WITH what is calls its new global tractor platform, Massey Ferguson recently held its 'Vision of the Future' event in Beauvais, France, to showcase the project - and old school tractor drivers will feel very much at home with its simple design ethic.

Backed by an investment of $350m from its parent company AGCO, the range is a new product line of 60-130hp tractors which will ultimately be assembled at multiple manufacturing sites and sold globally.

Richard Markwell, its vice-president and managing director of Europe/Africa/Middle East (EAME), said: "This is the largest manufacturing and new product development project in the history of AGCO and is an extremely significant evolution for the Massey Ferguson brand. It signals the biggest extension to our tractor line-up for many years.

"Designed from the outset for global distribution, they will offer an array of specification, options and features to suit customers no matter where in the world they farm," Mr Markwell continued.

Multi-national engineering teams worked on a clean-sheet design. The brief was to take the concept of the utility tractor and re-engineer it from the ground up, whilst incorporating the classic Massey Ferguson design tenets of straightforward, dependable operation. This has meant that around 90% of components are completely new and more than 36,000 hours of lab and field testing have seen prototype models show their paces in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

In what was hailed as a unique concept in the farm machinery industry, the thrust of the strategy is to create a highly flexible network of plants where major units and complete tractors can be produced and assembled at multiple locations throughout the world. Plants in the network include Canoas in Brazil, Chennai in India, Manisa in Turkey and Changzhou in China.

These new tractors will be introduced on a phased approach basis over the next five years and are designed to be simple to operate and maintain, being available as footstep, semi-platform, platform and cabbed versions. The first model - the 82hp MF 4708 - is already in production for African markets and the next model up, the MF 4709 will be launched in other EAME markets later this year.

"It's taken the best brains in Massey Ferguson to design and build this brand new range of workhorse tractors," pointed out Campbell Scott, the Castle Douglas-born director of sales engineering and brand development. "They are developed specifically to provide utterly dependable operation in a wide range of applications to meet the needs of a diverse range of farmers world-wide.

The first models, the 82hp, MF 4708 is a four-cylinder model for Africa and Middle East markets; while the MF 4709, at 95hp, is a Euro-compliant three-cylinder model. They will have a completely new mechanical gearbox developed by engineers in Beauvais, France and they offer 8F/8R in the MF 4708 and 12F/12R in the MF 4709. Both are equipped with mechanical reverse shuttle.

Their rear axle is based on existing, proven design from the latest MF 5600 Series and there will be a choice of purpose-built two or centre-drive four-wheel-drive front axles, with hydrostatic steering. All models are fitted with oil-immersed multi-disc brakes, mounted at the in-board side of the axle for better braking efficiency. On semi-platform compliant tractors, two hydraulic master-cylinders control the linkage and expander units provide effective and straightforward operation with minimum pedal force.

Four-wheel drive is engaged electro-hydraulically on the move, through a simple, robust 'dog-tooth' clutch. It is permanently engaged by spring pressure and released by hydraulic pressure.