Kubota joins utility market

A second giant international farm machinery and industrial equipment manufacturer — Japan-based $7.7 billion Kubota Corp. — has jumped into the utility market. The move comes about one year after John Deere announced joint venture plans with Bombardier. Kubota says it is releasing its utility vehicle, branded the RTV900, to dealers this month.

The three-cylinder diesel-powered machine, comparable to Deere’s Gator, Kawasaki’s Mule and Polaris’ Ranger, among others, was revealed publicly at the company’s annual dealer meeting in October.

Illinois-based John Deere jumped into the powersports fray in late September, when it showed its dealers a new Kawasaki-powered Gator 4x4 and two Bombardier-built ATVs, the Buck and the Trail Buck, available as 2004 models.

“The RTV will be in full production starting this week and going through June,” Tom Sieper, California-based Kubota product manager, told Powersports Business early this month. “We were originally going to start shipping in February, but because of the quantity, we moved up production and will begin shipping now.”

Powersports Business first reported on the RTV in June 2003, when Sieper revealed the then-still-unnamed unit would come with a Kubota engine and powertrain, be 4x4, diesel-powered, and available in a number of trim levels.

“In all honesty, our dealers started asking for something like this as long as five years ago,” Sieper said. “The company started debating the project about three years ago, and first saw that it would be viable after revealing a sneak peak of a mocked-up prototype in 2002.

“Once we showed that, of course, we had a 100% obligation to introduce it in St. Louis this past October.”

Formally called the Kubota D902, the RTV features an 898cc three-cylinder OHV diesel engine mated to Kubota’s exclusive continuously variable Hydrostatic transmission. A foot-operated 2WD/4WD differential lock is standard, as is a 52-inch-wide x 46.7-inch-long cargo box; front and rear wet-type disc brakes, an independent Macpherson strut-type suspension in the front and a semi-independent DeDion axle with leaf springs and hydraulic shocks in the rear.

Available in four configurations — General Purpose, Worksite, Turf and Recreational — the 21.6hp vehicle weighs between 1,808 lbs. and 1,885 lbs. Tires are 25x10x12, except on the Turf unit, and standard body color is orange, except on the Recreational unit.

There are more than 25 accessories to choose from, including a factory cab, snow blade, front brush guard, rear hitch, hydraulic cargo bed lift, windshield, canopy top and more.

Said to be able to tow 1,323 lbs. or carry 1,630 lbs., the RTV measures 59.8 inches wide and 79.3 inches high; wheelbase is 77.4 inches; and ground clearance is 7.4 inches in the front and 9.1 inches in the rear.

The RTV’s engine, transmission and axles will be shipped from Japan to Kubota Manufacturing of America (KMA), Gainsville, Ga., where manufacturing and assembly will occur. KMA also builds Kubota’s BX Series of compact tractors as well as residential and commercial mowing units.

The U.S. utility cart market deals in approximately 100,000 units per year.

Kubota has roughly 1,000 U.S. retailers, most of which function as tractor/sub-compact tractor dealers. Earlier this year, a Japan-based Kubota representative said the company expects to sell 5,000 RTVs during the model’s first year and 10,000 units by 2006.

Sieper said 93% of Kubota’s U.S. dealers appeared at the company dealer meeting in October to see the vehicle. Of those, he said, over 80% left the meeting prepared to retail the unit.

The RTV is priced at $9,900, but costs up to $11,200 with accessories.

Kubota Corp., Osaka, Japan, most recently reported sales of $3.92 billion ($1 equals JY107) for the six months ended Sept. 30, 2003. Sales in Japan were $2.52 billion while overseas sales were $1.4 billion, mainly due to the strong sales of tractors in North America and brisk export of ductile iron pipes to Middle East countries, the company said.

Sieper says 50% of Kubota’s U.S. sales unit volume is built in the U.S. as compared to a decade ago when, he said, 100% of Kubota product was built in Japan.
With 23 overseas subsidiaries and affiliates, Kubota appears to be on the move in burgeoning Asian economies, as well, recently setting up a sales subsidiary for construction machinery in Shanghai and, according to Asia Pulse news, planning to purchase a controlling interest in a farm machinery manufacturer in South Korea.

For more information about Kubota Tractor Corporation, call 888/458-2682 or visit www.kubota.com.

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