Russian tractor turns to German technology

The big MTZ 4WD,which is based on the old Belarus 7010, has Bosh electrics/hydraulics and Mercedes power

The new 4WD K744 tractor is powered by a 435 horsepower Mercedes engine with Bosch electronics and Bosch 74 gallon per minute hydraulics, new cab and a price tag of $290,000.

The K744 is based on the old Belarus 7010 tractor but with numerous upgrades.

The Russian-built unit has a semi-powershift transmission with 16F plus 8R within 4 plus 2 ranges. A self-locking no-slip differential is standard, as is the three-point hitch.

A long list of upgrades were implemented to make the K744 attractive to North American farmers, said MTZ Canada manager Arie Prilik.

We started the interview by asking Prilik about the negative reputation Belarus tractors had earned in Western Canada over the decades.

“To be honest, we had lots of complaints about electrical and hydraulics,” he said.

The new cab is up to modern North American standards, with high capacity AC and plenty of glass. The only available transmission is a semi-powershift with 16F plus 8R within 4 plus 2 ranges. A self-locking no-slip differential is standard, as are the three-point hitch and Trimble hydraulic platform, which is ready for auto guidance. | MTZ photo

“The frame and power train were rock solid. Some of those old Belarus 7010 tractors have more than 20,000 hours on them and farmers are still using them today.”

Prilik said MTZ now installs the best components available. It uses a Bosch Rexroth closed centre hydraulic system and Bosch electronics with fuses that can be bought at Canadian Tire.

The new modern cab has the kind of high-capacity air conditioning that farmers have come to expect.

The company also got rid of the ball bearings in the hubs in the mid-1990s and now uses tapered bearings. As well, there are bar axles for adjustable wheel spacing.

“I think part of the problem was pride of ownership,” he said.

The K744 comes with Bosch hydraulics and electronics. The three-point hitch is standard equipment, with available down pressure as an option. | MTZ photo

“If you pay $600,000 for your green tractor, then you baby it and take it to the dealership for service. If you paid only $50,000 to buy a Belarus for peanuts, then you just take care of it yourself only when you remember to change the oil.

“The company is now called MTZ, but the tractors are still manufactured in Belarus. Last year, the factory turned out 62,000 tractors for the global market. Now we’re talking a free economy, not communist economy, so that tells us that 62,000 farmers somewhere voted with their chequebook. They want a simple, reliable machine that will start in the morning to do the work there is to do without breaking the bank.

“There is a strong objection to the kind of high-technology, complicated tractors other companies are building. Versatile used to appeal to those farmers who didn’t want a complicated tractor. I think Versatile is a great tractor. I won’t bad mouth Versatile. I think they will be our closest competitor, but the tractors are becoming more complex and they raised their prices again, so now they’re priced almost as high as the majors.”

Emission standards forced MTZ to outsource the engine on big tractors. MTZ-built engines were emission compliant up to only 212 horsepower.

Prilik said the company picked the Tier 4F Mercedes because of the strong support network around the globe with 30 service centres across the Prairies. The optional warranty is seven years or 10,000 hours.

Fuel economy was the other factor. The engine installed in the K744 is the same engine installed in the Claas Xerion 4500.

The tractor comes with an 11,000 pound drawbar. | MTZ photo

According to OEM OffHighway magazine, the Xerion 4500 holds the record as the most fuel-efficient tractor in the 4WD 450-500 h.p. class. The article said the tractor set records for power take-off horsepower hours per gallon in rated engine speed (18.33), targeted p.t.o. speed (19.13) and maximum engine power (19.52). The 4500 outclassed similarly rated models in each of these three categories.

Another feature of the new tractor is that you can switch back and forth between wheels and rubber tracks. Prilik said farmers don’t like being forced to order tractors with either tires or rubber tracks. Because of the gearing and hub design, it’s one way or the other.

“With the K744 you can switch back and forth between tires and rubber tracks anytime,” he said.

“As a farmer, you can start with buying the tractor on tires. If you find duals serve your purpose, then you don’t spend the extra $120,000 on tracks. If you do need tracks, then you buy them. In dry years, you run only the tires because that’s cheaper maintenance. In muddy years, you can purchase the tracks. Or maybe you run tracks in the spring when it’s wet and put on the tires for harvest and pulling a grain cart. Instead of owning two tractors that are half-million dollars each, you buy one tractor for $290,000 or $400,000 with the tracks.”

The basic price includes front weights, an 11,000 pound drawbar, electronic hitch control and the Trimble hydraulic platform ready for auto guidance. The three-point hitch has an optional down pressure feature.

Prilik said there are about a dozen dealers in the three provinces.

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