In this episode of Farm Equipment Soundbites, Monarch Tractor CEO Praveen Penmetsa talks about what role the company sees farmers playing in the repairs of their all-electric, autonomous tractor.

Ben Thorpe: How do you see this transition from all the traditional diesel engine components to the electric based equipment? In fact, I have a fellow out of there right now, just putting out a survey about that, and she's asking dealers how they expect that transition to go. I think that's the big question everybody's wondering. So do you see it being easy and what kind of tech or improvements to their facilities are dealers going to have to make in your mind? Like what's really going to have to change about the service model?

Praveen Penmetsa: Well, that's a great question, Ben. And from a transition standpoint, anytime industries do these transitions, it's never easy or fast. But again, that's where it also comes down to how we roll out the technology and how do we support the farmers in making this transition and how do we support the dealers in making this transition.

So the great thing about the electrification and the transition to electrification is — I've already seen one or two industries start to go through this on the automotive side, the trucking side. So both these have have taught us a lot, so we should be able to leverage those lessons there.

So when we talk to state and federal agencies, not just in the U.S., but all over the world, we are also making the case for the agencies to support the farmers and helping make this transition on the farm side of things, number one. Whether that's in providing incentives for transitions, whether it's in providing support for the infrastructure, both the charging side as well as on the connectivity side, are both things that the state and federal agencies need to do more if they want to accelerate the transition. Similarly, on the dealer side also, the great thing is the dealers are now familiar with connectivity technologies.

You know, they all deploy and offer services such as RTK GPS for navigation and a farm planning systems, et cetera. So some of these are in place, but there are still a fair amount of work to be done on training. The next generation of workforce on these new technologies, whether that's electrification, that's high voltage battery systems, more power electronics, the safety side of it, and the maintenance side of it are all things that we need to put in place. And that's at the university level, that at technical institutes level, that's at the mechanic school level. We need to go through those things. And again, that's another place where both the industry, as well as the state and federal agencies should really focus their efforts on providing support for those retraining and education.

And then, but when it comes to what we are doing at Monarch, our whole philosophy here is we want to use technology to make this transition faster and smoother, and we have seen that to be possible now. Right. Thanks to the logistics and distribution. We can directly ship parts if needed to the farmer very quickly within a day or two, we can now leverage that ecosystems that the  logistics and distribution people have invested a lot into. We can use to send that our parts.

We can also use technology to kind of train the farmer on swapping out these components on how to do it. And then have our technical support as backup where they can actually lean on us, have a zoom call or a video call to say, "Hey, you know, this is what this looks like. Can you walk me through this?" Instead of us saying, you cannot touch this.

And the third big component there is, we have designed our product from day one to be able to do that so that when everything is ready and the repair is complete, we can do a complete check and sign off on it. So that's one of the big things that existing equipment companies bring up is, "Oh my God, there's safety issues here. There's liability issues here. There's additional warranty issues here."

We at Monarch feel like they're solvable. If you can use technology, why can't we use technology to do full test the product right. It meets all the specs there where it is, good so far, good job, let's start using the equipment again, instead of saying "You cannot touch it, you cannot open it." So it's a completely different mindset from that standpoint. So those are the three crux areas for us, is how do we help the farmers make that transition, the dealers make that transition. And also how can we use technology to make it easier to repair, but also to prevent the safety and liability issues as much as possible.

Ben Thorpe: Can you kind of break down what repairs you see farmers doing vs. what repairs you see dealers doing and kind of how you're going to make that clear for farmers?

Praveen Penmetsa: The big thing for us is the modular design, whether it's the roof electronics, whether it's our swappable battery pack or some of the other systems. So both those are really easy to do where it's almost a pure mechanical play. And then you kind of do the software test again at the end of it, and then you can deploy the tractor. So both those systems have been designed to be field upgradable, number one.

Number two is, it's still a tractor. It's still our tractor. Since it supports existing drivers and existing implements, we also provide support for hydraulics, et cetera. So anytime there's a big hydraulic tear up or there's a big transmission tear up, right? Those are the kinds of things where dealers already have the existing infrastructure.

You already have the existing capabilities to do transmission rebuilds, hydraulic system redos, right? Redoing the lines, fixing the lines, fittings, leaks, et cetera. So those are all the areas where the dealers get to use their existing infrastructure. Those are also not the kind of things most farmers are set up to do on their farm, and usually they don't want to, right? 

So that's how we see the split, but we definitely see the needle moving a lot further towards the farmer going forward. Just with the technology and with the modularity, because that's the fastest way to do it at the end of the day is if we can get the farmer to immediately do a swap. And we can support them and get the equipment up and running again, vs. going to the dealer, getting lined up, scheduled, fixed, and back out into the field as a fair amount of cost as well. That goes along with it.

Ben Thorpe: What are some of the ways that you're providing training to these dealerships. I know last time you said you were working with some dealerships already,  how this is going to look, what are some of the actual resources you guys are giving them or are going to get them the future?

Praveen Penmetsa: So currently we are talking to a lot of dealers. We are seeing what the infrastructure is on one side, Ben, but on the other side, we're also seeing — we're gathering more and more data on our tractor as well. Like, what are the common issues? How many times do they occur? What are the fixes? Can we fix it out in the field or do we need to bring it back to our service shops for repair?

And once they come in, those are the times when we document these things. And then we are also writing procedures down and that whole package will then go back out to the dealers once the tractor goes to the dealers. But initially we see it as a phased approach, where we have to be very conversing, with the issues and the fixes. And then we use the same data to enable the dealers to start doing their repair site as well. So we are writing all those things, we are collecting all that information, we are creating all those content of how to do that. 

Ben Thorpe: Do you have a rough timeline of when you'll have your first official dealer? Is there a timeframe you're aiming for?

Praveen Penmetsa: Nothing that we can disclose publicly. Those are all discussions that are happening right now. And as you can imagine, these are important discussions with a lot of different legalities and terms and et cetera. But we definitely are committed to the dealer channel in terms of pushing our tractor through. But it'll be a different kind of profile, right? That we look for.

Ben Thorpe: Yeah. And this is all, this is in the west coast market, you're all looking at for these dealers?

Praveen Penmetsa: Yeah. We start here on the west coast first and then branch out from here. But eventually we want our tractor in all regions, with farmers everywhere being able to access it. But definitely starting off on the west coast first, because we can also support the dealer network well, because we are based out of here.