Road regulations in Australia have a formula relating vehicle width to mass, in order to achieve maximum permissible axle loading. This means that a 50t truck crane (the most popular size) with a 40t gross vehicle weight runs with drive axles at least 3m apart. An equivalent capacity all terrain crane can run with 2.75m axle spacings.

In New South Wales cranes 2.5m to 3m wide, fitted with a global positioning system (to track that they do not travel on bridges with restricted capacity) can operate 24 hours a day, whereas cranes outside this are restricted for travel between 1am-5am and 10am-3pm in metropolitan areas. In other areas they can travel during daylight areas, with a wide load permit. This effectively means that there is limited scope to use truck cranes in the Sydney central business district: the largest city market in Australia.

However, life is not necessarily easy for operators of all terrain cranes. New South Wales operates on 11.5t per axle, while other states operate on 12t per axle.

This means that a 400t class crane has to travel with the boom removed in New South Wales, whereas in the adjoining states it could travel with the boom in. This restriction adds up to 25% to the set-up and pull-down costs for a crane user.

This is the tip of the cost iceberg. Before you actually start lifting there is a A$800 (US$580) per lane charge for road space, plus A$50 per linear metre charge where there are parking meters, a A$120 permit fee, and a non-refundable A$2,000 application fee for a road closure.

While these problems handicap truck crane operation in cities, and all terrain cranes have made huge inroads, country areas with large travel distances still favour truck cranes. It is not unusual for cranes in Western Australia and North Queensland to travel for a day to reach a job that may only last a few hours.

The Australian market was spoiled when carriers for Kato cranes were built locally, using Mack truck mechanicals, and these carriers had relatively high horsepower and travel speeds. When this ceased in the mid-1980s the market was limited to Japanese carriers with lower travel speeds.

With the arrival of the Tadano GT-550E in the past 12 months, the truck crane market has seen a revival, as this crane offers significant improvements in crane capacity (55t versus 50t), boom length (42m versus 40m) and road speed (83km/h versus 67km/h). The GT-550E also has a 14.6m fly jib.

The Nissan carrier has Euro-2 spec 257kW diesel driving through a seven-speed synchromesh gearbox. Prior to the release of this carrier, there had been considerable speculation in the marketplace on whether carrier manufacture would continue in Japan.

Other features include the ability to telescope from the top or base boom sections depending on whether capacity or reach is required, an automatic outrigger length detector and joystick control in the upper.

The appointment of a specialist crane company, Melbourne-based James Equipment, certainly assisted in the revival of the truck crane market, and action has been seen not only with the GT-550E but with traditional style smaller capacity truck cranes and other categories of Tadano cranes. James Equipment is in the final stages of building a national sales and support structure, having hired well-known crane identities as key people to oversee the business growth.

The Nissan carrier will also be seen on the new Kato NK-550VR Superboom, which distributor BT Equipment expects to have in Australia by the end of the year. This crane also has a 55t capacity, and comes with a 43m main boom and 15m fly jib that can be offset to 5deg, 25deg and 45deg. The Superboom has a rounded boom base profile that has been used with success on all terrain cranes.

Like James Equipment, BT Equipment has seen a surge in demand for the conventional truck cranes, which came off negligible sales levels three years ago. Demand is expected to remain buoyant for at least another 12 months.

Marketers believe that the new generation truck cranes now compete on features with all terrain cranes, while having a price advantage, and reduced maintenance costs where long travel times are involved. While all terrain cranes have an advantage in manoeuvrability, this is generally not an issue for country work. The new generation truck cranes significantly reduce travel times compared to previous 50t truck cranes with Japanese carriers. Marketers of truck cranes also believe that the simpler suspension systems of truck cranes are more robust in coping with the poor quality of most roads in rural areas.

To date, however, neither Tadano nor Kato has announced plans to secure CE certification for these cranes in Europe, despite significant latent demand in the UK, Scandinavia and elsewhere.