Remembering the Need for Speed

Nov. 23, 2015

Of the thousands of products evaluated by CE editors for the Top 100 over the last quarter century, one of the most unusual was John Deere’s 764 High-Speed Dozer.

The unit was launched at Conexpo 2008 in those blissful final days of innocence before it was known just how destructive the Great Recession would be. Deere Construction & Forestry managed to keep the product a big secret prior to launch, though there were whispers on online forums about a shadowy machine known only as the “Bison.”

The 764 was promoted as a new machine form combining the speed of a grader with the flotation of a dozer, capable of fine grading at speeds up to 6 mph. It rides on quad rubber tracks, which allows it to travel 18 mph over pavement without causing damage. At first glance it had a bit of a clunky appearance, and there was certainly education to be done about its capabilities, but Deere executed perhaps the most iconic product-launch campaign in industry history.

First came the teases, highlighted by ads and other outreach materials, featuring a machine cloaked in a black sheet with a Las Vegas scene in the background. They all promised a “reveal” at Conexpo. A countdown clock on the web counted the days, hours and seconds to the event. Rampant industry chatter could not agree on nor identify what exactly was under the cloak. The creases and lumps didn’t seem to add up to a known machine form.

In the run-up to 10:30 a.m. Vegas time on the first day of the show, thousands flocked toward the Deere booth, but even one of the show’s largest booths couldn’t hold the overflow. As a result, attendees climbed on competitors’ machines in adjoining booths just to get a glimpse of what Deere was going to do. No seminar, rock band, scantily clad acrobat or rental magician had ever brought such a crowd to an individual booth. Not in the construction industry, anyway.

In the booth, attendees found a cloaked machine velvet-roped off from onlookers and appearing identical to the teases, with a large video screen above showing the last moments of the countdown.

At 10:30, the video screen and sound system roared to life with a slick promotional video almost worthy of a consumer product launch. Its theme throughout was “speed.” The 764 High-Speed Dozer was first portrayed like an Air Force fighter jet, complete with a hangar. When the black cloak on the real machine was removed after the video, the unit was not painted the familiar Deere yellow, but a sort of gunmetal gray like a fighter jet. A master (brush) looked about as cool as a piece of equipment could.

Nearly every element of the video, and the major thrust of the spoken presentation that followed, hit on the subject of speed, tying in the machine’s attributes and possible applications.

There hasn’t been anything quite like the 764 introduction since. It was an all-too-rare instance where big marketing hype paid off with some large truths—it more than satisfied two of CE’s key criteria for a Top 100 award: advances in technology, and increasing competition in its field. You could say it invented its own field.

And I think we're all glad Deere didn't call it the Bison.

(You can read more about 25 years of the Top 100 New Products, and learn about the 2015 selections, in the December issue.)

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.