HANOVER, Germany (DTN) -- Four year ago, Steyr used the Agritechnica machinery show in Hanover, Germany, to show off a wild concept tractor laden when every kind of wishful technology and far-fetched idea engineers could throw at it.
This year at that same show, the machine Steyr was showing off, the Hybrid CVT tractor with both diesel and electric power, wasn't quite as wild as what it had in 2019. But it was much more realistic and much closer to being available to customers.
As different manufacturers showcased tractors that ran on electricity or fuel, Steyr, an Austrian company in the CNH Industrial family, asked, "Why not both?"
Its hybrid design has traditional diesel powering the rear of the tractor and electricity powering the front.
"This is a prototype, but until a few weeks ago, this was still in the field," said Marco Otten, a business manager with Steyr. "We have a standard 180-horsepower tractor. We have the rear that has stayed the same. Then we boosted the engine to 260 (horsepower), and now we have a new front axle, independent suspension and a new electric motor and generator in the front, and we can drive the front end electrically."
The opportunity created by such a combination has proven intriguing to Steyr's engineers, and they've identified fuel savings from several avenues.
For instance, Otten said the different propulsion methods have allowed them to perfectly match the speed of the front and rear axles and thus eliminate the 2% or 3% of slippage they previously saw on a similar machine with four-wheel drive.
"We're using less fuel, but we're using the fuel we are using more efficiently because we're not wasting on slip," he said.
The electric element also allows the tractor to have high torque available at low RPM when needed, basically allowing instant power without having to rev the engine, which could come in handy when hooking up an implement.
It can also help moderate the engine speed when, say, just dropping a cultivator into the ground at the end of a field.
"Usually when you drop the plow or cultivator, the motor goes to its knees a little bit," Otten said. "At that point, we have 50 kilowatts instantly available to help bridge that gap, so we're much quicker (getting) up to speed, and it makes it easier for the motor to catch up."
The company reports 10% to 15% fuel savings in its tests so far, a more quantifiable benefit than the "time" benefit Steyr is also saying can be realized by some of the benefits of having an electric motor onboard.
"You also now have 260 horsepower in a 180-horsepower package, so you have a lot more power in a lighter-weight tractor," Otten said.
It's not coming to a farm anytime soon. The prototype on display in Germany had come from a summer working in the field, but there's no timeline for production, and engineers are still tinkering.
But, unlike the 2019 concept vehicle, this wasn't made to see what could be done but as a precursor for real tractors on real farms.
"This is an evolution that we started in 2019, but it's a more realistic evolution," Otten said. "In theory, this is a unit ready for production."
Agritechnica is considered the world's leading trade fair for agricultural machinery and had registered 2,811 exhibitors from 52 countries for this year's event in Hanover.
Joel Reichenberger can be reached at Joel.Reichenberger@dtn.com
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