compact machine that can be operated by one man and is road legal (which in Europe means no heavier than 12t per axle) without the need for support trucks carrying hookblocks, counterweight and ancillary equipment.

The race for sales is led by Mannesmann Dematic, which claimed to have 145 orders for its AC 100 as of 1 November, though a number of these may be for dealers rather than end-users. It plans to produce 150 units in 2000.

Grove claims to have more than 50 orders and Faun says it has more than 20. Liebherr, although it is not set to go into full production until the fourth quarter 2000, claims fixed orders for 25 and options on another 25.

Each crane has its plus points. The Demag is compact and as good as one would expect it to be; the Grove is a strong lifter; the Faun is readily available and brings the Japanese-owned company up to speed, it believes, with its rivals’ wire-reducing bus technologies; the Liebherr, when it comes, may have benefited from the opportunity to study the other models. It would be a major surprise if it had any significant faults.

The Liebherr also offers a six-section boom, while all the others have five sections. This gives the LTM 1100/2 a marginally longer main boom (1m longer than the Faun and the Grove, 1.8m longer than the Demag) as well as the shortest overall vehicle length.

The table below gives the key details of the four cranes. The ATF 100-5 has an 82m maximum hook height, the LTM 1100/2 arguably has the best boom technology with its fully automatic Telematik system. Grove claims the best margins for road legality, with 2m spacing between its third and fourth axles. With boom extensions it has the highest maximum height under hook, at 85m. The GMK 5100 can also take the most counterweight – 31t as opposed to 25t, giving it perhaps the greatest versatility.

Of course, none of these cranes are road legal in Europe when fully equipped and carrying their full counterweight, and in taxi-crane configuration cannot perhaps be considered ‘true’ 100 tonners. They should be considered a class apart from other 100t capacity machines on the market.

The Demag carrier is a metre shorter than both the ATF 100-5 and the GMK 5100, and half a metre shorter than the LTM 1100/2, according to what should be emphasised is only provisional information from Liebherr. The marginally shorter reach of the AC 100 is well compensated for by the 14.3t of counterweight in road legal (12t per axle) configuration.

Faun has the benefit of ready availability, and will benefit from Liebherr’s initial absence and Dematic’s long order book. Faun’s ATF 60-4 taxi crane, which inspired this entire genre, is a proven success, so the omens are good. With two cylinders in the boom, the ATF 100-5 can telescope under load and is strong in the middle section of the chart, but the trade-off comes when picking at large radii. While the others have lighter booms, using pinning systems, the Faun model is fully telescoping. It can extend the boom to its full 51m, when not under load, in just 90 seconds. It also offers an impressive maximum height under hook of 82m, thanks to a swing around lattice extension. Some buyers may wish to wait until time has allowed Faun’s first use of a CAN-bus system to prove itself. Others may consider the Faun to be the most rooted in proven technology.

Anyone considering purchasing any mobile crane will, of course, study the lifting charts in detail and consider what work they are likely to use their crane for. However, its seems that given the broad similarities in key areas, the ultimate criteria will not be the specification sheet. Nor will it come down to price (they all come in around the DM1.2m to DM1.5m depending on specification). Rather, it will come down as usual to service, product support and personal preference.

If the Americans take to this type of crane – and to date they have really only been interested in the larger European ATs – the GMK 5100 may be the preferred model. In North America its rated capacity is 100 US ton and is designated GMK 5120B.

In Europe, however, it is clear from orders to date that the contest will be led by Demag. The Demag has already had its first public inspection, at Dematic’s Crane Day in October, but the order book is so long that the wait for a Liebherr may be no worse than that for a Demag.

The best advice, therefore, is to wait and see the LTM 1100/2 at the Intermat show in France or SED in the UK before deciding. The second-hand value and the worldwide sales and service organisation might swing it for Liebherr in the longer run.