Machinery News

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High spec range set to compete in UK tractor market

A full assault on the UK agricultural machinery market has been announced by Japanese giant Kubota

A full assault on the UK agricultural machinery market has been announced by Japanese giant Kubota. An ambitious European event took place in France in late September, at which the company outlined its strategy for competing with the current big players, and its ambitions are not modest. David Williams reports. The event, some 50 miles east of Paris, allowed 800 dealers and agricultural press to see its new higher horsepower tractors, up to 170hp, for the first time. The manufacturer provides models currently up to 135hp, and the fact that larger models have been under development has been widely known, but Kubota has done a good job of keeping the specification, and its test machines, under wraps.Kubota is generally acknowledged to have the greatest market share for sales of small compact tractors, popular for ground-care and horticultural applications but, as the specification and power of machines within this sector crept up, the larger models in the range have become more capable of performing tasks on livestock and smaller arable farms along with their traditional roles. The current M series provides a range of power options from 60-135hp, and a specification including a plush cab, and hydraulics capable of handling a 5f reversible plough on the biggest MGX135.The needs of horticultural and ground-care users are very different to those of farmers and Kubota has responded to this challenge by setting up a separate division, with a dedicated team of sales and support staff to look after the agricultural sector.The company has an excellent reputation for after-sales service through a loyal network of UK dealers, but has created a franchise for its agricultural products, separating it from the amenity market. “There is, inevitably, some cross-over between the models,” pointed out Kubota UK managing director Dave Roberts. “Models from 50-100hp are suitable for a huge range of applications from golf courses or for local authority use, to specialist vegetable production or orchard work, as well as on smaller livestock farms so these are available through both dealer types.”In 2012, Kubota acquired Kverneland and, at the press conference in France, Kubota president and representative director Musatoshi Kimata, acknowledged that this was Kubota’s first step into the ‘upland’ (traditional crop) farming market. In 2013, work started on a tractor factory in France to manufacture a new range of tractors, with more power and capability for large scale field work.At the French product launch, a large selection of models from across the Kverneland ranges was displayed and demonstrated, all in Kubota orange and bearing the Japanese brand name. “We will have a superb offering for our agricultural dealers,” explained Dave, “with tractors and implements to suit every type of farming and for all sizes of enterprise.We have some of the best precision farming products and features, including GEOspread spreaders which provide precise fertiliser application exactly where it is needed, and seeders capable of precision planting crops to optimise establishment and yields.The range of mowers and the new balers have an excellent specification and will suit a wide range of operating conditions. However, it will be several years before the Kubota implements become available in the UK as they are being phased in both by product group and by country, but when they do arrive our dealers will have a full line-up of products available to them.”Clearly other manufacturers are worried by Kubota’s investment and future strategies, and whereas up until now there have been quite a few dealers with franchises for bigger agricultural brands, also representing Kubota as their second line of tractors, the development work on the new tractors, and the creation of Kubota’s agricultural franchise has caused concern, and some dealers have had to decide between giving up the Kubota agricultural franchise, or losing their main brands. In common with other leading brands in the agricultural machinery market Kubota is offering manufacturer-backed service and warranty packages as well as its own agricultural finance schemes.”Some of our dealers have very difficult decisions to make,” said Dave. “There has been considerable expectation that the new higher horsepower tractors would be ideal for the UK market and will prove popular, and now the dealers have had an opportunity to see them working and try them for themselves, they are even more excited about the future.Seeing the tractors working with the Kubota-branded implements has allowed dealers to consider the opportunities we can provide for their businesses in the future. Having tractors up to 170hp allows us, and our dealers, to compete for about 80 per cent of total tractor market sales; the potential is huge, and when you also add in our RTV utility vehicles and higher horsepower grounds-care tractors it is a superb franchise.”Asked about the possibility of even larger tractors for the future, Kubota confirmed that these were ‘sure to come’. Logically, this step would enable Kubota to offer tractors up to approximately 300hp in the next phase, but looking further ahead the company said there was no limit to the size of tractors it could eventually provide.Kubota manufactures a wide range of products including small wheeled loaders, combines for use in the Far East, and construction equipment including mini-excavators, and it is about to launch a range of small skid-steer loaders for the North American market. There are no plans currently to develop the combine for use outside its current sales area, but Mr Kimata confirmed that we could see Kubota combine harvesters in North America and Europe sometime in the future, something which would certainly interest the company’s UK dealers.
“We currently have a network of 23 dealers which are solely agricultural, and 15 which are dual franchise, but our target is to appoint up to 60 which provide the specialist service needed by agricultural users,” said Dave. The new M7-series
Three models make up the new M7 series, with engine outputs of 130, 150 and 170hp. These are available in three specification levels; Deluxe, Premium and Premium K-VT, but all fully customisable with a massive range of upgrades and options.Demand for the new tractors is likely to be primarily from small arable, livestock or mixed farms and the specification is designed to suit, all models providing superb maneuverability, very good visibility all-around, a long wheelbase and build-strength for land work and precision farming equipment options to provide maximum productivity.Engines
The Kubota engine is the same block as is used on the current MGX135 flagship. It is a 4-cylinder 6.1-litre turbocharged and inter-cooled power unit with electronically controlled common-rail fuel injection combined with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and SCR (Adblue) as well as a diesel particulate filter to meet the most stringent Tier 4 final emissions regulations. Rated power is produced at 2,200 rpm.Transmissions
There is a choice of transmission; Deluxe and Premium versions using a 24×24 K-Power Plus power-shift while the Premium K-VT has an infinitely variable CVT unit.Both transmissions are made for Kubota by ZF, and the power-shift which has four powershift gears and six ranges can shift automatically across through all 24 steps when set in transport mode, or can be programmed to shift only within pre-determined steps.Further programmable options include Eco or Power operating modes.  It can also be supplied with a creeper box with a 16×16 option, offering speeds from 0.4-4.0kph within these ratios. Maximum speed will be 40kph or 50kph depending on local regulations. Power-shuttle is standard on all models.Chassis
The wheelbase is 2.72m allowing a generous rear lift capacity and making the Kubota well-suited to field draft work. The turning radius is just 5.47m, which the manufacturer says is the best in its class.Tyre sizes shown were 540/65R28 front with 650/65R38 at the rear.
Weight distribution is even between the front and rear axles, the 7,460kg M7-171 equipped with front  linkage and PTO and loader brackets demonstrated at the event, weighing in at 3,300kg on the front axle and 4,160kg at the rear. The base tractor has an unladen weight of approximately 6,500kg.Hydraulics & PTOFront linkage is optional, with 3,500kg capacity with an option of a front 1,000rpm PTO.
Rear linkage is Cat3 and standard lift capacity is an impressive 9,000kg. Rear PTO speeds available are 540/540E/1,000/1,000E.Standard specification models deliver up to 80 litres of hydraulic oil flow/minute through three mechanical spools as standard, using an open centre system, while the two higher specification versions have 110 litres/min available through four electronically-controlled spools as standard with up to four more as an option, through a load-sensing closed centre system. Cabs
The cab is mounted well forward between the two axles providing a good ride, the bumps soaked up by optional mechanical or pneumatic suspension systems. Visibility to the front is excellent, a narrow waisted bonnet which tapers down steeply to the front allowing a good view of a front loader bucket, or an implement on the front linkage. The one-piece windscreen is 138cm wide with narrow front corner pillars and one-piece side screens provide clear visibility to the sides. The cab’s forward position provides a fairly clear view down to the trailer hitch and hydraulic arms. In the roof, a small glass panel provides a view of the raised front loader, but is easily blanked off by the foldable sun shade.The test machines, at the event, were all fitted with dark tinted glass all around which, apart from giving the tractors a modern space-age appearance, meant that the operator could not be seen clearly from outside. The company explained that this glass had been fitted to enable photographers present at the event to obtain clear pictures of the electronic displays within the cab, and that production tractors would be equipped with more conventional glass.The driver position is comfortable, the steering wheel adjustable for rake and height, all from one foot pedal, and the seat has a wide range of adjustment. The cab floor is flat and uncluttered. The layout is good, with all the main operating controls logically positioned and with a good quality feel. The materials used are functional and will be easy to keep clean, and will suit the type of use for which they are intended. The seat, arguably the most important component when it comes to comfort when operating for long periods, was very good, with excellent support and was an ideal size.On the standard version, most controls are mechanical, decent-sized levers operating the hydraulics and PTO. The levers have a good positive action and are large enough to operate easily with work gloves. Premium models dispense with the levers in favour of toggle switches and touch control buttons, but offer the precise adjustment expected by modern arable farms. Heater controls and the radio are incorporated into the right hand control console leaving the cab roof clear. Air conditioning is standard across the range. All models use a joystick for speed and direction control, although the forward/reverse shuttle is by the steering column. On the base specification tractor the joystick just controls power shift speed changes and there are buttons to change direction of travel, and to operate the rear linkage. On Premium versions the joystick (designated the K-Multishift), also has a button to select automatic gear shifting and buttons to control the electronic spools. On the CVT model the K-Multishift joystick can be used to adjust the travel speed.Factory-fitted loaders will include a dedicated loader joystick; a large fist-sized grip incorporating push buttons on the Deluxe models and a stubby square computer-game type stick on Premium versions.The link with Kverneland has had a major effect on the design of the control systems, and the company’s easily identified colour touch control screen, the K-monitor on the tractors, is used to monitor and adjust all the main operating parameters on Premium and Premium K-VT versions.A 7in colour touch-screen is standard equipment on the Premium models, with 12in an option. The 12in terminal is standard on Premium K-VT models. The 12in screen can be split into four sections for monitoring and control of multiple functions as well as allowing mapping and auto-steer information to be displayed while also keeping an eye on the implement.Operation is simple, a list of available functions displayed along the base of the screen and the operator simply drags and drops it into the middle of the screen to monitor or adjust that function. A number of pre-programmable quick-access buttons can be set up. Full headland control is provided, one-touch being all that is needed to commence a sequence for leaving or entering work, once the programme has been set up through a simple action copying function.New features, useful for arable farms and which can help save fuel and increase productivity, include the ability to set the amount of engine speed ‘droop’ allowed from the pre-set speed as working conditions change.Isobus connection between tractor and implement was invented by Kverneland, so it was to be expected that the system would feature prominently on the new models, the use of Kverneland’s screens in the cabs allowing full setting up, monitoring and operation of suitably equipped implements directly from the tractor’s controls and through the single screen.ServicingThe bonnet is rear hinged and released using a catch near the left-front wheel. Access to the radiators and air cleaners is convenient allowing the air cleaner to be removed and replaced without tools in under 30 seconds.The fuel tank is under the front of the cab, with 330 litres capacity and a compact Adblue tank is tucked in between the main tank and the cab with a capacity of 38 litres. Price and availability
The new M7 series tractors will be shown for the first time in public at an Italian show this autumn, and the first appearance in the UK will be at Lamma 2015. Limited production commences this December with mass production scheduled from April 2015. The tractors will be launched in Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan during 2015, and available in other regions later. Planned production for 2017 is 3,000 units.Prices are not available yet, but are likely to be between 97,000 and 137,000 Euros depending on model and specification. Tractor range expanded
Also announced at the event were two new models in the GX range. The M100GX-2 with 100hp, and the M128GX-2 with 128hp will join the current MGX line up to increase the range to four models; the M100GX, M110GX, M128GX and the M135GX.All feature, as standard equipment, a longer arm rest in the cab for improved operator comfort, a passenger seat, Cat 3 link arms, both left and right adjustable rear drop arms and adjustable hydraulic oil flow from the spool valve.

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