Innovation at Caterpillar: The D7E Tractor

By Glenn R. Carroll, David Hoyt
2014 | Case No. SM223 | Length 25 pgs.
In 2009, Caterpillar shipped its first D7E tractor, an “electric drive” machine in which electric motors moved the tracks and blade, using electricity from a generator powered by a diesel engine. In an industry where new products provided performance gains of just a few percent, the D7E moved 10 percent more material per hour, using 10-30 percent less fuel that its predecessor. It was also easier to operate, had 40 percent fewer moving parts, and a far lower lifetime operating cost. When the project was originally approved in 2003, the D7E was intended to prove out the electric drive concept for tractors. The D7E was chosen for this role in part because it was a relatively low-volume machine, and provided less risk for the new technology. If successful, electric drive was expected to be adopted by other products in Caterpillar’s tractor product line. However, by the end of 2013, this had not yet happened, nor had the company announced plans to do so. This case describes the D7E project from its conception, including the organizational and technical challenges it faced, and how the project team overcame these challenges. It raises questions about why the technology had not been rapidly adapted to other Caterpillar tractors.

Learning Objective

The case is intended to facilitate a discussion of intersection of technology, strategy, and corporate organization. There are many aspects of the D7E project that provide a useful basis for discussing these issues.
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