Founded by Steve Heckeroth in 1992 to provide farms, vineyards, orchards, and other businesses and hobbyists with zero-emissions alternatives to traditional gas or diesel tractors, Solectrac became a California Certified B Corporation in 2019. Iyer joined the company in July of 2021 following its acquisition by parent company Ideanomics (NASDAQ: IDEX) -- a global electric vehicle investor -- in June of that year.
"I joined to take the company forward [despite] supply chain constraints," Iyer says. At the time, the company was dealing with a backlog of orders but "we caught up pretty quick," he continues. "We had some good customer orders, which we have supplied as of March and now have some more good orders in hand."
Solectrac recently moved into a new 36,000-square-foot assembly plant in Windsor to support the 500 percent increase in production Iyer expects demand to require this year. "This is a wonderful shift from where we started our humble journey," he adds. "And [the factory is powered] by renewable energy with solar panels on the top, so it really fits the company's DNA."
At present, the new factory has assembly lines set up for the company's e25 Compact Electric Tractor and, Iyer says, should be operational for assembly of the eUtility Electric Tractor and e70N Narrow Electric Tractor as well by the end of the year. The facility also includes areas for research and development, training of dealers and customers, storage of parts, and offices for the company's employees.
Iyer foresees the construction of additional production and assembly factories across the U.S. in the future. "The country is huge," he notes, "and Canada is also a significant market. So, our immediate plan was to move into the facility in Windsor and then to quickly start something in the East for the East Coast. Eventually, if the business continues to grow, we'll start a third facility in the South."
Iyer says Solectrac and Ideanomics have made significant investments in engineering for evolving EV technology. The e70N Narrow Electric tractor, which was designed specifically for use at vineyards and orchards, won a 2021 WINovation award from the Wine Industry Network. It was also named a Top-10 Product Winner at the 2022 World Ag Expo. The tractor provides users with a runtime of three to eight hours depending on the load, can be charged in eight to 10 hours with 220 VAC 50 amps, and is available for a base price of $74,999. Solectrac is taking reservations for this tractor now for delivery in the fall.
"Eighty percent of the U.S. [tractor] market is [using] 100 horsepower or below," Iyer notes. "That's our focus area. We're in the sweet spot with our e25 and have sold more than 150 [of these tractors] direct to consumers."
The e25 Compact Electric Tractor from Solectrac offers four-wheel drive, a runtime of three to six hours with a 22-kWh battery pack, and it can be charged in under eight hours from a 220 VAC 30-amp outlet. It's available at a base price of $27,999, and the current delivery time is 45 days from order placement.
Why are the company's customers switching from gas or diesel to electric tractors? Iyer says it's because using Solectrac's equipment is "a delight. They do everything a normal tractor would do, but you have no noise. You have no pollution. It has the power you need with no idling to waste energy. There is no reason, in my opinion, for anyone to buy a diesel tractor when you can have an electric one that does an awesome job and gives you the necessary runtime for your work along with all the benefits for your own health and the environment at large."
Challenges: "I would say supply chain to a certain extent," Iyer says. "The costs have gone through the roof at about ten times. I used to pay between $2,000 and $3,400 for a container. Now you're talking about $25,000. Labor is also a constraint. It's not easy to recruit people, but we're doing our best. We have gone from two [employees] in July 2021 to 50 as of last month. Our plan is to take it to 100 by the end of the year. So, we are certainly recruiting much faster as there is passion for joining Solectrac."
Opportunities: Iyer says the market is hungry for tractors. Rather than hurting the company's sales, the COVID-19 pandemic created a greater demand for Solectrac's tractors as the number of hobby farmers in North America increased. "We sell to people who experience the tractor mowing their land, tilling their land, and enjoying nature," he continues. "I believe they had more time for that during the pandemic and working from home. Tractor sales went through the roof."
Solectrac recently launched a dealer network program to allow more potential customers to learn about and try the company's zero-emissions products. "We're appointing dealers left, right, and center," Iyer says. "We want everyone to come and experience [the tractors]. They will find [them] awesome."
Needs: "We're blessed with a great parent company in Ideanomics," Iyer says. "They're investing to help us expand through new facilities, putting people in to grow the business, and engineering and technology. People are embracing [electric tractors], so it's just a matter of how soon I can make more of the market aware of Solectrac and its products. The sooner I do that, the faster the company will grow. The sky is really the limit. The only reason we might fall short is the time. If we had more time, this would go faster."