The Minsk-built line of tractors offering low purchase prices and simple mechanical technology, formerly marketed in Canada as Belarus, is officially back. Their distributor claims the tractors still offer what it calls simple, durable and easy-to-repair designs. But this time the machines wear the MTZ brand name, not Belarus.
“It’s the same manufacturer, for sure,” explains Arie Prilik, VP of sales and marketing for MTZ Equipment, the brand’s new North American distributor. “They were sold in Canada under the Belarus brand name and the factory itself is Minsk Tractor Works. It’s kind of like Chevy, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. The factory was always using two brand names.”
Because of legal issues surrounding the Belarus brand name in Canada, which is still owned by the now-defunct, previous distributor, the new company simply chose to import models wearing the factory’s alternate nameplate. However, they are the same machines.
MTZ Equipment has been operating in Canada since 2009, but Prilik says it’s been busy with the process of obtaining emissions certification for the tractors’ engines and setting up a dealer and parts distribution network. That work is now mostly complete, and the brand is now officially launching itself in Canada and the U.S.
One line on MTZ’s North American website seems to sum up the brand’s primary marketing strategy here: “Some competitors offer more gadgets: MP3 players, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, colour screens, etc. We offer none of this,” it reads.
Prilik believes that gives the brand a significant price advantage. “The rule of thumb is about $1,000 per horsepower in the industry,” he says. “As an example, a 150 horsepower (tractor) from the majors is going to run about $150,000. Our machine is about $100,000 Canadian. So we’re looking at about a 30 to 40 per cent price advantage.”
The lack of computerized technology in the machines also helps MTZ hit that price point. And lately, one of the features that has been getting a lot of love from farmers at used equipment auction sales is pre-emissions engines. Demand for equipment with Tier 3 engine emissions level technology or lower is rapidly growing. MTZ may be able to capitalize on that trend.
“The biggest claim to fame for our tractors is we’re still allowed to bring Tier 3 engines, which are much simpler than the more complicated Tier 4s,” he says. “Environment Canada is running a program called Transition, which allows us to bring in Tier 3s until 2018. It’s based on a U.S. program. It allows for an limited exemption. We just have the right timing, I guess. The majors ran their exemptions within the first year of the program, because of the volumes they make.”
“Coming from another industry, I thought, OK, we have the best pricing, that’s going to sell our tractors. But after many trade shows and hundreds of conversations with farmers, what sells them is their simplicity and the Tier 3 engine.”
Part of that simplicity means the four-cylinder tractors get basic synchronized transmissions, although larger, six-cylinder models are also available with either a power shift or CVT option. But that isn’t to say they are too simple, according to MTZ Equipment’s website which emphasizes that the features built into these tractors are designed with practicality in mind. For example, the tractors offer some standard features like a built-in hydraulic joystick control, radial tires and a quick-change PTO shaft, which are unavailable or extra-cost options in other some brands’ basic models.
The MTZ website also offers a comparison of the costs of optional features, emphasizing that if buyers choose to up-rate their tractors, they can do so at a lower cost — at least according to MTZ’s market analysis.
The brand is initially launching 84 to 212 horsepower models. But Prilik says there are firm plans to add more tractors to the line. In the not-too-distant future, that means offering 300 and 350 horsepower front-wheel assist workhorses. Eventually, MTZ Equipment plans to break into the high-horsepower market with articulated tractors up to 450 horsepower. Those models are built in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“The way it worked in the past, under the Belarus brand, the Soviet Union was marketing tractors from three different factories,” Prilik says. “The Minsk factory was about 80 per cent of the tractors. The big articulated machines were produced in St. Petersburg, in Russia. We have an agreement in principle with the St. Petersburg factory, which makes tractors up to 450 horsepower. We just want to walk before we run. Once we have more dealers, we can bring the bigger machines as well.”
One question potential customers may have on their minds is what about parts and service support.
MTZ Equipment has secured about 25 dealers in Canada and as many again in the U.S. It has set up a parts distribution centre in Hawkesbury, Ontario, which will provide dealer and service training. And it is stocking parts for older Belarus machines.
“For the tractors that were sold here 20 or 30 years ago, we’re still supporting them with factory-original parts,” Prilik says.
You can find the brand’s North American website at mtzequipment.com.