Who Makes These Little Tractors?
While a lot of people are not familiar with the Yanmar brand- this imported tractor manufacturer has a long and impressive history. Yanmar was founded in 1912 and was the forerunner in the compact diesel engine market. Designing their first diesel engine in 1930 and built the worlds first small horizontal diesel engine in 1933.
Yanmar began selling their compact tractors in the US with the Yanmar badging around 1977. Soon after introduction, Yanmar began manufacturing the compact tractors for John Deere. By 1986 Yanmar had shipped over 100,000 tractors to John Deere alone. By 1989, It is believed that Yanmar's partnership with John Deere, combined with Yanmar's distaste for America's litigious society, prompted the company to stop selling tractors in the US. Yanmar continued to build many of the compact tractors for John Deere up until around 2004 or so (exact date not known). So are Deere tractors the same as Yanmar tractors? No. While some models may share a few parts, most of the parts will not interchange. Deere did not want an identical "clone".
Soon after Yanmar left the US, dealers took notice of the huge demand for these top quality, low priced tractors and began importing "gray market" models from Japan. These tractors, usually with 4 digit model numbers, are by far the most common Yanmar in the US today. The gray market models feature multiple speed PTOs where the US versions typically have only a single speed. The tires are a bit more aggressive, the throttle lever operates in the opposite direction, and ... the decals are mostly in Japanese. Other than that, many are almost identical to the tractors sold in the US.
So are these "gray market tractors Illegal? No. They are imported legally. They are called gray market because they were technically not intended to be here. Yanmar is said to not want to support them because of their fear of being sued because many of these tractors do not have the ROPS or PTO shields like the US tractors.
Yanmar continues to be a HUGE company in Japan. They now sell everything from push mowers to professional turf care equipment to huge rice combines. Parts availability for these tractors continues to grow due to the high demand for the tractors. Many aftermarket companies are now even re-producing these parts just like for the classic car industry.
Yanmar also recently came back to the USA market. The first tractors were introduced through a partnership with CubCadet and then, later, through Yanmar's own network of dealerships.