Rentals continue to be a growing share of the total fleet of construction equipment in the U.S., according to a study by the American Rental Association.

ARA's Rental Penetration Index rose to 53.9% last year from 52.9% in 2013, according to John McClelland, ARA vice president for government affairs and chief economist. Compiled by ARA and IHS Economics, the weighted index measures the total percentage of construction equipment owned by rental companies in the U.S.

“One of the biggest questions going forward is if the secular shift away from equipment ownership by end users toward rental continues,” McClelland todl ENR at ARA's annual convention held in New Orleans Feb 23-25. “If 2014 is any gauge, there is still room for rental penetration to continue to increase and as the economy continues to grow, and this means more demand for rental equipment." The ARA index has risen year-over-year for the fifth straight year.

Equipment makers have responded to continued growth in the rental market with more machines targeted specifically to rental fleets. Terex launched its TLB840R backhoe loader, a modified version of the TB840, at this year's Rental Show. First displayed as a prototype at the 2014 show, sales of the rental-targeted backhoe began in January 2015.

Boasting a roughly 20% drop in price compared to the full-featured backhoe, the TLB840R features several changes targeted to the rental market, including a new, 74-hp engine to meet emissions standards and redesigned hydraulics to compensate for the resulting loss in power.

"Mostly we took away the fancy features that a rental operation just doesn't place value in," said John Beckley, Terex global product manager.

Strategic "de-featuring" was a common theme at the Rental Show. JCB was showing off its new 3CX backhoe loader, which it also had streamlined for rental customers.

"This machine has been right-sized for the rental market," said R. Thom Peebles, JCB vice president for marketing. The 3CX is built on the same platform as JCB's other 3C-series backhoes, with features added after rental customer requests, such as more durable steel fenders, and fewer cab options.

"The idea is that you have a machine made a bit more for this type of usage. We still have the durability we build into our top-of-the-line, fully loaded backhoe, but you get some of the things taken out, that customers certainly aren't going to pay their rent with, but will certainly allow them to focus more on price," he added.

Rise of the Telehandlers

Telehandlers continue their growth in the U.S. rental market, and manufacturers have responded with new lineups of machines.