2015 Kubota Dealer Meeting

A Rare Insight into Kubota Culture

By Geof Fowler, Oct 22, 2015
When Tractor.com arrived in Atlanta for the 2015 Kubota Dealer Meeting, our expectation was that the invitation was to get a sneak, first look at something new. If that something turned out to be plural, all the better.

The advance agenda listed a Kubota milestone, a general session, exhibit hall time, product strategy, field demos, and then a Q&A sendoff. And though Tractor.com did partake in those events, what we walked away with was a special insight that said all you need to know about Kubota’s culture.

At last year’s dealer meeting, the big buzz was the new M7 tractor along with a revamped lineup of skid-steer machines. The M7 would be the largest and highest horsepower Kubota tractor to-date and the skid-steer lineup shakeup being driven by the EPA Final Tier 4 (FT4) requirements that were about to kick in.

Kubota Manufacturing of America (KMA) was established in 1988 to produce tractor implements such as backhoes and front loaders. Initially, 44 team members were employed at the Gainesville, Ga. facility. In 1994, production of T Series lawn tractors was added, followed by G Series lawn & garden tractors, BX subcompact tractors, and GR Series lawn & garden machines. In 2001, the products manufactured in Gainesville were expanded to include ZD Series zero turn mowers and then again in 2004, when KMA entered the utility vehicle market with the RTV Series. Today KMA and its nearby Jefferson, Ga. Kubota Industrial Equipment (KIE) sister company employ over 2300 workers, and on October 12, 2015, celebrated the manufacture of the one millionth wheeled unit produced in America.

The milestone unit is a commemorative RTV X1120D that Kubota dealers bid against each other for with the proceeds benefiting a worthy and important Kubota cause, the Farmer Veteran Coalition (farmvetco.org). With a mission to cultivate a new generation of farmers through a collaboration of farming and military communities, the FVC believes veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities to create sustainable food systems and that agriculture offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits for those veterans. By the end of the auction, $26,250 was raised for the FVC cause.

For the unveiling of the milestone RTV, a tent was erected outside KMA large enough to seat more than a thousand. On hand were Kubota executives, including Henry Kubota, Georgia governmental officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, and the entire workforce of KMA responsible for manufacturing those one million wheeled vehicles. The cost of lost production must have been tremendous, but the reward to Kubota team pride and commitment was the clear winner. After the obligatory VIP speeches, the milestone RTV was wheeled out, followed by two more commemorative vehicles for the Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Fire Services. Lunch then was served and afterwards everyone got a chance to take a look at the RTVs and see some of the unique commemorative edition enhancements – sound system, special lighting, graphics, wheels etc.

The second day’s program began with a product strategy session hosted by funnyman David Wilk and led by product marketing directors for Turf (Raj Joshi), Ag (Stephen Barcuch), and Construction (Paul Manger). Raj Joshi was first on stage, telling attendees the goal of Kubota is to become number one in turf products. Kubota already boasts a 70% market share for diesel-powered turf products, but through continued support for existing customers and the introduction of new products appealing to an expanded range of potential users, believe number one to be an achievable goal. Some of those new products include a revamped ZD Series, with two new 1000 models (ZD1011, ZD1021), two new 1200 models (ZD1211, ZD1211L), and two new 1500 models (ZD1511, ZD1511L). These models feature suspension seats, low profile tires for improved performance on slopes and an all-new deck design.

The Aerodynamic Cutting System (ACS) decks require 16% less horsepower and can mow up to 27% faster – combining for a 22% improvement in fuel efficiency. The ACS design also allows for a 60” deck on the smallest platform, driven by only 24.8 hp. The new ZD 1000/1200 machines will start shipping in November with 1500 models launching later in 2016.

Other products aimed at driving turf products to the number one position are the partnership with Echo Products, and the introduction of three new commercial walk-behind mowers. The CWB 36” is gear driven and comes with a MSRP of $3923, the CWB 48” is hydro driven and comes with a MSRP of $6045, and the CWB 52” is hydro driven and comes with a MSRP of $7519. All are powered by Kawasaki commercial engines. And with Kubota financing, a start-up commercial lawn care business can finance up to and including the entire trailer.

For the already best-selling diesel RTV-X1140, improvements include an independent rear suspension (IRS) and a new ROPS system that allows side loading with a tractor or skid-steer and can convert in three simple steps from two-passenger with extended hydraulic dump bed to a four-passenger configuration. A front power take off (PTO) is also available and in conjunction with a new four-point hitch, can support implements such as a 78” straight blade, 78” v-plow, 66” snow blower, and 66” rotary broom.

Next up at the product strategy session was Steve Barcuch, who reminded attendees of the Kubota experience: great product and a high level of satisfaction. Barcuch told dealers that they must protect their core business and that to do so, some new products will be introduced in limited rollouts. An example is the hay tools. This is the second year of a limited rollout. The Kubota baler is already acknowledged as a great baler, but when there is hay on the ground and the baler is down, the customer must have the support needed to get back to work. Kubota understands this need and so the limited rollout is accompanied by field support, training, and field demos. Broadening the hay equipment lineup is the DM3807 rear mower, which with only 140 horsepower delivers 28’-7” cutting width, the DM4032 which can be used in conjunction with the DM3087, the DMC8028R roller conditioner, and the RA2072 double rotor, center delivery rake.

Lastly, Barcuch spoke of the M7 delayed introduction. Kubota realizes it has one shot to get the support for this product “right”. To do so, the same level of field support, training and field demonstrations demanded by the hay equipment marketplace is required. A M7 “playbook” is being developed which will cover every aspect from the sale to training and service to use in the field. Kubota will not release the M7 until the required support system is in place.

Paul Manger was next up, speaking about the compact construction marketplace and how Kubota was addressing this important segment. Currently Kubota is number four in overall sales, but is already number one in compact excavator sales. The reason Kubota lags behind in overall sales is simply the breath of product offering has not been there. Manger pointed out that 50% of compact excavator owners also have skid-steer machines. To narrow this gap, Kubota introduced the SSV skid-steer series and R630 wheel loader. These machines were highly successful, but were not EPA Final Tier 4 (FT4) compliant. The new product lineup will include two compact track loaders, the SVL75-2 and SVL95-2s, which will be available starting in December. Currently under development are a next generation of SSV65/SSV75 skid-steer loaders, which are undergoing testing.

Manger also spoke of the L47 and M62 TLB (tractor-loader-backhoe) machines, which replace the L39/L45 and M59 TLB machines. These new models deliver more power, more comfort and functionality, and dig depths of 12’ to 14’ (an increase of two full feet) depending on model. L47 TLBs have 47.1 horsepower (33 PTO), front loader lift capacity of 2848 lbs to 113”, 12’ backhoe dig depth, and an operating weight of 7205 lbs. M62 TLBs have 63 horsepower (46 PTO), front loader lift capacity of 3960 lbs to 122”, 14’ backhoe dig depth, and an operating weight of 8925 lbs. Some neat and useful features include a crawl lever, which doesn’t require a seat turnaround to reposition, and a throttle up lever to increase hydraulic flow independent of travel speed. These new TLBs will be available beginning in February.

The afternoon was spent at a nearby estate where Tractor.com saw demonstrations of TLBs, SSVs, SVLs, Zero-Turns, RTVs, Hay Tools, and M7 tractors. We’ll be conducting more in-depth reviews of these machines as they become available, but our interest was on the M7 tractors.

Kubota heard our pleas and allowed Tractor.com some seat time behind the wheel of a M7-171. The M7-171 is powered by the highest horsepower Kubota engine to date and is aimed squarely at commercial row crop, hay and livestock operations. Standard hydraulics are through an open center system flowing 21 gpm with a high flow closed center 29 gpm option. Lift capacity for the matched LM2605 loader will be over 5700 lbs to 167”, meaning the M7 will easily be able to handle a pair of 5x6 round bales and just about any farm utility wagon.

Inside the deluxe cab, the M7 immediately felt familiar and comfortable. The control layout is intuitive with the right arm console housing the most frequently used functions. Firing up the 171 hp mill results in a dBA reading of 66. The M7 we drove was equipped with Kubota’s K-VT transmission, which is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Once the travel direction has been selected using the left hand shuttle stalk, all that’s necessary to control tractor speed is a bump forward or backwards of the multifunction lever. Cruise engagement is just a thumb switch away. Though our test time was limited, everything we pressed, adjusted or dialed in worked seamlessly and we saw no signs of the M7-171 being a “test” or “development” tractor.

At this time, Kubota is not taking M7 orders and plans to continue testing and refining through the end of the year. When a production M7 becomes available, you can bet Tractor.com will be there to bring our readers a full review. Meanwhile, in the words of Kubota Vice President Todd Stucke who thanked us for attending the dealer meeting, “We shared our souls with you, we hope you would respect that somewhat. At Kubota we do make it right and we will make it right.”

In the world of corporate deception exemplified by the current Volkswagen scandal, Kubota may be disappointed products have been delayed, but the end user has to laud a corporation taking their hard-earned reputation and relationship with their customers seriously, choosing to apologize for delays rather than for shipping product not ready for use. For that Kubota earns more than just respect, it earns trust.

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