Back to basics


SOTA Kubota tractors are aimed at people who want a simple tractor - and they come for roughly half the price of a new one. Terry Stevenson went for a ride.

Back to basics
Back to basics

With around 130,000 lifestyle blocks in New Zealand, and rapidly growing, there is huge demand for small tractors and ride-on mowers to help owners keep their small blocks under control. Many small block owners are city-folk who revel in the extra space between neighbours but, as busy business people, they don't have much spare time to spend with the upkeep of their property. That's where the small workhorse comes in.

SOTA is a Melbourne based company importing remanufactured small tractors into Australia and New Zealand. Lindsay Ferguson is a qualified automotive technician who is employed in New Zealand as the distribution manager for SOTA Tractors. He supplies the dealers and backs them up with sales and technical advice. SOTA began from the 2004 Fieldays at Mystery Creek, and at present they land a 40ft container every six weeks, with around 18 SOTA Kubotas packed inside.

SOTA Kubotas are not aimed at new tractor buyers. They are a base machine aimed at people who want a simple tractor - typically for a lifestyle block. The SOTA Kubota range is placed at roughly half the new tractor price - with some uniformity. The buyers of these machines can purchase them with a degree of certainty, so they know exactly what they are getting. And that is the key to their success.

The small tractor market is made up of mostly lifestyle blocks and small orchardists, however they have almost unlimited uses on any farm. They can do anything from working on the driveway, contouring the garden, grading, shifting firewood or general work in the back yard. If you have an oversized lawn, the SOTA Kubota will chop through the lawn in half the time of a narrower ride-on. And you can load the odd trailer with dirt or shingle anytime you like. Ferguson said market gardeners tend to go for the smaller and more compact B series tractors. Even dairy farmers are buying the bigger 26hp SOTA Kubotas as a second tractor to mount their small spray units on. They want something that is reliable and looks tidy, so they can get on and go.

"A lot of wives fit turf tyres and a small front end loader, and use them in the garden," Ferguson says. "They end up using them more than the husband uses it in the paddock. We bring in the models that are basic machines, which don't give a lot of problems. That's one of the reasons we stick to Kubota, they're the world's biggest compact tractor manufacturer."

Ferguson imports the containers, unloads, installs new batteries, reassembles the bigger tractors and fits the loaders if required. Each machine then undergoes a stringent pre-delivery check to ensure everything is working correctly. If something is not right, Ferguson will fix it. All SOTA Kubotas are sourced from Japan and are remanufactured in Asia to a set standard. Japanese users typically have a tractor for each job because they don't interchange working units, using the three-point linkage system. This, coupled with local weather conditions, mean most tractors are sold with low hours on the clock, averaging between 300 and 500 hours. Some will have new clocks fitted, some will have been wound back to zero. This is because each tractor is sold with a new three-month unlimited warranty - contractors included. They begin their second life at zero hours again, which is measurable.

Just as they would a new machine, all owners are issued with a written warranty, an owner's manual and a parts manual. SOTA also guarantee parts supply.

From the ground up
Around half the price of a new tractor, SOTA Kubotas are completely stripped down and rebuilt to a set specification. The panels are replaced or panelbeated to as new condition. Most things I could see were repainted including the engine, bodywork and wheels. They look very clean and tidy - in my opinion, not too far behind a new tractor. That alone will draw buyers, but what you don't see is the level of work that goes into bringing each machine back up to "remanufactured" standard.

"Reconditioned means if you recondition something, you fix something that has a problem with it," Ferguson says. "So if it has a problem, you recondition it or replace the worn out or broken parts. Remanufactured means we are getting machines that are not necessarily broken. For instance, we leak test the engine and check the injectors. If they find it's worn excessively, or anything needs replacing, they replace it. All seals, water pumps, radiator caps, fan belts, and parts of the machine that are generally replaced anyway, are replaced automatically. All the drive seals, upholstery and wiring is checked. So it's not necessarily reconditioned, it's remanufactured. If there's no problem with it they won't replace it - if there is a problem with it, they'll replace it."

To give you an idea how much work goes in, the clutch, brake pads and glow plugs are automatically replaced. All new rubberware is fitted, including the front diff seals. They check all bearings and replace them with new ones as required. All seats and upholstery are replaced. New decals, including new safety decals, are fitted. OSH approved PTO covers and roll frames are all included. (If you are buying an imported secondhand Japanese tractor, it may not be up to OSH approved New Zealand standards with these features). "We set the standards and the specs that the tractors have to be at, and they have to meet them or we don't take them," Ferguson said.

The amount of work done varies with each tractor. Older tractors typically have more work done to them because they require more new parts. This means there are more new parts in the older tractors than there is in the newer machines, which won't have as many worn parts.

Not the latest in design, the brand new front end loaders are factory fitted, as all SOTA Kubotas come with the brackets fitted ready for assembly. Each loader is numbered, so its serial number matches that tractor and can do everything a full double acting loader will do.

SOTA bring in three main models, from 14 to 30 or 36hp in each range, all with 4WD and mostly three cylinder engines. For example, they can offer a 20hp tractor in three different models to suit your wallet size. The 20hp L2101 is priced around $11,000, the 02 series around $12,000, and the newer L1 series around $13,000. The 01 model could be 20 years old; the 02 could be around 10-15 years and the L1 five to ten years old.

The "0" series is an older type of tractor brought in to meet the market. It's an entry-level model that has been completely rebuilt and not as sophisticated as the later models. The 16hp B1400 "0" model I used had a front-end loader with a mower driven off the three-speed PTO on the rear. The three-speed gearbox comes with a hi-low ratio for greater speed control for each job. Like the bigger models I drove, they all go okay and do everything as designed. While it handled mowing well, I could tell this model had the least power.

The 02 series is the most popular SOTA Kubota. A solid looking tractor for its size. Our test L20402DT-M has a 28hp engine and a 4x4 manual transmission - with four speeds through four ratios. Fitted on the back is a Buhler Farm King grader mounted onto the three-point linkage. With a similar hydraulic oil flow as the L1, it had no trouble lifting a bucket full of dirt and dumping it into a truck.

The L1 series are the latest model tractor. With a shuttle shift they would be more suited to people who want to use a tractor more often. I was surprised with the engine response of the L1-18, even at 2000rpm. The 26hp powerplant offered good response and revved out pretty well for diesel engine. It has a four-speed PTO unit and I could easily notice the faster rise rate of the loader, thanks to the 26 litres/min hydraulic pump.

How easy are they to learn to drive? Easy! Most people who buy these have never driven a tractor in their life, so the dealer will show each buyer how to drive it and how to use the machine and its controls.

With such a demand, the small tractor is here to stay. They are useful in many ways, especially for small block farmers. The SOTA Kubota range represents a good value for money alternative.

For more information contact Sota Tractors, tel (07) 552 6216, e-mail info@sotatractors.co.nz or visit www.sotatractors.co.nz.

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