A Business Case for Self-Driving EVs: Farming
Can a self-driving electric tractor for farming be a learning experience for carmakers and suppliers as they introduce next-generation technologies?
Possibly. At least from a business standpoint.
The $50,000 tractor developed by California-based Monarch Tractor promises to bring the latest electrification, automation, safety and artificial intelligence technologies to farmers.
This may sound cool and innovative, but is it worth the investment?
The answer is simple, according to CEO and co-founder Praveen Penmesta. He boasts that the new tractor can do everything farmers can do with current diesel-powered equipment—and much more—while saving money every hour it’s used.
Monarch’s automated electric tractor (Image: Monarch)
From an operating standpoint, the company calculates, the electric tractor can save as much as $45 per day in fuel and maintenance costs.
Other potential benefits are even greater. They include everything from reducing emissions (a diesel tractor emits 14 times more pollution as the average car), improving crop yield rates, redeploying assets and reducing exposure risks to harmful pesticides. The tractor also can serve as a generator in the field for power tools and act as an ATV with four-wheel-drive capability.
On the cool side, the tractor can perform pre-programmed tasks without a driver or follow operator commands through gesture and shadow controls.
It also can collect and analyze more than 240GB of data while it’s operating, allowing farmers to track crop health and improve efficiencies through machine learning. The longer the tractor runs, the more accurate and useful the data becomes, Monarch says.
Other goodies include:
- Smartphone alerts with real-time intel on operating conditions, crop reports and even “micro-weather” updates
- ADAS and other safety features with 360° cameras
- 10-hour run times per charge
- Twice the torque of a diesel tractor
“Monarch Tractor is moving farming toward a safer and sustainable future by eliminating harmful emissions, reducing the need for herbicides and keeping workers out of harm’s way with its driver-optional capabilities,” explains Carlo Mondavi, a fourth-generation farmer and Monarch’s CFO (as in chief farming officer).
Monarch, which was spun off from Motivo Engineering a year ago, believes it has a strong business case for the technology.
To date, the company has received orders from “several hundred” farmers. Deliveries start next autumn.
“This isn’t feelgood sustainability for sustainability sake, it’s using sustainable technologies to make farmers more profitable,” asserts Mark Schwager, president and another one of the company’s co-founders. “It fundamentally changes farmers’ economics and allows them to be more profitable.”
This is something carmakers need to be especially mindful of and vigilant about. Next-generation technologies must provide clear benefits to end customers.
Honda is an engine company.
Ram Truck chief exterior designer Joe Dehner talks about how they’ve developed the all-new pickup. “We’ve been building trucks for over 100 years,” he says. “Best I could come up with is that this is our 15th-generation truck.”
A young(ish) guy that I’ve known for a number of years, a man who spent the better part of his career writing for auto buff books and who is a car racer on the side, mentioned to me that his wife has a used Lexus ES Hybrid.