When is a Fendt not a Fendt?

This time last year in North America, AGCO unveiled its latest tractor line-up – the Challenger 1000 Series. Visitors to the ‘Farm Progress Show’ were given a preview of the new “high-tech” offering.

Of course, the tractor might look decidedly familiar on this side of the Atlantic – apart from the colour. The Challenger 1000 Series is a badge-engineered version of the existing range-topping Fendt 1000 Vario Series.

The 1000 Vario Series stretches from 396 to 517hp; all models in the range are powered by MAN 6-cylinder, 12.4L engines. The top model – the 1050 Vario – can muster up to 2,400Nm of torque at 1,100rpm. The tractor can reach 60kph at a fuel-sipping 1,450rpm; it can cruise at a leisurely 40kph at just 950rpm – not much above tick-over.

The decision to re-badge Fendt 1000 Vario Series tractors as Challenger units for some markets is not unusual. For several decades, many manufacturers – not just AGCO – have followed a ‘common platform’ strategy, whereby one range of tractors is offered in two or more brand liveries, albeit with subtle or not-so-subtle changes to help differentiate between the brands.

AGCO Fendt Challenger

AGCO Fendt Challenger

For example, Same Deutz-Fahr (SDF) – and Same Lamborghini Hurlimann (SLH) before that – has been doing this for many years. So too have Case New Holland (CNH) and ARGO Tractors (the parent company of Landini, McCormick and Valpadana) – and many more besides.

In one of the more unusual tie-ups, some Zetors tractors were badged and sold as John Deere models (finished in a green and yellow livery) in some South American countries.

AGCO – the parent company that encompasses the likes of Massey Ferguson, Fendt, Valtra and Challenger – is essentially no different; it plays to the strengths and loyalties associated with each individual brand – on a market-by-market and country-by-country basis.

For instance, it pushes Fendt in Germany and the surrounding European markets; whereas the same product might fare better wearing a Challenger badge (and backed up by the Challenger network) in parts of the US.

So, while there is little to separate a 1000 Series Challenger tractor from its Fendt stablemate, the same could also be said for many competing ‘common platform’ products.

AGCO Fendt Challenger
AGCO Fendt Challenger

AGCO Fendt Challenger

Inside the cab, the Challenger will look familiar to anyone who’s ever climbed into the driver’s perch on an equivalent Fendt. It’s blistering with technology. Technophobes need not apply; this tractor requires a penchant for joysticks, push-buttons and screens.

AGCO Fendt Challenger

Of course, the Challenger brand is more readily known here in Ireland for its rubber-tracked tractors – not just under the AGCO banner but also, previously, as Caterpillar-badged units. Indeed, some Caterpillar-built models were also marketed as Claas units at one time.

Origins of Challenger and its ‘tracked’ legacy

Caterpillar’s legacy in the ‘tracked vehicle’ business apparently stretches back to the 1890s, when Americans Benjamin Holt and Daniel Best started on-farm experiments with steam-powered tractors. Working separately – for separate companies – they pioneered much of the early development with track-type tractors and petrol-powered tractor engines.

Benjamin Holt is credited with the idea of replacing wheels with tracks. In 1904, the first Holt track-type tractor was sent to plough soft ground near the factory in which it was built in California.

Following the development of a new and improved set of tracks, Holt reportedly coined the ‘Caterpillar’ trademark.

Meanwhile, the company switched from steam power, in favour of petrol.

Around the same time, Daniel Best’s son – CL Best – was also building petrol-powered, wheeled tractors and began work on an experimental ‘tracked’ tractor. The first of the species – the 75hp ‘CLB’ crawler – was the first machine to bear Best’s ‘Tracklayer’ trademark.

This machine had some noteworthy design features, including “improved oscillation of the tracks to reduce shock loads on the frame and the engine, plus improved metallurgy throughout the tractor”.

In 1925, Holt Manufacturing Company and CL Best Tractor Company merged to form Caterpillar Tractor Company.

Fast forward 62 years – to the launch of the distinctive, rubber-tracked Challenger tractor, with the patented Mobil-tracTM system. It was launched in 1987.

Years later, in 2002, AGCO began to produce Challenger tracked machines – under licence from Caterpillar.