IN AN ATTEMPT to capture the growing segment of crop producers with more than 2,000 acres, AGCO Challenger made its biggest product launch yet in February at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY. Under the Challenger brand name, the multi-brand equipment maker introduced a new Class VIII combine with the fastest unload rate in the industry and a new series of 4-wd articulated tractors, including the largest 4-wd tractor in the world.

“Many of you are asking, why are we doing this?” says AGCO CEO Martin Richenhagen. “First, AGCO believes in the relationship with Caterpillar and its dealers. Second, we think the ag business will be growing in the future.”

Richenhagen says a growing world population and the need for an alternative fuel source will increase demand for farm crops. At the same time, farms will continue to get bigger and more productive.

“The number of farms in the world above 2,000 acres is going up by 30% a year,” he says. “That is why our vision is ‘providing high-tech solutions for professional farmers feeding the world.’”

Class VIII combine

At the product launch, curtains dropped in front of three stages revealing a Class VIII combine, a 4-wd tractor and a new utility tractor. “The key product that will enable us to become a preferred supplier to the commercial grower is the 680B Class VIII combine,” says Doug Griffin, director of Challenger sales and marketing for North America. The 425-hp combine will enable the company to compete with other Class VIII combines.

The 680B is billed as having the fastest unloading rate, the largest grain tank and the largest rotor in the industry for maximum productivity. “Tied to its efficiency is a 4.5-bu./sec. unload rate, which can save growers up to 45 minutes a day in unloading time,” Griffin says. The grain tank has an industry-leading capacity of 350 bu. The rotor measures 31.5 in. in diameter and 140 in. long to allow for faster ground speed and higher productivity than that of smaller models.

Serviceability also was improved over previous models. The 680B features better-placed grease banks, fewer service points and redesigned side panels for greater accessibility.

“Many electronic functions are built into the machine, but they are simple to operate,” Griffin adds. A new color touch-screen console has been integrated into the cab that lets the operator monitor and adjust crop settings, engine functions and yield monitor controls.

New rigid and flex headers up to 35 ft. wide will be offered to match combine capacity. The headers feature a new full-fingered auger and a redesigned pitch for improved feeding.

The combine will go into limited production in November, and pilot units will be run in June. Pricing will be released in June 2006 and will be competitive with prices for the industry leaders, according to Griffin. For more information about the Class VIII combine, circle 200.

Four-wheel-drive tractors

The new MT900B series articulated 4-wd tractors consists of four models ranging from 430 to 570 hp. The largest model has the highest engine horsepower in the world. The tractors are modeled after the MT800B series track tractors launched a year ago, with around 65% parts commonality.

“We've taken our track tractor and turned it into a rubber tire tractor with the same engine, same transmission and same frame but in a versatile 4-wd package,” Griffin says. The tractors are powered by a C15 or C18 Caterpillar engine and feature the same Cat 16F/4R powershift transmission found in the MT700B and MT800B series track tractors. The engines are Tier III compliant and are compatible with all mixtures of diesel fuel.

The MT900B series tractors are designed to do heavy pulling in fields that are not wet enough to warrant tracks. “Track tractors work in certain applications, but there are other applications where customers prefer a rubber tire tractor,” Griffin says. “So whoever is going to dominate the market has to have both wheels and tracks.”

Griffin defended using a powershift transmission instead of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) by saying that currently there is no CVT big enough to handle 500 hp. “When the market demands a CVT, we'll look at spending the money to build one,” he says.

Challenger's Tractor Management Center (TMC) is integrated in the tractor terminal. Three controllers let the operator control all engine functions and monitor performance ratings to keep the tractor running at peak efficiency. The TMC also monitors service intervals and lets the operator know when service is needed. Auto guidance is also built in.

Production is scheduled for January 2007, and a pilot run is scheduled for October. The selling price will be in line with prices for the industry leaders and will be released in September of this year. For more information about the MT900B series, circle 201.

Utility tractors

The company also introduced a series of lightweight utility tractors with 45 to 75 hp. “The 200 series currently goes up to 45 PTO hp,” Griffin says. “The new MT300B series will move us up further to heavy, industrial-strength markets.” The 45-, 55-, 65- and 75-hp tractors are available in 2-wd or 4-wd and feature a 3.3-liter Challenger Endurance engine and a 12F/12R standard transmission.

“The tractors are going into production as we speak,” Griffin says. The suggested list price for platform models ranges from $23,500 to $38,200. For more information about the new utility tractors, circle 202.

What about service?

The new combine and 4-wd tractors will be sold and serviced by Caterpillar dealers only. Caterpillar entered the ag market in 1987 with its Challenger track tractors. AGCO acquired the Challenger brand from Caterpillar in 2002 to extend its offerings under its multi-brand business model.

Griffin says Caterpillar dealers can best provide the level of support required by customers of extra-large, high-tech equipment. To prove its service claim, AGCO Challenger is launching the Pro Tech Service and Support Program in which all new MT400 through MT800 Challenger tractors and combines sold or leased in 2006 will come standard with a four-year extended powertrain warranty.

For more information, visit www.challengerag.com.

NEW RADIAL TECHNOLOGY

JUST WHEN you thought the radial bulge couldn't get any bigger, Michelin introduces its new Axiobib IF800/70R38 tire with “Ultraflex” technology. The tire is mounted on the new Challenger MT975B tractor just previewed in Louisville, KY.

It represents a new category of radial technology called IF, which stands for “increased flexion,” according to Kevin Lutz, technical manager for Michelin North American Agricultural Tires. “All of the major tire manufacturers have a standard 800 tire,” Lutz says. “But they don't have an IF800 tire, which allows for lower tire inflation pressures. It's new technology, not just new compounds.”

Tires with lower pressures create a larger footprint, which in turn reduces soil compaction.

Designed for tractors rated at 200 hp or more,the new Axiobib will be offered for the first time in North America on the Challenger MT900B series marketed in January 2007.

Contact Michelin, Dept. FIN, Box 19001, Greenville, SC 29602, 888/552-1213, visit www.MichelinAg.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 203.