Arbos, a new name among the tractor exhibitors at the recent Lamma and European shows, has bold intentions.
Martin Rickatson saw the first 100-130hp models come off the line at its Italian factory, and discovered more about the Chinese-owned business.
A resurrected Italian brand, Chinese funding and a combination of established assembly know-how plus competitive manufacturing of components is a hefty ingredients by anyone’s standards.
Add in a full range of agricultural machinery, from tractors to tillage equipment, drills to sprayers and spreaders – with combines to come – and this is the recipe the Lovol-owned Arbos business believes will make it competitive in the international farm equipment market.
Founded in 1996, Chinese firm Lovol has long built tractors in its home country under its own name, and compact 28-50hp versions are imported into the UK through businesses such as Kent-based Foton Tractors, with Foton being the Lovol brand for its export products. However, although it also manufactures larger machines up to 185hp for its home market, to gain recognition and traction in a competitive western sector it has chosen to create a European manufacturing base, and a new line of European-designed mainstream tractors.
The name on the machines is Arbos, a rejuvenated Italian farm equipment marque which, until the mid-1990s, was the brand of a long-established combine specialist which came under various owners and whose products were predominantly sold in Italy, but enjoyed marketing associations stretching back into the 1970s with the likes of North America’s White/Oliver business. In 2015, Lovol acquired the defunct Arbos name, dormant since the last combines were made in the mid-1990s, as a way of gaining instant brand recognition in Italy, its chosen foundation market in Europe. It also acquired rights to drawings for the Arbos designs, with an updated prototype combine in development awaiting management approval.
With tractors are at the heart of current plans, in little over three years the firm has established offices and a research and development centre in northern Italy, acquired an existing factory, specialist tractor range and Italian dealer network by purchasing the Goldoni business, and added implement lines.
The company made its debut at Agritechnica 2015, where it revealed prototypes and details for European-designed 100-260hp tractors. The 110-136hp four-cylinder 5000 Series machines have now entered production at the former Goldoni plant, whose business and factory Lovol bought last year, retaining 230 employees and hiring new staff.
“We believe there is a market gap between basic specification tractors and the premium, high-spec makes,” suggests Alessandro Zambelli, Lovol Arbos marketing manager, part of a team headed by CEO Andrea Bedosti, formerly with Same Deutz-Fahr, Landini/McCormick parent Argo, and Merlo.
“For those seeking technology such as guidance and auto-steering, we have a partnership with Topcon. But by focusing on simple specifications such as conventional semi-powershift transmissions rather than full powershift or CVT, we believe we will be able to price our tractors at around ten per cent cheaper than premium alternatives, and we will be offering a three-year/2,000hr powertrain warranty, with an option of up to five years.”
Lovol has built a new tractor assembly/component manufacturing facility in China – where it also builds 5000 Series tractors for the domestic market – from where transaxles are shipped to Italy for engine installation and fitting-out of final components. Engines in the three-model 5000 Series are four-cylinder, 3.4-litre turbocharged and intercooled units made in the nearby former plant of Lombardini, acquired in 2007 by Kohler, well-known for small petrol engines but now aiming to gain a foothold in the diesel market.
All are equipped with a 40- or 50kph five-speed/two-range transmission, and two specification levels are available; mechanical shuttle plus two-speed powershift, or powershuttle and three-speed powershift with declutch button. Both specifications employ mechanical spool valves, with no electronic option, but electronic controls can be specified for the 4,400kg rear linkage, and both 4wd and diff-lock engagement are electronic. Hydraulic flow output from the gear pump-based system is 110l/min, with 70l/min dedicated to implements, and two/three/four remote valves. Optional front linkage capacity is 2,000kg.
Further Arbos lines are in development, with a 220-260hp 7000 series due to enter production during 2019, followed by a 140-200hp four- and six-cylinder 6000 range. Both will be FPT-powered, with 30F/30R semi-powershift transmissions. And while Goldoni tractors remain available, Lovol’s purchase of the business has enabled Arbos to add 38-75hp models to its range.
UK-based Tiziano Malavolti, who until recently had focused on selling to UK buyers the maize drills built by Italian maker Matermacc – Lovol’s first European purchase in March 2015 – is now also managing efforts to recruit UK dealers for the full Arbos tractor and implement line.
He recently used Lamma 2019 to put the 5000 Series tractors and smaller Goldoni-derived units in front of potential customers and dealers.
“Having already begun to build a dealer network in Italy and other countries such as Spain, we are now looking to appoint UK dealers to retail and support our products,” says Mr Malavolti.
“We’re already talking with dealers of Foton compact tractors who may be looking to expand their operations, plus those of other brands. Our aim is the middle of the market, at competitive prices below the established ‘premium’ makes.”
While livestock/grass machinery is in the firm’s longer-term plan, Lovol’s acquisition of seeding specialist Matermacc has enabled Arbos to add a full line of arable equipment to its offering. The Matermacc brand continues, but its factory is also now producing products in the green and white of Arbos, including piggyback drills, precision seeders and sprayers.
A line of 12-18m/800-1,200-litre mounted sprayers is complemented by a trailed sprayer line of up to 4,000 litres/36m, and there is also a range of 18-36m twin-disc fertiliser spreaders holding 1,260-4,200 litres, complete with weigh cell option. In terms of drills and cultivation kit, Arbos offers the 4.5/6.0m AS-F min-/no-till drill, which uses tines for both seed furrow opening and seed placement, plus a rear-trailed seed cart. For conventional tillage, there are 3.0m and 3.5m MK power harrows which can be paired with the Arbos MSD 2.0 Combi drill.
But UK farmers and contractors who grow maize or are perhaps thinking of trying precision seeding of oilseed rape will be most familiar with the Arbos precision drill line, of which a number of units have already been sold here in Matermacc’s yellow and red. The range includes the MS Twin, which places seed in staggered twin rows, a format claimed to maximise light penetration into the crop, and hence help maximise photosynthesis in order to boost plant growth and yields.
“We believe there’s a place in both western and eastern Europe for 100-260hp tractors which are modern in quality and design yet relatively simple,” says Mr Malavolti.
“Adding this implement line will give dealers a full arable offering. We want to talk to small dealer businesses prepared to grow with us and create a network supported from Italy, similar to the way our Matermacc network operates, and in the longer term we hope to create a UK subsidiary to support this, as we have done already in France, Spain and Russia.”