If Ferrari made tractors, who would make the industrial tyres?

Tractor tyre innovation explained

When you think of tractors, you won’t associate them with Ferrari. However, this could change in the next few years. It was about this time last year that Zetor exhibited its Pininfarina-designed concept tractor, a tractor designed for the future. Sleek, modern, and Ferrari red. Not made by Ferrari, but created by the same design house that is behind some of the most iconic Ferraris of all time.

Here I look at the design, and if it is likely to usher in a new age of tractors in Australia.

What was Zetor thinking?

Zetor is a brand name that most non-agricultural people will never have heard. It’s a company that has sold more than a million units in 100 countries. It clearly knows its tractors. Its main manufacturing plant is in the Czech Republic, and its history of success is based upon engineering quality, design, and innovation.

A collaboration with Ferrari designer Pininfarina must be considered to be at the forefront of tractor design innovation. The result was a concept tractor, unveiled at last year’s Agritechnica fair in Hannover, Germany.

When you examine the Pininfarina-designed tractor, it’s easy to imagine the vehicle with a 0 to 60 mph rating on it. That wasn’t the case, but its aerodynamic lines are groundbreaking.

The tractor wasn’t built simply to look good, however. It had to be robust, reliable, and simple to work on. It was also designed to increase brand awareness. The red colour was a given – that’s something that Ferrari and Zetor already had in common. Something else that was evident in the concept model was functionality  (a constant from Zetor tractors) and grace  (a constant in Ferrari cars).

What tractor tyres would a Zetor concept use?

To deliver on its promise, the Zetor concept tractor would need to match its design, grace and functionality with tractor tyres that offer the same qualities. Could this be possible when it comes to tractor tyres?

Maybe. Last year Michelin unveiled a concept tractor tyre tread that could become an industry standard.

How do tractor tyre manufacturers improve performance?

When designing new tractor tyres and tread patterns, manufacturers put their concept tractor tyres through a whole range of tests. Sometimes they develop new tests to validate new findings. Once they’ve produced what they believe is an improved tractor tyre, they test it for functionality and robustness in the field. They have working farms to test the tyres, provide feedback, and then retest after refinements have been made. It could be months or even years before you see a tyre move from concept to production.

When it designed its new concept tractor tyre, Michelin considered soil compaction, ruts and depth of ruts, fuel savings, and length of service.

Soil compaction

Michelin uses a sand track to make systematic comparisons between tyres. It is something that is tough (if not impossible) to do in the field: different soil conditions, weather and humidity make it so. What happens on sand will happen on soil, and to ensure that results are consistent the tractor trye tests are repeated several times.

The improvements that the tractor tyre manufacturers want to see are larger footprints and shallower ruts.

How is the soil rutting test done?

The research boffins dig a ditch (okay, so they have the ditch dug for them) and fill it with soil of different colours. A tractor equipped with the new tyres then drives over the ditch. The impact is measured and analysed by digging out perpendicular to the line of the test drive.

Measuring soil compaction

The researchers use a test called a ‘penetronometer test’ which is used in the field to gauge the impact of soil compaction. Measurements are taken at regular intervals with a penetrometer – this measures how compacted the soil becomes, with more compacted soils leading to stunted crop growth.

Fuel consumption testing

The fuel test is used with maximum tractor output, in a soil preparation situation. The tractor has a tooth plough attached and covers a set distance. Tyre spin is measured, and sometimes an effort sensor is used to measure the traction force for better fuel consumption estimation.

Industrial tyres life

Tractor tyre life is measured by what is known as an ‘accelerated wear test’. It’s rigged to roll in realistic conditions for 24 hours a day. The test is done driverless to negate the effects of driving style. After a pre-set period, the tractor tyre tread is measured. These tests are then consolidated with actual farm use data to give an accurate assessment of tyre life.

What are the latest Michelin tractor tyre innovations?

Using these tests among others, Michelin is constantly innovating their tractor tyres. In fact, the company spends in the region of $450 million every year on tyre research and development.

Michelin’s Ultraflex Technology allows you to run tyres at lower inflated pressures. It increases footprint and reduces soil compaction. You’ll find your fuel consumption falls, the tyres last longer, and your crops grow better.

Just like Zetor developed a concept tractor, Michelin developed a concept tyre based on the Ultraflex Technology. When the concept tyre was first developed, Michelin’s Northern European Commercial Director, Mike Lawton, said:

“Farmers of the future face the substantial challenge of feeding ever-increasing populations with less arable land available to them. As a result, tractor tyre and machinery choice is going to become ever more important to maximise yield. Lawton continues… “Michelin researchers are exploring all avenues to develop the tyres of the future; this latest concept is evidence of this work in practice.”

Zetor’s concept tractor may be some years from coming on to full production, but Michelin’s latest tractor tyres are available now. Contact the team on 3375 3566, and we’ll be glad to discuss all the tyres we stock and our various tyre service options.

Keeping your family and fleet safely on the road (and fields!),

Kevin Wood

About the Author

Kevin has been at the forefront of the tyre industry for over 20 years. Kevin's speciality is in industrial and commercial tyres including the management and upkeep of fleets. Kevin has worked with vehicles his whole career from painting, mechanical, suspension and panel beating he has also spent time in the Australia Army as a driver. He has driven all size of vehicles throughout his career so understands the demands placed on drivers.