The Mac is back. But the company that builds today's McCormick tractors looks little like the one that sold the classic Farmall M in the 1950s. For one thing, Cyrus McCormick Jr.'s International Harvester Company had a substantial head start on its competition in 1949 when the first Farmall M rolled off the assembly line in a factory in Doncaster, England. Supporting the Farmall M brand was a multi-decade legacy of reliable McCormick “A” and “B” tractors. And there was the good name of Cyrus Senior himself, who had helped stage an earlier agricultural revolution with his famous reaper. The McCormick brand spanned 100 years and two world wars.
But in 1985, the McCormick legacy was destined for the dustbin. Tenneco, a Case Company affiliate, bought and assimilated International Harvester to ultimately form Case IH. Fans of the original “Big Red” maintained that the merger was simply blasphemy, decrying the loss every time they visited an antique tractor show.
Ironically, it was another merger that allowed the McCormick brand to rise again. As part of the 1999 mega-merger of Case IH and New Holland, European Commission regulators required several divestitures, including the sale of Case's Doncaster plant, a transmission factory in France and rights to the long-dormant McCormick brand.
Italian equipment company Landini, a division of European ag equipment giant Argo, snapped up those assets, in the process becoming the fourth largest ag equipment manufacturer in the western world. But because the factory was in England, the new McCormick would be a thoroughly British company.
Bucking the trend
Argo's decision to build McCormick tractors in Doncaster was doubly notable in a year when competitor AGCO chose to close its high-tech, British-based Massey tractor factory in Coventry. AGCO said currency exchange rates between the Euro and the British pound made it unprofitable to produce and sell tractors out of Britain.
Roger Purdy, McCormick general manager at the Doncaster factory, says McCormick has licked the exchange rate problem by building its transmissions in France. “While the British pound might hurt us one way, it helps in the other direction,” he says. “McCormick plans to sell the majority of its tractors in Europe, with possibly 20% of all units going to the U.S. While our plant may not be state of the art, there's a rich history here and a dedicated workforce. And our single focus on producing better tractors will make us competitive with the larger companies. In the time it takes other companies to talk about a new tractor, we'll be building it.”
Ray Spinks, sales manager for McCormick Global, is charged with bringing McCormick sales up to speed. “In just 18 months, we established 66 dealers in the United Kingdom and nearly 200 dealers throughout continental Europe,” Spinks says. “Plus we added 112 U.S. dealers. A year ago we just had a factory. Now we have a business.”
In January 2001, the McCormick order book was empty, but a year later the company had built 2,000 tractors. In 2002, the Doncaster plant was on target to produce 5,500 tractors.
In the first 10 months of operation in 2002, the McCormick plant had shipped 780 tractors to the U.S. Meanwhile, a parts distribution and service-training center in Pella, IA, was getting up to speed.
Joe Michaels, managing director of U.S. operations in Pella, says McCormick fills an important niche in the American market. “For the farmer, our tractors bridge the gap between value-priced imports and expensive high-tech tractors,” he says. “We offer a full-featured tractor without going beyond the bounds of practicality.
“For the dealer, we're an alternative to heavy-handed full-line manufacturers who might try to force a dealership into signing a brand-exclusive contract or installing an expensive new computer system.”
Thanks in great part to a partnership with Vermeer Manufacturing, McCormick tractors now can be shipped to the U.S. within weeks and distributed through U.S. dealerships. McCormick's ambitious goal is to have 500 U.S. dealers. Vermeer dealers, which sell a rebranded version of a Case IH baler, probably will account for only a small percentage of McCormick U.S. dealers. Spinks says existing Case IH, New Holland and AGCO dealers are more likely targets.
The McCormick C, CX, MC and MTX series have from 20 to 195 hp and already are being manufactured and delivered worldwide. Bigger models with up to 260 hp will arrive in 2003.
McCormick tractor lines parallel the current Case IH tractors, but already there are differences. A Perkins engine, rather than a Cummins, powers the 6-cyl. MC McCormicks. A Speed Sequencer transmission that allows push-button shifting is available for the 118- to 176-hp MTX series. There are some cosmetic differences, too.
For now, interest is high among farmers who are curious about the return of the revered McCormick brand. Ultimately, the quality of the products will determine if this upstart's claims can overcome the size and marketing might of its giant competitors. The McCormick machines introduced at farm shows in England, and most recently at the Louisville National Farm Machinery Show, seem to be off to a good start. Higher-horsepower models are showing the potential to be popular here in the U.S.
MC adds Power6
The McCormick MC series consisted of four 84- to 115-hp, 4-cyl. tractors last season. Two new Power6 MCs are equipped with electronically controlled, 6-cyl. Perkins engines with aftercooled turbocharging. These models have from 115 to 132 hp. They use a standard, electrohydraulically engaged 4-wd with limited-slip differential.
The maneuverable MC design is well suited to livestock production, especially with a low-profile cab option for access to low buildings. The 4-cyl. models are 5 in. shorter and lighter than Power6 models, which offer more horsepower, torque and lift capacity. That added power gives the Power6 greater potential to do double duty as a haying and light fieldwork machine.
The Power6 MC120 and MC135 have a four-speed, four-range powershift transmission, a back axle and a pressure-flow-compensating, variable-output hydraulics system in common with the heavier-duty McCormick MX tractors. In its standard form, McCormick's powershift and powershuttle system gives clutchless fingertip control of four speeds in each of four ranges, with a total of 16 speeds forward and 12 in reverse. An optional creeper package gives 32 forward and 24 reverse speeds. An optional electronic speed sequencer makes it easier to jump between ranges and speeds with preprogrammed set speeds. Expected base price for the MC135 ranges from $60,000 to $70,000.
MTX — 118 to 176 hp and higher
McCormick continues to upgrade the horsepower and features on its MTX row-crop machines. The first round off the line had from 118 to 176 hp. But McCormick says tractors with as high as 260 hp should be reaching American farmers soon.
You don't have to look twice to realize that these are virtually the same machines that Case IH and New Holland offer. There's even a Cummins engine in the MTX and the same option for a front hitch and remote/auto PTO. McCormick models with more than 140 hp offer waste-gate intercoolers in addition to the turbo. These combos are designed to offer a good balance of power, fuel efficiency and emissions control.
These MTX machines have a bit more luxury than the smaller MC models. Although the cabs may have fewer standard gadgets than their comparable CNH competitors, both models are basically the same, feeling very roomy and comfortable with 326∞ open visibility and a deluxe suspension seat.
A four-speed powershift transmission with a combined range shift and a fourth range soft shift allows the operator to change between speeds under full load without stopping. A forward and reverse powershuttle transmission makes it easy to change directions quickly. An optional speed sequencer transmission control makes shifting even easier.
McCormick thinks this is the right tractor for farmers who seek a balance between value and performance. Although it's not plush, it has just about everything a modern farmer requires in a tractor of this class. And you can tailor each machine to your tastes with a number of optional features, including an independent front axle suspension for a smoother ride at high speeds. Base price for the MTX 200 is expected to range from $110,000 to $115,000.
More than just a marketing ploy, the tractors now coming out of the Doncaster, England, plant have a legitimate claim as heirs to the revered McCormick name.
International Harvester is formed by Cyrus McCormick Jr. and several other equipment manufacturers, including Champion, Deering, Milwaukee and Plano.
International Harvester introduces Type “A” and “B” tractors.
International Harvester introduces the McCormick Farmall tractor.
International Harvester introduces McCormick 15-30 and smaller 10-20 tractors.
McCormick tractor manufacturing moves to new plant in Doncaster, England.
Farmall tractors are painted red, replacing gray for safety reasons, marking the beginning of “Big Red.”
First McCormick Farmall M comes off Doncaster assembly line. Production continues through the '70s.
J.I. Case Company affiliate Tenneco purchases International Harvester Farm Equipment Division.
Italian car maker Fiat purchases Case Corporation.
Euro ag equipment giant Landini Corporation buys Doncaster, England, factory and rights to the McCormick brand from Case Corporation.
First new McCormick tractors in U.S. are displayed in Pella, IA.