Solectrac CEO Mani Iyer recently took the time to share his passion for electric tractors with me. In this interview, we talked about the history of the company, how Tesla launched the market, restrictions in the supply chain, autonomous tractors and much more.
Mani also recently sat down with CleanTechnica he Cleantech Talk talk about new products for the company’s electric tractors. You can listen to it here.
Mani explained that Solectrac was named after solar and tractors – a unique combination of both – and then touched on the company’s history. Although the co-founder, Steve Heckeroth, was not invited, Mani pointed out that Steve’s commitment is the driving force behind the company.
“Steve has been working on all electrical products for the last 30 years. He started the company in 2012, and Ideanomics, our parent company, invested in 2020 and finally bought in 2021.
Steve converted vehicles to gas and diesel to electric, and the electric tractor began accelerating in July 2021. Mani told me that about 50 more people worked at Solectrac. The company commercialized a 24-horsepower electric tractor and launched it. Manny said that they sold several of them and plan to sell them by the end of the year. In addition, Solectrac plans to expand its portfolio to more horsepower and more products.
“We all know the evidence for rapid climate change. Steve never believed in gas and fossil fuels. He has always been an advocate of electricity and renewable energy. He is an architect by design and has worked for a solar company for almost 15 years. So, he is an expert in solar energy and has been lobbying in the state of California for thirty years to switch to electricity.
“It probably wasn’t the right time given the price of the battery as well as the technology not advancing fast enough. Thanks to Tesla, we would definitely like to be a Tesla tractor, so we caught up very quickly. Steve has worked with several companies both internally and externally around the world. ”
And that, Mani explained, led to the birth of a fully electric 24-horsepower tractor.
Solectrac currently has three tractors available – e25, e70N and eUtility. Each can be booked with a $ 1,000 deposit. What is unique about these tractors is that they can be charged with solar energy via an inverter that works within the solar field. Eventually, tractors will be able to double as emergency backups if the utility network breaks down.
“It simply came to our notice then. But yes, our products will provide an emergency backup in the future. It’s a simple system. You put inverters and bring electricity from the tractor to back up and power anything, whether it’s home, utilities or farms. ”
While this feature is not yet available for all products, it is available for the e70N, a 70-horsepower tractor that recently won the WINnovation Award and was among the winners of the World Ag Expo competition for the Top 10 New Products.
How will supply chain constraints affect Solectrac?
Article from The Detroit News reported that Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said he expected the semiconductor shortage to expand by the rest of 2022 as the industry waits for additional production to appear online, a multi-year process. I was curious how the restrictions might affect Solectrac and I asked Mani. He told me: “I think the supply chain was a constraint and Covid didn’t help. They catch up quickly. It is only a matter of time before the supply chain is overtaken. In addition, the factories were in some way consolidated or dependent on China. But the world is moving fast. I have seen so many companies appearing in Europe. The United States itself invests money in all countries, be it Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, California, Utah, Phoenix, Arizona – just to say. They are investing in battery technology, including, of course, not only Tesla in the world, but also GM and Ford. ”
In Michigan alone, there are many companies dedicated to the entire EV architecture, which includes semiconductor chips and autonomous technology. Mani no doubt is just a matter of time and availability in terms of EV architecture as well as cost reduction.
Mani added that Solectrac offers its fully electric tractors about 25-30% less than competing diesel tractors. The savings, however, can be felt while owning a tractor.
Tractors, Mani explained, can also be powered by wind or solar energy. And they can feed the grid much like a virtual power plant does. With Tesla, customers who have Powerwall can deliver energy back to the grid.
He added that large tractors in the world of agriculture mean productivity, while small tractors are more of a hobby.
“Just imagine using a diesel tractor today and being hit by all kinds of smoke and noise. Use an electric tractor and connect with nature and the land. It will be a great experience than doing it with a diesel tractor. ”
Switching from diesel to electric tractors is also easy, and Mani explained that the accessories used on diesel tractors can also be used on electric ones. The only difference is that Solectrac tractors do not need fossil fuels.
Autonomous Robo Solectrac tractors?
I wondered if Solectrac had plans for autonomous or robotic tractors in the future. Mani said yes in the end, but maybe autonomy is not the best thing for all farmers.
“We met with a company in California that can turn our current tractors into autonomous ones. But there are reasons why it will function autonomously in certain areas and not work in other areas.
“For example, in California vineyards, if you wanted to spray or use chemicals, which is not the right way to do business, but you can use an autonomous tractor so as not to endanger the health of the operator.
“When it comes to hobby farmers, lifestyle farmers, organic farmers, small vegetable growers, they are small in nature. They want to use a tractor and experience it. He does not drive a road vehicle on the road. This had many contributions. You have a lot of three-point traction attachments behind the tractor, and then you have a front loader that has to move materials.
“You have all kinds of backhoe loaders. So it is not easy to make these autonomous. And it’s more about experience. People want to get out of their homes and go to earth and have the experience of doing it themselves, and then they look back and see how great it looks.
“I don’t know to what extent autonomy there will be useful, but certainly when it comes to crops or general applications in the world of agriculture it could become autonomous and our tractors could become compatible over a period of time.”
There is no reason why you should not buy an electric vehicle instead of a diesel
Mani noted that a few years ago was a completely different age. The era before EV was when gas and diesel ruled. The market was not ready for EV. However, Tesla, Mani pointed out, has changed all that – not only Tesla, but many companies that innovate in the space of mobility with a focus on renewable and clean energy.
“There was a time when electricity was probably not ready for the market. But today, after seeing what Tesla has done and seeing so many other companies at the ACT trade show in Los Angeles and Long Beach, we have seen technology expand mobility products and services. So I think the time has come.
“I firmly believe that if electricity can do the job and there is still no pollution, no noise and it can give you all the benefits, there is no reason for anyone to buy diesel. We didn’t have cutting-edge technology so at the time there was no choice but to buy gas or diesel. But now with first-hand electric guidance, there’s no reason why someone wouldn’t.
“Going back to the world of tractors, we get full power, no noise, no pollution, less vibration and a fantastic experience when cultivating the land. There’s no reason not to buy electric instead of diesel. “
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