Trade shows and product announcements show off what is available now with new tractor technologies, but what about what’s under development to improve performance and sales opportunities? Details are proprietary, but product experts from several tractor manufacturers highlight the technology they are focusing on and what those developments will mean for rural equipment dealers.
This installment in the Technology Trends series features a conversation with Daniel Hitchcock, engineering department manager for Yanmar America.
Rural Lifestyle Dealer: What recent technology or product enhancement has been pivotal for Yanmar, its dealers and customers?
Daniel Hitchcock: The best example would be our I-HMT, the integrated hydro- mechanical transmission, which we introduced in January 2016, for our YT3 tractor series. The technology is really a melding of the benefits of a gear drive with an HST. It has much higher fuel efficiency and, at the same time, it has the ease of use of an HST.
There will definitely be more evolution of the technology. I can't tell you specific details, but we have a long history of applying it in Japan and are now bringing this new generation to the U.S.
RLD: Many of the new developments for rural equipment revolve around aesthetics and ergonomics. What is Yanmar developing in those areas and what is the influence from other industries?
Hitchcock: Ease of use and operation and overall ergonomics and comfort are continuous, ongoing improvements. We keep asking ourselves, "What's the next thing that we can improve for the operator?"
Daniel Hitchcock is engineering department manager for Yanmar America.
We're definitely paying attention to the auto and precision ag industries. I expect that we’ll start seeing some of these technologies start working down into compact tractors. One example might be monitoring capabilities. There are trends for more visible information to the customer, whether it's maintenance or anything else they need — just providing more connectivity between the tractor and the operator.
The cost is prohibitive at this point, but looking long term, technology becomes cheaper when it becomes more commonplace. I don't see precision and high-end guidance- type technology happening overnight for our market, but when you're looking ahead 10-20 years, I would say it's very possible that we will start seeing this technology, especially for compact tractors. You may never see it all the way down to the hobbyist sub-compact models.
RLD: How do you think some of these technologies will be packaged, as options or standard features?
Hitchcock: The majority of new technology will mostly likely be an option. However, there is always a door open, especially if there's a demand and we can bring it to market competitively.
An example of this is with our model 424 tractor. When it first came to market, there was no differential lock pedal for the tractor. We were getting many requests for this, so it was established as an accessory. We didn't really expect a lot of demand initially. Over time, we realized this is something many customers would like to have as standard. We brought out a fresh new model this year with the differential lock pedal as a standard feature.
RLD: What about some of the other trends related to robotics and “green” features? What is Yanmar doing in those areas?
Hitchcock: Robotics are a little outside of our scope at the moment, but we're always focusing on “green.” We're a very environmentally-focused company, so that's one of our key focus areas — making tractors that perform more efficiently. Equipment will continue getting cleaner as well, whether that's through voluntary developments or forced developments because of new environmental regulations.
One of the bigger developments that we already touched on is any kind of smart technology, whether it's position tracking or just communication with the tractor itself. Many products now have Bluetooth apps where you can see exactly what's going on with, say, your maintenance schedule. Those kinds of technology will become much more commonplace.
Another thing that I would expect to see improvements on would be anything related to the customer — comfort and ergonomics.
I think probably the last area is improvements in the overall ease of use, simplicity of operation and the intuitiveness of the tractor.
RLD: Are dealers having difficulties selling the benefits of some of these features versus the price?
Hitchcock: I haven't really heard complaints from that angle. Just like anybody, they're always going to want a lower price, which is easier to sell. However, before we bring a new product to market, we want to make sure it can be offered at a competitive price.
RLD: How can dealers balance the training needed to keep current with the advances?
Hitchcock: We recently opened a new training center in Acworth, Ga., called the EVO//CENTER that offers training on all our equipment, including industrial engines, construction equipment and agriculture equipment. At the EVO center, dealers can get current, hands-on training with expect technicians, instead of just watching a video.