Monarch Tractor Makes its Debut in Lordstown

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Designed in California. Built in Ohio.

That’s the message executives from Foxconn and Monarch Tractor sent loud and clear Thursday as they unveiled the next product slated for production at Foxconn’s facility here.

“We’ll be releasing our production volumes in the first quarter of next year,” said Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder and CEO of Monarch Tractor. “We’re targeting tens of thousands going forward.”

Monarch, based in Livermore, Calif., announced two weeks ago a contract manufacturing agreement with Foxconn to commercially produce its first product, the Monarch MK-V tractor, at the Lordstown plant.

Hundreds of employees and guests attended the event. Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel served as emcee.

The all-electric “driver optional” vehicle is designed as a small tractor geared toward a higher volume market, Penmesta said at a ceremony unveiling the new vehicle at the plant.

“We’re talking about transforming the whole industry of farming,” he said, noting there are approximately 500 million farms worldwide, yet tractor sales number about three million annually. “We want to change that. We want to make farmers more profitable, we want to make them more sustainable at the same time.”

The solution is to develop technologically advanced agricultural equipment that can serve a global market, the first of which is the Monarch MK-V, Penmesta said. And there is no better place to build such a vehicle than Lordstown, he added.

“What I want to see on the tractor is ‘designed in California,’ but right below it, ‘built in Ohio,’” Penmesta said. “The combination of innovation and technology, and the combination of quality and precision manufacturing is something that’s going to end up on every farm around the world,” he said to applause from the audience.

The tractor is sold in limited volume in California, and those have a sticker price of approximately $70,000, Penmesta said.

Monarch co-founder Carlo Mondavi, scion of the Mondavi family that is best known for its wineries in the Napa Valley, said he identifies himself first as a farmer. Over the years, he has searched for ways that could ease the burdens on farmers as they continue to deal with challenges such as climate change and the havoc it has wreaked on crops.

Monarch proved an exciting opportunity, Mondavi said. “We’re here to talk about the future of farming and how we’re going to build incredible technology here together,” he said.

His family has a 103-year history of farming in California. His grandfather, Robert Mondavi, established the family’s famous vineyard in 1966.

Wildfires over the last five years have ravaged this portion of the country, Mondavi said, with some wine growers losing almost all of their harvests because of fires and extreme weather conditions. In 2020, he and his brother lost 100% of their crop, he added.

The all-electric Monarch MK-V substantially reduces the carbon footprint of farming, Mondavi said. It would also eliminate the need for chemical herbicides that farmers use for weed and grass control, since the tractor can continuously cut fields and farmland.

Farmer safety is also a priority, Mondavi said, since the autonomous option on the tractor reduces the risk of injury to farmers.

Mark Schwager, president and co-founder of Monarch, said the new tractor is the first of its kind.

“No tractor has ever tried to do this, especially in the compact tractor platform,” he said. The vehicle is dependent on more “drive-by-wire” functions – or operations governed by electronics – than traditional autos, for example.

“Also, the amount of energy that is stored in the battery is revolutionary,” he said.

A single battery can power the vehicle continuously for eight to 10 hours performing medium duties, Schwager said. Simultaneously, a second battery recharges, which takes about five hours and is swapped in when fully charged. Thus, the tractor could operate continuously.

“You could really work around the clock for those harvest times or challenging times when a farmer really has to floor it to get the job done,” he said.

With the MK-V, a farmer can essentially “train” the vehicle to operate automatically and follow the precise path an operator would during a workday, Schwager said. “We also have advanced algorithms that can do that kind of path planning where you don’t have to train the tractor,” he said. “Either are possible with the Monarch platform.”

He said the Lordstown plant and Foxconn fit the needs and vision of the company perfectly, and it made perfect sense to partner with the Taiwanese electronics corporation.

Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn purchased the 6.2 million square-foot Lordstown assembly plant in May from Lordstown Motors Corp. for $230 million. General Motors Co. owned the plant for 50 years until it closed in 2019, and then sold the factory to Lordstown Motors.

Foxconn has agreed to build Lordstown Motors’ first vehicle, the all-electric Endurance pickup, as well as future Lordstown Motors products at the plant.

“We see tremendous manufacturing capability coming in the team here,” Schwager said, noting some have transitioned from GM to the new operation. “The electrification piece was important to us, and Foxconn’s experience in electronics is also important to us.”

“Combining automotive, electrification and electronics was a really big thing for us and we really only found that here,” he said. “A tremendously talented team.”

Rick Rajaie, vice president of operation at Foxconn North America, said Foxconn is very selective when it comes to establishing partnerships, and Monarch meshed with the Foxconn’s objectives for the Lordstown facility.

“We’re thrilled to have this product here,” he said.

Rajaie said there are more than 400 Foxconn Ohio employees working at the plant along with more than 150 independent contractors.

Foxconn intends to create a portfolio of products, both on an off-highway. As this business grows, so too will the need for additional employees. Foxconn, Rajaie continued, is in discussions with a “variety of partners.”

“We are blessed. We’ve been approached by a lot of partners in the industry,” he said, declining to disclose the interested parties.

As the plant scales up, it could bring suppliers closer to the Lordstown plant, Rajaie said. “Once it makes sense for us to support our suppliers and help them localize, then, by all means, that is going to be part of our plan.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, said that the Inflation Reduction Act recently signed into law by President Biden provides incentives to eligible consumers toward the purchase of electric vehicles, including farm machinery. Moreover, the infrastructure bill passed last year contains provisions to establish a countrywide network of EV charging stations.

“We’re going all in on electric vehicles,” Ryan said. “And now to have this Lordstown plant humming with trucks, cars and tractors being built, this is the ideal situation.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6, said that Thursday’s event demonstrates the region’s technical and manufacturing capabilities.

“Today is all about putting the innovative spirit of the Mahoning Valley and the state of Ohio back out in full display,” he told reporters.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.