Versatile, a brand part-owned by Canadian business mogul Buhler Industries, is on the fast track to expansion. The company, long known for its 4-wd tractors, has expanded into sprayers, tillage, and seeding equipment in the last two years to grow the Versatile brand name beyond tractors.
Expansion of the company has largely been driven by Russian-born Dmitry Lyubimov, president of Buhler Industries Inc. Lyubimov moved to North America in 2007, when Combine Factory Rostselmash Inc. acquired 80% of the common shares of Buhler Industries. Under Lyubimov’s leadership, research and development is now four times what it was four years ago, according to Adam Reid, marketing manager for Buhler Versatile.
Extending the line
Lyubimov’s first move was to change the name of Buhler’s Versatile tractors to “Versatile,” a brand best known for its red 4-wd farm tractors that are reliable, easy to operate, and simple to fix and maintain, Reid says. Currently the company ranks third in 4-wd tractor sales in North America, behind Case IH, John Deere, and New Holland.
In 2010, Lyubimov extended the Versatile name to include self-propelled sprayers by acquiring the intellectual property rights to Redball LLC’s Redball-branded sprayers. The same year, Buhler Versatile entered a partnership with Raven Industries to produce precision ag products for Versatile tractors and sprayers.
The company’s latest line extension came in February, when it purchased the assets of Ezee-On, an Alberta-based precision seeding and tillage manufacturer that builds air drills, air carts, offset and tandem disks, postpounders and front-end loaders.
Buhler Versatile also acquired the sprayer manufacturing plant in Willmar, Minn., to build the next generation of sprayers. Down the road, the company also may extend its seeding line to include row-crop planters.
“These are not the last products you are going to see,” says Buhler’s Lyubimov. “We will roll out new models and some new pieces, all built with the same goals of being simple, reliable, and easy to maintain.”
In step with its new-model rollouts, Versatile in October launched six new models of high-horsepower 4-wd tractors ranging from 350 to 550 engine hp. Development of the tractors began in 2007 in response to the EPA's stringent interim Tier 4 (iT4) emissions standards, requiring new engine technology to reduce engine emissions. The company took the opportunity to improve styling, visibility and feature offerings, says product manager Ryan Shust.
“What you’ll see today is the styling evolution of Versatile tractors,” says Shust during the formal product launch of the new models. “The new styling will improve visibility, operator comfort, and convenience and will be a design model for future Versatile tractors.”
Shust says the tractors’ biggest feature is a new cab, now the largest 4-wd tractor cab in the industry. It has 20% more space than previous models and 14% more window glass for better visibility. A new, sloped hood line gives the tractor a modern look. Cab access also was improved, and new armrest controls were added for ease of use.
The three smallest models, the 350, 375, and 400, are what Versatile refers to as its “standard frame tractors” capable of row-crop work such as planting. The larger 450-, 500- and 550-hp models are part of Versatile’s large-frame HHT (high-horsepower tractors), designed for broad-acre, heavy-duty operations like primary tillage and pulling grain carts and planters. Shust says these bigger tractors have the heaviest frame in the industry, needed to transfer the extra power to the ground.
All of the models are equipped with 11.9- or 15-liter Cummins QSX engines that are iT4-compliant. And, for the first time, Caterpillar powershift transmissions are available across the entire line of 4-wd tractors. Shust says Cat transmissions are known for being smooth shifting and customer friendly.
The new tractors will be available in the spring of 2012. Later in the year the company will launch a revamped line of row-crop tractors and will expand its self-propelled sprayer line to include more than one model.
Russian combines coming
Next up in product line extensions is a new rotary combine from Russia called Torum. This brand accounts for 80% of combine sales in Russia, Lyubimov says. The combine planned for North America is a “large Class 8,” rated at 485 hp.
The combine has undergone testing in North America for the last two years. The company is now confident enough to launch the sale of the combines next year under the Versatile brand name.
“We’re very happy with the grain sampling and threshing ability of this combine,” Lyubimov says. “We think customers will be excited, too.”
The combines will compete on the same attributes for which Versatile is known. Lyubimov says, “We’ve changed the paint and logos, but what is underneath are the same hallmark traits of being simple, reliable, and easy to fix.”