A new crop of John Deere graders due to arrive at dealers this spring will offer customers the freedom to choose between two modes of steering. The new G-Series includes six models ranging from the 185-hp 670G to the 275-hp 872G.

Deere offers operators two steering modes.
Photo: Scott Blair / ENR
Deere offers operators two steering modes.

In its new graders, Moline, Ill.-based Deere was faced with an important decision, as these important roadbuilding machines have been coming out with cleaner diesels whose emission controls tend to sap fuel. Caterpillar in 2006 radically replaced its graders’ steering wheels and control levers with joysticks to serve two needs: help rookie operators get up to speed faster and give experienced blade hands increased productivity and therefore better fuel economy. In 2007, Volvo kept its new graders’ controls traditional but added transmission gears to conserve fuel.

At the heart of all this is a philosophical issue: Cat said it was time to use electronics to modernize the complex motor grader, while Volvo countered that experienced operators should dictate good design, likening Cat’s joysticks to forcing a pianist to play a trumpet.

In the end, Deere took the middle road. After extensive research, it engineered its controls to give operators the option to use either the steering wheel or a joystick on the fly. It had operators asking for the traditional levers and armrest controls, “but most of all, operators told us to retain a steering wheel,” explains Kent Stickler, product manager. With the joystick setup, the steering wheel remains, but a joystick can also steer. Deere unveiled the graders earlier this month at its Sacaton, Ariz., proving grounds.

“Graders are tougher to master than other pieces of equipment,” Stickler adds. “Experienced operators demanded a steering wheel, especially for use in high speeds, on slopes and for added finesse.” Newer operators usually take to joystick-style controls more quickly, but they can instantly switch to traditional steering once they grab the wheel, he says.

In addition to an automatically locking differential and rearview camera, Deere graders can be ordered with a Grade Pro package that includes armrest controls, integrated grade controls accepting either Trimble or Topcon modules, a cross-slope control allowing operators to select a slope and maintain it with a blade-lift lever and return-to-straight button.