After months of fanfare, Deere & Co. on the first day of CONEXPO finally took the wraps off what it was billing as its most important machine ever.
It's a recording studio.
"It's all about listening and responding to our customers," said David Althaus, manager of events and promotions for the Moline, Ill.-based manufacturer of heavy machinery. "We figure, how can we go wrong with that?"
The Chatterbox, as Deere calls it, is a two-room sound and video studio. As you enter the doorway you are greeted by an air-conditioned green room of sorts. The studio is at the back of the trailer, which Deere started taking to jobsites last year and plans to continue a road show this year.
Customers who decide to talk to the Chatterbox will sit down in a modified backhoe seat and select a range of questions to answer. Two mini HD cameras record the responses.
Deere on March 22 also pulled the wraps off an articulated dump truck and two new diesel-electric hybrid wheel loaders that it says were engineered from start to finish for years alongside real-world customers.
Though one booth staffer said the hybrid loaders on display at CONEXPO are well beyond the prototype stage, Deere is still testing machines to fine-tune the drivetrains. It plans to begin selling the 644K, a 4-cu-yd machine, in 2012.
The 944K, a 9-cu-yd unit and Deere's largest wheel loader to date, goes on sale in 2013. Both hybrid loaders are expected to achieve 20% to 25% better fuel economy than a comparable non-hybrid model. They use a diesel engine mated to a generator, which directs power to independently-controlled, electric wheel hubs. They do not incorporate battery storage.
Other vendors like Deere are using CONEXPO to show how they, too, are doing a better job of responding to customers. It's a critical time for the machinery market, as manufacturers are just beginning to climb out of a deep sales hole. How well suppliers respond to clients' needs is key to creating revenue, they say.
Tools like the Chatterbox are just one way Deere is staying close to its customer base. But not all the questions are serious. For example:
"If you could be a John Deere piece of equipment, what would you be?"