SPORTS CAR CENTRE PRESENTS
Motoring news from around the world - October 2019
No man went to mow
With forward-looking manufacturers pushing agricultural technology into new and exciting territories, what does the future hold for the humble tractor?
We’ve all heard about Tesla’s driverless cars, but driverless tractors, controlled by the farmer using his smart phone? Who knew? The driverless tractor – and another designed to run on methane, which farming produces naturally in abundance – are part of a new wave of agricultural technologies emerging from CNH Industrial.
With the Agnelli family’s Exor group as its largest shareholder, CNH Industrial is in the same stable as Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari, headed up by Gianni Agnelli’s grandson, John Elkann. The idea that the dashing Agnelli-Elkann clan should know a thing or two about tractors might come as a surprise to some. But the connection between making cars and making tractors has often been a close one. The Agnellis founded Fiat Trattori in Turin in 1919, just 20 years after launching the Fiat car-making business. Renault only stepped away from making tractors a decade ago, while in the 1930s Hitler tasked Ferdinand Porsche with developing a “people’s tractor” or Volksschlepper at the same time as his new Volkswagen. Our own Aston Martin was owned by tractor manufacturer David Brown for many years, while back in Italy, the business founded as Lamborghini Trattori only moved into making sports cars as part of Ferruccio Lamborghini’s furious rivalry with Enzo Ferrari.
Given that it’s the Italian-American offspring of both Fiat’s and Ford’s tractor-making businesses, CNH Industrial has impeccable automotive DNA. But wedded to that is the farm-tech know-how of the former New Holland Machine Company, founded in 1895 in New Holland, Pennsylvania by Abram Zimmerman – a brilliantly inventive Mennonite blacksmith who helped transform American farming. But for all the diverse richness of its pedigree, CNH Industrial is very much future-focused – and bent on radically transforming the way we farm. Witness this driverless tractor, the Case IH, and its methane-fuelled sibling – the fruit of what CNH Industrial’s design director David Wilkie describes as “our focus on three key megatrends: automation, digitisation and alternative fuels”. That, and an R&D investment of more than a billion dollars last year alone.
“These concepts serve to stretch our designers – to get them to look beyond what is in production today or even tomorrow,” Wilkie explains, and to forge “innovative ideas which can then be applied to production machines”. Wilkie acknowledges the ongoing parallels with developments in the automotive industry, with its interest in driverless and eco-friendly technologies, although he argues that we’re likely to get accustomed to driverless tractors working our fields more rapidly than we are to driverless cars on our roads. And he goes on to mention the rather more complex tasks these tractors will perform, such as distinguishing crops from weeds and controlling not just their own movements but those of the equipment they’re towing.
It’s all very impressive, brainy stuff. But you also sense that just as car designers have fun with concept cars, the design team got a kick out of envisaging an autonomous tractor. “It’s very rare in industrial design to be presented with a blank sheet of paper,” say Wilkie, “and that is exactly what we had when designing the cabless autonomous concept tractor. So one of the main challenges was delivering a striking, eye-catching design that would grab people’s attention – that encapsulated the groundbreaking nature of this technology. Breaking free of those long-held conventions was both a challenge and a fantastic opportunity.” And who said farming couldn’t be fun?
Car enthusiasts in the UK are concerned about a report from a bipartisan select committee of Parliament that effectively calls for eliminating private automobiles and trucks by the year 2050—battery electrics and fuel cell vehicles included—to achieve the goal of making Britain carbon-neutral. The Science and Technology Select Committee report also says that the ban on combustion-powered cars and hybrids should be accelerated to 2035 from 2040.
Though EVs themselves do not emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the same can’t be said about the factories that make electric vehicles and their components. As the report puts it, “Although ultra-low emissions vehicles generate very little emissions during use, their manufacture generates substantial emissions.” Eliminating those emissions will likely necessitate eliminating the manufacture, sales, and ownership of private cars if the UK is serious about meeting its carbon-neutral target.
It should be noted that the report from the committee is only a recommendation, as there isn’t even any proposed legislation yet. However, the report has pricked up the ears of motoring fans as well as the general press.
Though the committee’s recommendation doesn’t call for an outright ban on private vehicles (at least not yet), that would be the inevitable result of such legislation. We don’t want to sound like hyperbolic scare-mongers, but these are the committee’s own words: “In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership therefore does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation. The Government should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions.”
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