If a cycle/ATV store hasn’t realized what’s going on in the kart market, they need to take a second look as the technology and sophistication is moving up rapidly, says Jeff Platzer of Manco Power Sports. “The traditional karts were for kids and were a price-point recreational vehicle. Now, the niche has moved into the adult realm, where it has never really been before.”
Manco, located in Ft. Wayne, Ind., is one of a growing number of companies offering fun karts, often referred to as all-terrain karts (ATKs) and, along with Carter Brothers Mfg. Co., Inc., Brundidge, Ala., is one of two firms leading the design and manufacturing of the vehicles in the U.S.
Recognizable by their knobby all-terrain tires, beefy suspensions and roll cages, ATKs resemble miniature dune buggies, now commonly referred to as sand rails. Weighing between 400 lbs. and 600 lbs. and outfitted with a wide variety of motors, they’re designed to blaze over off-road terrain otherwise difficult to navigate.
Traditional ATVs can navigate tough terrain, too, so why are ATKs proving popular?
“They’re really opening up another market for traditional powersports dealers, and allow families to enjoy something together,” said Ryan Dougherty, vice president of sales and marketing for Carter Bros. “There are a lot of moms out there that probably wouldn’t think about riding an ATV. However, a 10hp Carter-branded XTV is a lot like driving an automobile. And, of course, you can also take children along that shouldn’t be operating any type of motorized vehicle.”
Dougherty said sales of two-seater units are outpacing single-seat units three to one, and says markets for the machines can be found everywhere from Florida to Washington. Strict emissions laws have kept ATKs out of California, but Dougherty told Powersports Business he expects Carter machines to receive a California “green sticker” rating before the end of the year.
Another supplier preparing to obtain green sticker acceptance in California is TJ Power Sports. Holmes Ge is president of the Irving, Texas-based company. His father, Yisheng Ge, operates Tongkian, a factory in Shanghai, China, responsible for many of the ATKs imported to the U.S., including product offered by Kasea and Team Dazon.
“I don’t quite know how to categorize these machines because they represent a totally new concept,” Ge told Powersports Business. “They can be operated any place ATVs operate. But, for the people who may think ATVs are dangerous, these have a roll cage to protect the driver.”
Ge says the ATKs currently available represent an initial effort, and says design will “go wherever technology takes us.”
“I think these units will start to look more and more like sand rails,” Dougherty said. “There are some legitimate builders of sand rails, but they’re mostly custom made and I don’t think any of the companies are doing it at a manufacturer’s level. What I think you’ll see in the future are jumps to 250cc engines, 500cc engines, and from 500 up, which is where you get the sand rail part of the equation.”
“Everybody wants to see bigger numbers, but all of the suppliers seem to be waiting for the competition to release their product first,” said Terry Chia of Team Dazon, Tempe, Ariz. “While the first one to the dance will get the recognition, I think the objective is to see where the prices for larger machines will be set.”
While the vast majority of ATKs on the market come with 150cc motors, and most companies are planning 250cc units for next year, two firms have already beaten the competition to market with the release of a water-cooled 250cc ATK. One of them is Washington-based Kasea.
“Our Explorer is based on the Honda Pilot, which sold marginally well back in the late 1980s or early 90s,” Kasea’s Scot Steffy told Powersports Business. “People out there now are paying $6,000 to $7,000 for old Honda Pilots, so we figure if we could come out with a product under the $6,000 price range and offer some of the same features, that we could capitalize on the dune crowd. We’re not looking to do huge numbers with it, maybe a couple of thousand a year, but it’s definitely a segment of the off-road kart market that hasn’t really been addressed yet.”
Steffy says the Explorer is a joint project with Jehm Powersports, which markets the machine as a Navigator. While Kasea’s initial shipment has not yet arrived in the U.S., Steffy says nearly 100 have already been pre-sold to dealers in the Midwest and on both coasts. “They’re not legal in California right now, but we’re just finishing up our certification so hopefully they’ll be entering the market there in the very near future,” he said.
Manco Power Sports (www.mancoprod.com) offers its ATK as an XTK (Xtreme Terrain Kart). Available in three sizes, the XTK 707 delivers 7hp, the XTK 710E produces 10hp and the XTK 713E makes 13.5hp. All are powered by commercial-grade Robin-Subaru engines placed in chassis designed and built in Indiana.
While Carter Brothers Mfg. Co., Inc. (www.carterbro.com) produces nearly 20 go-karts, the company offers six suspension karts — the 6.5hp 2906-TR, the 10hp 2910-TR and 2910-TH, the 11hp 2911-TR, and the 150cc 1150-XTV and 2150-XTV. The 1150-XTV is the lone single-seat unit. The chassis for these units are designed and manufactured in Alabama, engines come from Taiwan’s Standard Motor Co.
TJ Power Sports (www.tjpowersports.com) currently offers two versions of its 150cc LM150, the single-seat LM150R and the double seat LM150IIR, and the firm expects to have a third machine available by November, the 150cc Hammerhead, as well as 90cc and 250cc units for 2004. Vehicles are manufactured by Tongkian in Shanghai, China.
ATKs from Team Dazon (www.teamdazon.com) include the one-seat Raider 150 Single and two-seat Raider 150 Double. Team Dazon places its proprietary engine into a chassis supplied by Tongkian in Shanghai. Soon-to-be-released, the Raider Max is a 175cc water-cooled unit. A 250cc unit is planned.
Kasea (www.kasea.com) offers three all-terrain karts — the AB150R, AB150R2 and the Explorer. The 150cc AB units are manufactured by Tongkian in Shanghai while the 250cc water-cooled Explorer is a joint project with Jehm Powersports, manufactured in Korea with a Kymco engine.