Back in March when Versatile announced the introduction of its Nemesis line of tractors, Kubota simultaneously announced it entered into an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) agreement with Versatile to build a larger tractor series for it, too. But Kubota declined to provide any specifics on its tractors, although the inescapable conclusion was it would be built on the same base platform as the new Nemesis tractors, which just happened to mesh perfectly with the horsepower range Kubota would need to move up to, 170-plus.
Kubota said it would officially launch its tractors later in the year. At the end of July near its headquarters in Grapevine, Texas, Kubota held that official launch. It invited a select group of dealers from Canada and the U.S. along with some members of the farm media to take part. And Grainews was there.
The new tractors dubbed the M8s take up where the relatively new M7s leave off. There are two models: the 190-engine-horsepower M8-191 and 210-horsepower M8-211. These tractors will, as expected, share a base platform with Versatile’s Nemesis line and will be built in Winnipeg at Versatile’s assembly plant.
A 6.7-litre Cummins will supply the muscle that can be routed through a fully electronic 30 x 15 power shift transmission that includes a shuttle shift with either a 40 or 50 km/h top speed. Or the tractors can be equipped with an optional 50 km/h-capable CVT. The powershifts offer six powershift gear changes in each range. And the transmission will auto shift up to a pre-set speed as well as downshift when the engine lugs down to a pre-set limit, making this a simple tractor to operate.
These MFWD tractors can be equipped with a rigid or suspended front axle. The suspended-axle versions also get cab suspension to significantly soften the ride for an operator.
At the rear, a 540 or 1,000 r.p.m. PTO can be operated in both standard and eco modes. A 1-3/4-inch, 20-spline shaft is also available as an option. Three-point hitch lift capacity is 5,660 kilograms, but that can be raised to 7,050 as an optional feature.
A hydraulic flow rate of 120 litres/min. is standard, but that can be boosted up to an optional 160. Three rear remotes are standard, with five as an option there.
With 148 cubic feet of interior space, the cab is larger than the M7’s, but the control armrest is identical. Inside the cab, a seven- or 12-inch LCD touch screen monitor is fully ISOBUS compatible, allowing the tractor to maximize communication with any compatible implement from any brand. Built into the tractor’s brain is a customizable headland control feature to automate turns in the field. And Kubota has decided to use an open architecture system to make the tractor compatible with any GPS auto-steer system currently on the market.
In the cabs
After the official launch ceremony that included all the usual pomp and pageantry, we headed out of the city to the Kubota Ranch to get into the cabs of the M8s to put them to work at a variety of tasks, which included cutting and baling hay, handling large bales and tillage.
Kubota has made its name and reputation as a workhorse on mixed and livestock operations across the west, so it was no surprise the brand had a couple of tractors ready for us to cut and bale hay with. The ISOBUS system allows any ISOBUS-compatible baler from any brand to talk to the M8s.
Interestingly, the brand chose to offer up an M8 paired with a new Kubota silage baler and bale wrapper combination unit that it expects to offer to the Canadian market later this year. That baler/wrapper comes direct from Kubota’s Kverneland division.
When it comes to bale handling, the M8s have a large enough chassis size to make carrying two round bales up front on the loader and two on the three-point hitch a breeze. Running an M8-191 around the ranch with four bales on wasn’t much of a challenge for the tractor hydraulic system. And the factory-mated self-levelling M77 loader designed for the M8s includes shock-absorbing hydraulic accumulators, which cushion the tractor and loader arms from hard shocks when going over rough terrain.
The joystick that controls the loader has a third-function feature that allows for grapple control. And there is even a fourth function available as an upgrade. The M77 loader has a 2,360-kilogram load rating at maximum lift height and a breakout force rating of 4,600 kilograms. These tractors offer capacities well beyond what most utility category tractors can offer.
But aside from those loader capacities, as mid-horsepower range models M8s now let Kubota offer some serious pulling capability from a tractor, meaning these models will have a place when it comes to fieldwork. With a Great Plains vertical tillage implement in the field, Kubota marketing reps wanted to prove that, so we took out an M8-211 and pulled that implement. The 211 proved it was up to the job and had little trouble with it.
Among the GPS auto-steer systems fitted to the tractors we had in the field were John Deere’s GreenStar and a Trimble. So owners with these systems on their other major-brand high-horsepower tractors don’t have to become familiar with yet another brand’s own offering.
Clearly 210 horsepower is far below what large-scale Prairie growers want from a field tractor, but it will be enough for many others. And the M8s have all the necessary digital components to compete in that market.
Will there ever be an M9?
At the official launch of the M8 tractor line in Grapevine, Texas, Kubota’s executives and marketing reps highlighted the brand’s machinery development history. A handful of executives pointed to the fact their tractor horsepower ratings have been consistently increasing, with the 210-horsepower M8-211, the brand’s current flagship model an example of that.
“It (the M8 launch) is another step toward Kubota’s goal of becoming a market leader,” said Haruyuki (Harry) Yoshida, CEO of Kubota North America. “Toward becoming a global major brand, we are committed to becoming a serious competitor.”
“We’re not here as a flavour of the month,” added Bob Hickey, president of Kubota Canada, as he stood in front of an open-ended timeline history of the brand’s product development, which was projected on the stage behind him. The new M8 tractors were the latest addition to it.
When I asked Dan Jones, vice-president of administration, when we could expect the M9 launch, it met with a smile and chuckles all around.
Clearly, no one would or could seriously answer the question, but the phrase “future growth” was echoed by more than one company executive many times over the course of the two-day event.
With a new North American head office and R&D facility that opened in 2017 in Texas and two new distribution hubs about to come online, Kubota has made it clear it has its eyes on taking an even bigger bite out of the Canadian and U.S. ag equipment market.
“It’s a very tough market,” said Masatoshi Kimata president and representative director at Kubota. “But we have to crack it.”
My bet is there’s more to come in the future from the orange brand. This statement from Yoshida seems to confirm that suspicion: “I know that five years from now we will look back and be certain that we were the pioneers who conquered new terri- tory for Kubota,” he told dealers at the Texas launch.