THE WORK HORSE
TBY talks to Zeynep Erkunt Armağan, Vice-Chair & General Manager of Erkunt Traktör, on the export challenge for Turkish tractor manufacturers.
BIOGRAPHYZeynep Armağan graduated from Hacettepe University’s Finance Department in 1982, and was given the responsibility of founding of the ICT department in Erkunt Industries, Inc. Casting and Machining Factories. She continued as the Manager of this department until 1990, and then served as Manager of the Sales Department until 1998. She then became Assistant General Manager responsible for Finance from 1998 to 2005. She is currently the General Manager of Erkunt Tractor Industries, Inc., which she helped found in 2004.
Turkey's tractor sector is dominated by international brands. What challenges did you face while building a Turkish brand in the sector?
Erkunt Industries is actually 60 years old and is one of the major suppliers of cast and machined parts to the engine and tractor manufacturers in Europe and Turkey. We started manufacturing our tractors in 2004. Erkunt is a Turkish brand totally designed by Turkish engineers. It is not licensed production. The first challenge was, of course, to be recognized and accepted by the farmers, as it was the first and only Turkish-branded product. The second challenge was competing among the long established and well-known brands in a very competitive sector.
What distinguishes Erkunt tractors?
Our tractors are known for their low fuel consumption compared to the competition. This is a plus factor when buying a tractor, which is actually a working device. We conducted tests that were witnessed by public notaries and the professors from agricultural faculties of universities in seven different geographical regions of Turkey, each region with different climate and soil conditions. The second factor is being strong and reliable. This can be attributed to the transaxle and the engine we use.
Was your goal always for Erkunt to become an exporter?
We had exports in mind, but not starting from the very first year. We thought that the first five years would be for the domestic market and gradually we would start to move toward exporting to neighboring countries. There was a lack of self-confidence in the beginning. We didn't know what the farmers' reactions would be toward a Turkish brand. The second question on our minds was whether we would be able to provide the proper services. We first started exporting to Bulgaria in 2007, and later to 26 different countries, such as Iraq, Poland, Australia, and Peru. I must admit I am not yet satisfied with our performance. We are now approaching the subject with a different attitude. We will concentrate on a limited number of countries. We need to build the perception of a new brand and grow within our means.
How have you worked to meet the needs of farmers in designing your tractors?
During the design stage, we visited roughly 10,000 farmers in all regions. We tried to understand what made them happy or unhappy with their choice of tractors. We wanted to know what kind of improvements they were looking for, and how much extra they would accept to pay for these improvements. We used all this feedback when we were designing tractors. At Erkunt, we are still following the same method for our new models. We know that Turkish farmers want better tractors. If they are using a tractor with a canopy, they want to switch to a new one with a cabin. If they are farming in a hot region, they want air-conditioning. They want four-wheel drive tractors. They want compressors to provide the air for flat tires, and cleaning system for their blocked filters or radiators after a hard day's work in the field.