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How to design a tractor, part 3

With Kubota involved in the project, the new tractors take shape and go public

Kubota launched its initial two-model powershift M8 tractor line to about 80 North American dealers at an event in Grapevine, Texas, in August of 2019.

In past instalments of this series (see ‘Related Articles’ links below), we explained why the Versatile Nemesis tractor project came to be, how the design parameters were set and how the components were chosen for it. All of those things are pretty consistent when it comes to developing new tractor lines for any brand. But in the case of the Nemesis, one thing is very different: two brands not connected to each other eventually became involved in the process. And the resulting production tractors rolling off the same assembly line wear two different paint colours.

How did that happen?

“Long story short, the previous (Buhler Industries) president and I met with some Kubota people at one of the farm shows,” explains Grant Adolph, chief operating officer at Buhler Industries, parent company of the Versatile brand. “We started talking about was there something we could work on in parallel. We were invited to go to Japan and, basically, we presented some ideas that we had. One of the ideas was this size of tractor.

“We were already in development by then and already had the bulk of the key suppliers lined up at that point in time and had started working with them. We presented multiple projects to Kubota on things we thought we could work with, and, literally, within two weeks, they had identified this range of tractor that they had interest in.”

Kubota demonstrated the M8’s ability to work at tillage and row-crop applications during the Texas launch event. photo: Scott Garvey

Between then and 2019, the R&D shop at Versatile’s Winnipeg headquarters remained the centre of design and engineering activity for the new tractors as they took shape. With production also to be located there, supplying models of the new line to two brands would also mean a jump in production numbers on the assembly line, which would certainly help the relatively small Canadian manufacturer whose balance sheet had suffered since the slowdown in farm machinery sales a few years ago.

Kubota’s input

Kubota was onboard early enough to have input into the specifications and design decisions as the new tractor line took shape, something brand executives there have emphasized when the discussion around the dual brand line comes up. For Kubota, the M8 line picks up on the horsepower scale where the M7 leaves off, pushing the company’s tractor horsepower ratings to 200. For Versatile, it adds to the lower end of its high-horsepower offerings, increasing the product ranges of both brands.

Once design, engineering and field trials were complete, both Versatile and Kubota announced the pending introduction of the tractors in the spring of 2019, but the Versatile was first to make a real-life public appearance, debuting at a farm show in Western Canada in July. Versatile dealers, however, had already seen a pre-production version a year earlier. “Our dealer launch for that tractor was in February of 2018 in San Antonio (Texas),” says Adam Reid, vice-president of sales and marketing at Versatile.

In August of 2019, Kubota invited members of the farm media along with a select group of about 80 Canadian and U.S. dealers to its headquarters in Grapevine, Texas, to participate in its official launch ceremony.

Kubota M8 models will use the brand’s existing armrest control and monitor. photo: Kubota

Kubota company president, Masatoshi Kimata, took the podium at that launch. “Today, at this moment, we will plow a new field,” he said, speaking metaphorically. “We will launch a new tractor to widen our business. We will launch a tractor over 200 horsepower to widen our customer segment.”

Haruyuki (Harry) Yoshida, CEO of Kubota North America, further explained the brand’s strategy, emphasizing the new M8 tractors were just one more step in making its equipment more attractive to more farmers. “It’s another step toward Kubota’s goal of becoming a market leader,” he said. “[It’s a big step] toward becoming a global major brand. We are committed to becoming a serious competitor. We will continue to expand our presence in North America. I know that five years from now, we will look back and be certain that we were the pioneers who conquered new territory for Kubota.”

The company is aware, however, of the stiff competition it faces from the other majors, as it tries to break into the mid-horsepower tractor segment.

“It’s a very tough market,” said Kimata. “But we have to crack it.”

Exactly what you need

Unlike the M7 tractors, which are built in France and first debuted in Europe, the M8 line and its cousins built as the Versatile Nemesis models were intended primarily to cater to the demands of farmers in North America. They will, of course, see distribution in Europe as well, and Adolph says it was important that the Nemesis tractors include features and options that make them attractive in both markets. But the message to the North American marketplace is clear from both brands: we built a tractor in this horsepower class that has exactly what you need.

From an overall engineering standpoint, both the Nemesis and M8 tractors are the same. However, each brand has incorporated some unique features, most notably the digital component at the operator station. Kubota has kept that consistent with what’s used in the smaller M7 line, so driving both feels the same. Which companies farmers chose to buy tractors from, Versatile or Kubota, will likely come down to the usual factors: dealer convenience and reputation along with service and support. And executives in both Grapevine, Texas, and Winnipeg, Man., know that all too well.

Kubota demonstrated the M8’s ability to work at tillage and row-crop applications during the Texas launch event. photo: Scott Garvey

For Kubota, drawing on its reputation and philosophy will be key to that brand’s marketing strategy. “[Wooing customers] will be through the Kubota philosophy, explained John Lee, U.S. marketing manager at Kubota, in 2019. “We focus in on Kubota as a brand. How we treat our dealers and customers. How we support our products. And that Kubota engineers were involved in its (the M8) development.”

Versatile, too, sees its brand as a marketing strength, along with understanding its customers’ needs. “There are going to be two sets of buyers, some will be more comfortable buying from Kubota,” acknowledges Reid. “Our operator interface is unique to Versatile, and we’ve designed it with our Versatile customer in mind. The way we’ve positioned the Nemesis is we’ve taken everything we know in larger tractors from 50-plus years and we’ve distilled that down (into the Nemesis). We’ve approached it with our understanding of the market with the Versatile hallmarks of simplicity, reliability and ease of maintenance. The dealers see a need in our product lineup for a tractor that fills this void. When I look at who our dealers sell to, this definitely fits well into that.”

About the author

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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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