Japan’s Kubota Corp. is poised to join Massey Harris, Cockshutt and Versatile on the short but distinguished list of farm tractors made in Canada.
Buhler Industries, already well known as the manufacturer of Versatile tractors at its Clarence Avenue plant in Winnipeg, has opened its factory floor to also produce Kubota’s highest-horsepower tractor yet for the North American farm market.
The two companies in March announced a “long-term” original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreement to “develop and produce a new tractor platform in the mid-range front-wheel assist segment.”
Kubota’s new tractor platform, which the company said has been in development for almost five years, is to be introduced in Canada and the U.S. starting from the second half of 2019.
Yannick Montagano, Kubota Canada’s vice-president for sales and marketing, grants that the company has so far been “quite light” in discussion of specs and other details for the new machines ahead of the product launch.
However, he said, it’s no secret Kubota, best known for a “lower-horsepower range” of compact and subcompact tractors, has expanded its reach lately into heavy-duty agriculture. It bought Kansas seeding and tillage equipment maker Great Plains in 2016 and Norwegian ag equipment maker Kverneland in 2012.
The move into heavier-duty tractors, he said, is meant to give the company’s product line a tractor that can pull those new tools, while maintaining what he described as “Kubota DNA” in the new machines, which are being developed collaboratively by Kubota and Buhler engineers.
Kubota’s “currently largest” tractor is its M7, which is built at the company’s plant at Bierne in northern France and provides up to 170 hp. The compacts and subcompacts it sells in North America are assembled in the U.S., in plants at Gainesville and Jefferson, Georgia.
Buhler’s Clarence Avenue plant today makes fixed-frame front-wheel assist tractors from 265 to 365 hp and articulated four-wheel drives from 380 to 610 hp.
From Buhler’s perspective, the OEM deal with Kubota will allow it to shore up its product line and reclaim space in a market where it hasn’t been for five or six years.
“We needed to have a front-end loader tractor,” Adam Reid, Buhler’s VP for sales and marketing, said recently on Glacier FarmMedia’s “Between The Rows” podcast, describing a “do-all” tractor for duties such as yard work, loader work, snow clearing and light tillage, in the “200-ish-horsepower” range.
While there may be some call for 265-plus-horsepower farm tractors such as the current Versatile lineup along Canada’s West Coast and in Ontario, “in a lot of places (in those markets) it’s just more power than is needed.”
Buhler was in the early stages of developing such a tractor when it emerged that Kubota was interested in expanding into the same horsepower gap and the two companies began conversations, Reid said.
“I would say that it’s truly been a jointly developed project,” he said of the resulting tractor lines, some of which will be branded Kubota and some Versatile.
Buhler launched Versatile’s resulting tractor line, the Nemesis, to its dealers in February and the new line will get its public launch this summer at Ag in Motion. The Nemesis, which will see a limited release this year, runs in the 175- to 210-hp range, with larger models of up to 250 hp to follow.
There will be “some commonalities” between Versatile’s Nemesis and the yet-to-be-launched Kubotas, but some differences as well, he said.
For instance, Cummins, the longtime and exclusive power plant supplier for Versatile, will supply engines for the new lines, while Germany’s ZF, supplying the transmissions for the new units, is a new partner for the Winnipeg company.
The new Versatile tractors’ styling will be the new design language for the company’s products going forward and scaled up for future use on the Versatile side. The new Versatiles also offer new console and armrest control systems that will be phased in on future products.
From the perspective of Buhler’s day-to-day manufacturing operations, “it’s not a seismic shift” to have Kubota manufacturing underway on its Winnipeg factory floor, Reid said.
The production line remains the same on which the Genesis tractor was first built back in 1993, he said, but the OEM deal “does add incremental volume to what we’re doing already,” offering greater efficiencies in manpower and supply chains.
Getting Versatile back into areas of farming “where our (current) stuff is just too big,” the Nemesis “represents the evolution of where Versatile’s going to go from here,” he said, and Buhler will further consider what aspects of it could go into its larger models.
Coming from a company that views itself as “kind of the scrappy one in the marketplace,” the Nemesis also represents a “first shot across the bow” from Versatile’s perspective — hence the name.