5 December 1997

HOW BIG FOUR FARED IN 97 & WHAT OF 98?

The big four tractor makers

account for 80% of UK

tractor sales. How do they

view the current state of the

tractor industry and its

future, asked Mike Williams?

ITS BEEN a tough year for the tractor and machinery business in Britain. Most sales graphs are pointing downwards, many companies are offering price cuts or subsidised finance in an effort to shift unsold stocks, currency fluctuations have hit some companies but given a bonus to others, and takeovers continue to put more of the business into fewer hands.

We asked the "big four" tractor and machinery companies – Case IH, John Deere, Massey Ferguson and New Holland – to tell us how they fared this year and to give us their predictions for 1998.

Between them these companies supply almost 80% of the tractors sold in Britain each year plus a big proportion of the balers, combines and forage harvesters, and their product development and marketing activities have a major impact on the equipment farmers choose.

These are the questions we asked – it should be said at the outset that not all companies chose to respond to all of them.

1. What were the 1997 highlights for your company in terms of new products and technical developments?

2. If your company was involved in takeover activity or new marketing links during the year, how does this affect your UK customers?

3. 1997 has brought a sharp fall in tractor registrations and some machinery sales. What were the sales achievements for your company?

4. Is the current flood of cut prices and low cost finance deals just a passing phase or the start of a period of aggressive price cutting?

5. Takeovers and alliances have transformed the equipment industry. Will this trend continue, and what happens to dealers who do not have a "Big 4" franchise?

6. In an industry dominated by a few giant companies, will the pace of technical innovation increase or slow down?

7. What are the UK sales prospects for tractors, combines and balers in 1998?