Agriculture for the next generation and feeling pride in farming: Thoughts on the new YT series tractor.
In 2013, Yanmar announced its concept tractor, the YT01 —Y-CONCEPT YT01 ADVANCED TRACTOR. As the focus of the Premium Brand Product range introduced in 2012 and in embodying Yanmar’s evolving vision, this product has taken the world by surprise, surpassing expectations in the farming industry and beyond.
In May 2015, the tangible form of the vision embodied in the concept tractor, the YT series models – YT 490/5101/5113 ― were released onto the market. To be a success on the farm throughout Japan, the tractor features a body with an unprecedented design, advanced technology and unrivaled ergonomic comfort. Furthermore, the total support system provided, ensures that users get the most out of these features.
From the conception of the concept tractor through to the large scale production of the YT series, we followed the inside story. In this story you will get an insight from the man behind the design of the concept tractor, the world renowned industrial designer Ken Okuyama, those who leveraged technology in the tractors’ production, and those providing services directly to the customers after the sale has been made. The YT series, with its vivid Premium Red body, offers the sort of superior comfort that answers the voices of the farmers themselves. Presented here, we shed light on Yanmar’s thoughts surrounding the YT series.
First of all, an interview with Ken Okuyama.
The future of Yanmar, and the future of farming, embodied in Yanmar’s concept tractor.
–In 2013 the concept tractor and centerpiece of Yanmar’s Premium Brand products was announced. Then, the large scale production model was released onto the market in May of 2015. However, first of all, tell us about the circumstances from which you developed such a unique method of design of agricultural machinery, namely the concept tractor.
Ken Okuyama The concept tractor, as a way of thinking, is the first of its kind in the world. Up until now, in a world surrounded by farms, there was very little opportunity to show customers our new vision for the future. The starting point for designing the tractor was its business design, which focuses on creating not merely a product but rather defining the very way things are done in business and in the industry.
The concept tractor contains two significant messages. The first is it represents the type of products, the way of thinking and the philosophy that Yanmar is pursuing over the next 100 years — to convey all of those features in just one product. And secondly, actually of larger significance, is the message that it contains for not only the professionals at the forefront of today’s agricultural industry, but also for potential future generations who have yet to join the farming industry.
Through the customers of Yanmar’s products, outlets and trade shows we have a platform for communication. However, how do we reach those who are thinking of taking up a profession in agriculture or enterprises that are expanding theirs sales networks? How can we get the attention of a whole range of people? It was from this approach that the concept tractor came about.
–The exhibition of the tractor was a hot topic at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.
Ken Okuyama Up until this point, a full page feature of news on Japanese tractors in an economic newspaper was something that had never happened. Aiming towards that, while we did actually get a full page feature the following day, according to a survey at the venue, positive responses outweighed that of the Japanese and internationally made cars.
In that sense, for farming machinery to draw such applause, even when in an environment where it doesn’t usually belong, then it goes to say that it held appeal for both children and their parents. Therefore, planting the seeds of interest in riding tractors and stimulating further conversations and interest in farming itself amongst families at home.
–The concept tractor has stimulated a big response, hasn’t it?
Ken Okuyama It certainly has. Although, we were a bit apprehensive at first. I also grew up doing farming on the side, however we have done a lot to change the Yanmar of today from the Yanmar that I have memory of as a child. So I’m really happy to get responses from those who have used Yanmar’s products from way back.
Initial impressions were quite negative with an image of the tractor as being over expensive, and unrealistic for farming. The concept tractor also proved to be a great marketing tool for reaching out to and hearing a wide range of opinions, the negative ones included. From the announcement of the concept tractor, through to its exhibition at the motor show, the opinions of farmers and people at the outlets have slowly begun to change. People are expressing surprise in regards to unprecedented functionality and as such opinions have continued to catch on and expand, then those who initially expressed reservations have become a lot more welcoming. In just a short few months there has been quite a change, I’m really glad to see that.
To the farmers themselves, it was your input that helped revolutionize the tractor.
–An air of grandeur and a body jam-packed with cutting-edge technology. In pursuing such a design, did you come up against any barriers in terms of costs?
Far more important than pushing my own style or anything for that matter, is the cost. That’s my way of thinking. Some people confuse design with art as an egocentric world of the creator, however for me; I regard design as the process of making something from money which I borrow from the customer. It’s about creating and providing a product or service with someone else’s money. The industry benefits, but ultimately our customers are the real beneficiaries. For that reason, leaving costs, weight and specifications out of the equation when designing – is simply out of the question.
It wasn’t until we had such a design that the real discussions could get underway. Even in creating just one tractor, if we include everyone up to the supplier then there are thousands of people involved. Of course there are a lot of adjustments along the way, as we are always looking for ways to lower costs or make parts lighter. There are also design changes at times, however because I don’t want to make compromises we are constantly debating things while we make adjustments. This is the process that I always use.
One more thing is to get opinions from the ground. We create the specs for the design based on our own preconceptions and research. In order to determine whether these preconceptions are founded or whether what we are making is suitable, we go to the actual places where it will be used, ask our customers, visit the factories and go in person to where it all happens. In listening to the actual voices of the people, what we regard as important and our priorities will quite often change.
–So the tractors’ development is a reflection of the voices of those who actually use it?
Ken Okuyama This time around, I was introduced to outlets and customers all over Japan. One such visit, to a full-time farmer in Saitama left quite a strong impression on me. Even though I met him out in the rice paddies he was wearing white sneakers. When I asked him why, he told me that because he spends from 8 up to 12 hours a day on the tractor it’s like an office to him and therefore there’s no need to wear long boots. While product specifications are a given, what was more important was having good air-conditioning, being able to listen to music while working and an easily accessible place to put a drink and a phone. That came to me straight away.
–Thinking of the tractor in terms of being an office is a point of view that most would never really pick up on.
Ken Okuyama A tractor that exceeds one’s imagination is a new idea. Those involved in its making, didn’t need any convincing. In maximizing comfort, we created larger air-conditioning vents and equipped 2 drink holders into the cabin. We leveraged digital technology to optimize internal components. The layout enables successful execution of tasks, without the need for the operator to look down at their hands. Down to the types of switches, through trial and error we pursued an ergonomic design where even if one had their eyes closed they would still instinctively know which direction to move the switches.
We listened to the voices of the people who use tractors day in day out, and in doing so we set clear and concrete design goals aimed toward creating something for those very people. Taking these ideas and thoughts feeding them back into our product in what I call “development from the heart.”
From the concept tractor through to its full-scale production model, the YT series – we designed the new face of farming.
–Based on the concept tractor, the long-awaited YT series is now on the market.
Ken Okuyama I didn’t only design a tractor, rather my goal was to design the new face of agriculture. The value provided by the YT series is just one feature of the new face of agriculture. Through this tractor, I want farmers to feel more pride in farming than they’ve ever had before.
Even with the same color red, and even when looking out onto a field from afar, its premium red body exudes a sense of sophistication and magnificence that couldn’t be missed even if one tried. As we spoke about already, we designed it with a level of comfort fit for spending an entire day inside. Even with the machine itself, we want people to feel pride in it, however beyond that we are delivering greater productivity through SmartAssist, offering unprecedented value through optimized maintenance and support. To say that Yanmar is a total solutions company is no overstatement. The Yanmar Agri Solutions Center in Hokkaido was created in order to offer a range of invaluable practical services to farmers including access to the latest agricultural information, upping people’s knowledge of tillage practices, and providing training in agricultural machinery.
With European companies, customer relations begin from the very point of sales. They are very apt at building communication channels, working together to make improvements and taking in ideas that they can use toward ensuring continued sales. At Yanmar, we want to build such rapport with our customers.
–With the production of the YT series, Yanmar and its customers have opened up new levels of communication.
Ken Okuyama It would be great if there were no problems throughout the developmental process, and in the end the operator could operate it with absolute ease every time. However when making a product its an ongoing process of refinement. New ideas emerge, wanting to add in this or create that. I regard our first customer as somewhat a member of the development team. I want to work together to find new possibilities for the new face of farming.
Industrial Designer / KEN OKUYAMA DESIGN
Ken Okuyama (Kiyoyuki Okuyama)
Born in Yamagata city, Japan, 1959.
Professional background includes: Chief designer at General Motors (USA), senior designer at Porsche AG, design director at Pininfarina (Italy), head of industrial design department at the Art Center College of Design (USA). From 2007, under the banner of Ken Okuyama Design, he developed cars, interior products, spectacles, putting them onto the market under his own brand label. Additionally, he works as an enterprise consultant based out of Yamagata, Tokyo and Los Angeles.
In April 2013 he was appointed Director at Yanmar Holdings Co.,Ltd.