The official opening of Kubota’s newest factory, dedicated to the manufacture of the eagerly anticipated higher horsepower M7 series tractors
The official opening of Kubota’s newest factory, dedicated to the manufacture of the eagerly anticipated higher horsepower M7 series tractors designed to suit the needs of agricultural users, took place in late September. David Williams attended the event.
As soon as rumours of Kubota’s intention to produce larger tractors suitable for mixed and smaller arable farms began, there was a great deal of interest from prospective customers. The new M7 series tractors made their UK debut at Lamma 2015 but, only pre-production machines have been available to test-drive to date and dealers have been keen to get hold of production models to fulfil requests for demonstrations, and to satisfy orders already placed. There are three models in the range, offering 130-170hp.
A 40M Euro investment, the new factory is near Dunkirk in France, ideally located for distribution across mainland Europe as well as for export to the UK, America and to Asia. On a 115,000m2 site, the buildings cover 37,000m2 so there is plenty of space available for anticipated future expansion. Planned production is up to 3,000 units per year, from 2016, of which around 1,500 will be sold in Europe, 1,000 in North America and 500 to the Far East. Construction of the factory started in late 2013, the site chosen after considerable support from French authorities in the region.
Approximately 89 per cent of components are supplied from within Europe with engines and cabs manufactured at the company’s facilities in Japan. In establishing the new range of tractors in a new market segment for the company, the factory is concentrating hard on quality, to ensure the new tractors gain an early reputation for reliability and production is being gradually increased from one tractor per hour, to the planned maximum of a tractor assembled every 21 minutes. The French factory is working closely with its Japanese counterparts to include practises which continually improve quality and productivity and Kubota president and representative director Masatoshi Kimata said at the event that the intention is to supply customers with machines that are better than they expect them to be, from the start.
Kubota’s smaller compact tractors and current largest MGX-series models offering up to 135hp, are well-established in the UK through a network of 68 dealers, but 45 per cent of these already have a major brand agricultural tractor franchise and there has been resistance from some of the other brands to the dealers also supplying the new M7 series tractors.
Investment by Kubota in the UK market has included the setting up of a dedicated agricultural sales force, with experienced personnel recruited from some well-established competitors and a UK research and development department is based at the company’s UK headquarters at Thame, Oxfordshire, responsible for homologation as well as the assembly of tractors complete with optional upgrades for UK farms.
Two mobile demonstration units will be shared with the company’s ground-care products division and will be fully equipped to show off the new models to potential customers. Kubota’s own finance schemes will be available to offer competitive finance packages and extended warranty and service packages will also be available allowing customers to budget for the full costs of ownership. Standard warranty is 2,000 hours or two years and the service intervals are 500 hours.
“We are putting in place an infrastructure to support existing dealers and to attract new dealers in areas they are needed,” explained Kubota UK agricultural business development manager Rob Edwards. “The new tractors are available in specifications to suit all types of application and although we can offer features such as full Isobus compatibility and electronic hydraulic controls for those needing them, the same tractors are also available with basic mechanical spools which we know are preferred by many of our target customers. We are keen to establish the brand on farms and, while the quality is high and the tractors aren’t cheap, the cost per hour of operation and over the period of ownership will be very competitive and we want the opportunity to demonstrate that to potential users.”
Attendance at agricultural events in the UK has generated many enquiries, from existing Kubota owners as well as users of other brands. “Most interest has been from family farms,” said Rob, “and we are delighted that owners of other makes of tractor are so keen to try our new models. We have had enquiries from dealers across the UK, interested in taking on Kubota and have recruited several already.”
Rob Edwards is pictured (left) with Kubota UK managing director Dave Roberts.
Neil and Nicola Richardson, trading as N Richardson Ltd and based in north Norfolk have been trading second hand tractors as well as new and used implements since 2011 and, having built up a successful business, the company is one of Kubota’s newest agricultural dealers. “We looked at several possible tractor franchises but the Kubota range, with the new higher horsepower tractors in development, looked the best option for our area,” Neil explained.
“We have a lot of livestock and smaller arable farms as well as vegetable growers in the county and the Kubota tractors are well suited, and the RTV utility vehicles are proving popular too. We have many existing customers who have bought tractors from us in recent years and the Kubota machines will be an excellent alternative when they are updating. Before taking on the franchise we were keen to make sure the tractors were suitable and we lent a 135hp model to several users, and all the feedback we received was positive.
“We looked around Kubota’s UK headquarters too, and were impressed with the back-up available in terms of parts stocks held, and by the investment that Kubota is putting in to develop its agricultural division. Back-up such as the extended warranty and service packages are just what customers are looking for as they can budget accurately. With fixed running and ownership costs they know where they are which is important for today’s farms.
“The new M7 series is impressive. We have never known such interest in a new machine and have a long list of customers already keen to try it as soon as our own tractor arrives. We have ordered a top-of-the-range M7-171 with 50kph CVT transmission and air brakes to run as our demonstrator, and are looking forward to its arrival,” he added.
“We are delighted with the reception that the new tractors have had since their launch in the UK,” said Rob. “We already have orders from customers even before the final production versions have been seen or demonstrated. The specification is impressive with the option of power-shift or CVT transmissions, up to 9.0t rear lift capacity and the availability of a 3.5t capacity front linkage as well as hydraulic flow rates up to 110 litres/min. In the field, performance is very good and the balance is exceptional for a 4-cylinder engine tractor making it ideal for tasks such as drilling. The tight 5.47m turning radius means headland turns are quick and efficient and it provides excellent manoeuvrability for yard work. The cab is large and comfortable with superb visibility all around.
“The quality of Kubota’s smaller tractors is well-known, and the range has a reputation for low fuel consumption, simple controls and bomb-proof build quality but the larger tractors are a step-change for us, and moving from 100hp to 150hp is a big leap. We know the M7 tractors will compete with anything else in this power sector and our target is to achieve a market share of around 10 per cent during the next few years. We look forward to getting the first machines out to dealers by the end of this year, and onto UK farms by the spring.”
Asked about its intentions for the future, Kubota confirmed that it is ruling nothing out regarding further developments. The priority for the next few years is to get the M7 tractors well established on farms but after that it would seem logical that the company will continue to expand its range with larger and more powerful tractors. Currently it has no 6-cylinder engine in its range, but Kubota is a wealthy and successful company and development of a larger power unit and bigger tractors is clearly well within its capabilities. Customers, dealers and competitor brands will be watching with interest.