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MFWD tractors bulk up

This summer Case IH announced the pending introduction of its most powerful Magnum tractor yet, the 370 CVT. Rated at 370 engine horsepower, the new Magnum will probably be the most powerful rigid-frame tractor on the North American market when it’s released in late 2012.

Despite the pending introduction of that big Magnum, which will dominate a stable of large Mechanical Front-Wheel Drive (MFWD) models introduced in recent years by competing brands, the emerging trend among Canadian and U.S. farmers looking to maximize muscle in row-crop applications is to switch to lower-horsepower,articulated four-wheel drive tractors. As a result, the major manufacturers are now offering options packages on four-wheel drives designed to give them broader market appeal, especially in roles that have traditionally been dominated by large MFWD tractors.

The trend in Europe, however, is to bulk up the rigid-frame design to meet farmers’ need for more power. That more compact style of tractor dominates the European marketplace for a variety of reasons. And at least two manufacturers used Agritechnica, the world’s largest farm machinery exhibition, in Hanover, Germany to stake their claim on the very high-horsepower,rigid-frame market.

Germany-based Claas introduced their new Axion 900 Series tractors. The largest model, the 950, will rival the 370 Magnum for the crown as most powerful MFWD on the market. The 950 is rated at 416 maximum horsepower (the Magnum boasts a maximum rating of 419).

Those comparable ratings are no coincidence. Under the hoods of both tractors, things look remarkably similar. Just like the Magnum, the Claas uses an FPT (Fiat Powertrain Technologies) Cursor 9, 8.7 litre diesel. And the Axion 950 will also get a CVT transmission (Continuously Variable Transmission), which Claas calls the CMATIC. It is built by a company called ZF, a provider of transmissions to several brands.

European farmers will get to take delivery of Axion 900s this spring, which means the Claas tractors will be available well before the Case IH Magnum 370 is scheduled to appear at dealerships. But by late 2013, neither of these tractors may be a contender for the highest-horsepower MFWD title. That may have to be handed over to a Deutz Fahr, one of the brands in the Same-Deutz Fahr group, headquartered in Italy.

To begin a marketing campaign and generate interest in a project tractor that doesn’t officially exist yet, Deutz Fahr chose to use Agritechnica 2011 to publicize the start of their official countdown to the launch of a 440 horsepower model, which is slated to make its first public appearance in November, 2013.

There is another unusual spin to the Deutz Fahr countdown strategy. Enthusiasts can log onto the tractor project’s website, www.440Hp.com, and keep up to date on the announced specifications and even provide input into the tractor’s final design.

So far, the company has announced the tractor will have a rated engine output of 402 horsepower, which gets a boost up to a maximum of 440 under load. That power will also flow through a ZF, CVT transmission, and it will provide a maximum travel speed of 60 km/h, outpacing the Claas by 10 km/h.

While neither the Axion 950 nor the big Deutz Fahr may make it to North American shores anytime soon, Claas did display its two new rigid-frame Xerion four-wheel drive models at Agritechnica. The company has been offering these tractors in Canada for a while now. The two new models, the 4500 and 5000, with 483 and 524 horsepower respectively, bump up the horsepower rating in this model line, too. They are finally scheduled to hit the market this spring, even though they were first introduced to farmers at the 2009 Agritechnica show. †

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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