Kubota's drive to become a full-line equipment company hit a small speed bump this year. The Japanese-owned equipment giant planned to begin shipping its largest tractor this summer -- the M7 Series topping out at about 170 hp. But something has slowed delivery, and dealers and customers won't get the tractors until at least the first quarter of 2016.
While a few months delay might not seem like much, for a company -- and a culture -- that prides itself on quality products and overall excellence, the setback must be painful.
"We're baring our souls to you," Kubota Vice President Todd Stucke recently reported to the press when talking about the delay.
Some history: The late Kubota President Yasuo Masumoto announced in 2012 that his company would become a full-service agricultural company, offering a wide range of products to put it in direct competition for hay and row-crop farm customers with companies like John Deere, CNH and AGCO. That same year, Kubota acquired Norwegian company, Kverneland Group, and its manufacturing facilities in Western Europe, Russia and China. This launched Kubota fully formed into the hay and forage market, which recently has been a hot segment in an otherwise cool environment for ag machinery sales.
Kubota has since expanded on its hay and forage offerings and recently showed dealers some impressive new mowers, rakes and a line of balers.
The company that dresses its gear in orange and has earned reputation for quality was on a roll.
Kubota introduced the M7 at its 2014 dealer meeting last fall as one more step on the path to full-line. The new tractors are sized to appeal to both row-crop farmers and hay, forage and livestock producers. They come with Kubota's CVT transmission, a powerful and tested engine, and comfort and production features to rival anyone's.
But there is a glitch, and Kubota missed the promised delivery date. Kubota won't get specific about what caused the delivery delay. It describes any design or quality flaws as minor. "We are probably being over-cautious. But we want to make sure it is right [before delivering tractors]," Stucke said.
Complicating the M7 launch is the fact that it is the first product to come out of Kubota's new tractor assembly plant near Dunkirk, France. Kubota decided to build in Europe because mid-range tractors like the M7 are popular there and could easily be shipped to North America from the French coast.
As with any new factory, there are bugs to be fixed.
Also complicating the M7 launch is training for Kubota dealers. Both the sales and service staffs have to be educated on all the nuances of the new product. That takes time. If a new product is launched before a dealership becomes expert in its care and maintenance, ugly things can happen when repairs are necessary.
As Kent Brown, senior product manager for ag tractors, told me, "We have one chance to make a good first impression."
Sounds like a good rationale to delay a new product launch, no matter how painful that delay might be for a proud company.
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