The U.S. is one of the world's largest agricultural equipment markets, and breaking into it with new products takes time, money and know-how. Just ask Claas, the well-known German company and the world's fourth largest agricultural equipment manufacturer. The company just finished its 25th year competing in the U.S. marketplace.
Today, Claas has substantial market presence in North America with its harvesting equipment, including the Jaguar forage harvester and Lexion combine. A significant percentage of the company's $3 billion sales volume is in North America. Still, Claas takes its time introducing new equipment into this country.
Where's the tractor?
Since Claas acquired Renault's agricultural division in 2003, green tractors with the Claas brand have rolled out across Europe, including in France where orange Renault tractors used to dot the countryside. But don't expect to see the Claas green models here in the next few years. Board member Theo Freye reported last fall that the company is still evaluating how the Claas tractor might be added to the products offered in North America. He said to be successful across the Atlantic in the tractor business the company must differentiate its equipment from that of the competition.
The differentiation is under way. Claas recently revealed many new tractor models from six different tractor lines at its 2006 World Claas Forum. Held approximately every four years in Germany, the big Claas event showcases the company's newest equipment to farmers and dealers from around the world.
Held near Leipzig, Germany, World Claas 2006 featured an evening of new equipment introductions mixed with entertainment, food and drink, all under flowing white tents. The next day, a hundred pieces of equipment ran through fields to give attendees a firsthand look at what was exhibited the night before.
Big on the list of new equipment is Claas's tractor line called the Axion. It is the first 100% Claas-designed tractor on the market. The line includes five models ranging from 163 to 260 hp, and all are equipped to handle the latest in assisted steering and implement-control technology.
Other tractor lines from Claas include the high-powered Atles models with 227 to 275 hp; the Ares tractors ranging from 90 to 227 hp; the Celtis models with 72 to 100 hp; and the fruit and orchard tractor Nectis line ranging from 68 to 101 hp.
There is one Claas tractor, the Xerion 3300, currently being evaluated in North America. The full-time 4-wd systems vehicle with more than 330 hp features a cab that can rotate 180° so the vehicle can operate from either direction. The operator remains in the cab and needs to simply push a button and wait 30 seconds for the rotation to be complete.
The powerful Xerion falls into its own unique tractor category with what Claas describes as self-propelled qualities. During field events, the vehicle operated like a self-propelled mower when it was loaded with the Claas Disco 8550 for mowing. This one machine in either a standard or self-propelled mode is capable of many applications — from tillage, planting and spraying to snow removal and silage pit work.
The Xerion features the Claas Cebis system, which first appeared in Lexion combines. Cebis offers complete electronic vehicle control of operations such as steering modes, hydraulic flow rates and headland management systems. A Xerion driver needs only to step on the accelerator and Cebis does the rest.
The vehicle's heavy frame and near equal weight distribution allows the machine to carry significant loads. This is especially important in the Xerion's Saddle Trac model that becomes a carrier vehicle with applicator. The Xerion may be loaded with equipment such as a liquid manure tank, seed container or fertilizer tank.
Another unique feature on the Xerion is crab steering, where the rear tires are not directly behind the front tires, thus reducing soil compaction.
Claas is one of the few major farm equipment manufacturers still operated as a family business. The Claas family started building farm equipment more than 90 years ago in Harsewinkel, Germany, and has operated under the leadership of Helmut Claas for several decades. Now his daughter Cathrina Claas is involved in managing the business.
The company has built its business on harvest equipment. Two out of every five combines sold in the world is a Claas. The company holds an even larger market share of the world's forage harvester business.
The company seeks to stretch its business further into other parts of the world, particularly into Eastern Europe. Lothar Kriszun, executive vice president of sales, says Russia someday could match the farm equipment market of the U.S. The markets in North America and Western Europe are stable, but the South American market is “very weak,” he says.
A tractor market in North America could help the company build business even further. “Tractors are key products for gaining access to agricultural machinery customers,” the company states in its 2005 annual report. As Claas gains market share and experience with selling tractors in Europe, expect the company to make plans to import them into the U.S.
Claas designed its new baler, tedder for large commercial hay farms
THE NEW Variant 360 round baler allows the operator to adjust bale density from a monitor located in the cab. The newly designed terminal has settings for bale density, bale height, soft-core height and soft-core density. A grower can make the bale core compact if baling dry straw or change the setting to soft to bale hay for animal feed.
The monitor also indicates where the operator must drive to completely fill the bale chamber. The operator also can use the monitor to set the bale diameter from 36 to 60 in. with a width of 48 in. The Variant 360 features a wide pickup at high speeds.
Prices for the new baler range from $28,163 to $39,172, depending on model and specifications. Circle 103.
Claas designed it new heavy-duty tedder with a working width of 43 ft. for large forage operations. The Volto 1320T tedder will handle five swaths of a 10-ft. mowing unit in one pass. It hydraulically folds to a 10-ft. transport width. The tedder features tubular arms, thick and wrapped tines, heavy-duty shafts and sealed gears.
Claas also offers the Volto 870T with a 28½-ft. working width. The list price for the Volto 1320T is $33,600. Circle 104.