When production is ramped up between now and 2017, Kubota Farm Machinery, KFM, aims to produce 3,000 of its 130 to 170hp M7001 tractor models a year, all of them manufactured in its new assembly plant in France. James de Havilland reports.
Since its purchase at the end of 2013, Kubota Farm Machinery has invested in excess of €40 million (£29m) in establishing a manufacturing facility in Bierne, some 10 km from the port of Dunkirk.
Converting an existing 37,000sq.m factory for tractor manufacture was just a starting point, Kubota having taken on 165 local employees to assemble tractors. Of these, 24 were sent to Kubota in Japan for training, with Japanese Team Leaders training and overseeing employees in France. The new plant has to meet Kubota manufacturing standards and mirror those of existing Kubota plants in other parts of the world.
“The new M7001 series is ‘Made by Kubota in Europe’, that is key,” says Dave Roberts, managing director of Kubota UK. “Kubota chose Bienre as a production site carefully. The new plant is well placed to receive components from suppliers in the EU and is close to the major port at Dunkirk to facilitate exports to markets in the Asia and North America. Of equal importance, we have access to a workforce with a tradition in manufacturing.”
Training the workforce to work the Kubota way was in clear evidence during the factories official opening on 16th September. At key work stations, local employees were overseen by a team of Kubota specialists from Japan, with the company essentially saying every step of production is checked and double checked.
Although the company did not say it as such, Kubota knows it has to get these new tractors right from the outset. In key agricultural European markets, Kubota is still a relatively small player. If it is to gain a foothold in the ‘larger’ 130hp plus sector it has to do so with a product that is right from the word go.
It is anticipated that France will be the largest market for the M7001, with the EU as a whole expected to take about 1,500 M7001 tractors a year, with 1,000 going to North America and 500 to Asia.
Sales in the UK will take time to build, Kubota needing to extend its reach into the agricultural sector by expanding its dealer network, but the company is certainly bullish about its future.