For a gear-head Baby Boomer like me who has vivid childhood memories of the hoopla about Chevrolet’s new overhead-valve V8 introduced in 1955, I’ve been amazed at the evolution of the automotive industry’s advertising efforts over the years. From ever-increasing horsepower ratings and, pitches for “longer, lower and more finned” designs, and at one time, winning speeds from Daytona and Darlington, car promotions today seem to relegate the auto itself to be only a life-support system for an array of electronics.

First it was the audio system, as teens and young professionals lost interest in glass-pack mufflers and weekends spent tinkering in the garage to coax more power and performance from their rides. Then navigation aids captured the car-buying public’s attention. Today, television commercials for the latest red, white, gray or black hatch-back crossovers concentrate mainly on safety features such as lane integrity, auto-stopping circuitry, forward-looking radar collision avoidance and the size of video screens which replaced CONELRAD AM radios. Except for heavy-duty pickup trucks, the pitches carry nary a mention of engine or transmission capability, or other mechanical design features. “Win on Sunday, buy on Monday,” has gone the way of “See you later, alligator!” 

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of trends as new tractors were introduced this year at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. Granted, there were plenty of new models and designs with the obligatory slick handout sheets sporting horsepower and torque-rise figures, but the introduction of Case IH’s AFS Connect Magnum and its shirt-tail relative, New Holland’s T8 Genesis, both slated for 2020 production, followed the mold of a President’s Day TV commercial hawking the latest iteration of a Camry or Rogue. There was virtually no mention of running gear or tractor performance, which apparently remains the same as current models, but the news was the digital capability of the two machines.


“There was one digital potential in particular that caught my eye … the ability for the machine and its systems to be updated remotely, without a visit from a factory or dealer representative…” 


Even at John Deere’s booth, where the company was launching its “Bigger, Stronger 6R Series” tractor with the traditional pitches to the new machine’s power and performance and shifting flexibility, there was a healthy hat tip to wireless technology and telematics access to the 6R. Bigger displays, and remote “push alert” factory maintenance and service information along with in-field agronomic prescription downloads are part of the new tractor’s fact sheets.

Both the Case IH and New Holland debutants feature increased information processing at the tractor, moving management of the machine itself and others in the fleet from strictly a “farm office” venue to tablet displays in the cab. The new tractors also sport a vast ability for operators to configure controls to individual preferences and field tasks, along with real-time interactivity with the farm office or fleet manager — much like an on-line “help desk” one might consult to solve computer problems.

Trouble for Aftermarket Tuners?

The digital tractor developments are impressive as “connectedness” rapidly becomes reality on the road to “autonomous,” and operator comfort and productivity are obvious results of the engineering. Still, there was one digital potential in particular that caught my eye concerning the AFS Connect Magnum — the ability for the machine and its systems to be updated remotely, without a visit from a factory or dealer representative.

Essentially, the tractor’s operating software can be updated during downtimes, and as Case IH analyzes individual tractor data over time, changes can be made to improve machine efficiency and productivity.

Company officials say various tweaks could be added to the machine such as shift-point profiles, and likely engine boost and fuel delivery maps, to meet any challenges stored machine data indicates might be occurring.

The ramifications of increased productivity through “factory-authorized down-time updates” are obvious, but the entry of OEMs into individualized tractor tuning — which surely will follow as this technology becomes established — could mean serious competition for tuning companies.

In recent conversations with representatives of two of the major aftermarket diesel engine tuning firms, they estimated a significant number of North American operators have some form of tuning technology at work on their machines. Remote factory tuning such as found on the AFS Connect Magnum could certainly change business models for the makers of aftermarket performance enhancements.