It doesn't matter if you call them Ultimate Utility Vehicles (UUVs), Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs), All Terrain Trucks (ATTs), or something else, they are still the hottest thing in the off-road market. We're talking about the side-by-side two-seaters that are the younger and bigger brothers of the standard all-terrain vehicles we've come to know. And these big guys are just what many hunters are looking for.
The Kawasaki Mule was the category's original player back in 1988. Sales began relatively slowly but took off after other brands entered the market, with segment total units reportedly more than doubling from 1998 to 2003, and increases continuing since then. It seems like just about every kind of small vehicle manufacturer is in this market now, with at least fourteen manufacturers selling under at least sixteen brand names.
The product offerings are grouped in two primary categories. First there are the turf types for use in developed areas like educational campuses, athletic facilities including golf courses and stadiums, parks, and other expanses of easily traversed terrain. John Deere, Cub Cadet, Toro, Club Car, and several other similar companies build and market these models. But then there are the rugged terrain types from Kawasaki, Polaris, Yamaha, Kubota, and Husqvarna that can venture into undeveloped territory and therefore become very attractive to hunters. Arctic Cat has recently joined this rugged group with the introduction of their Prowler XT that is built around their new domestic 650-class single-cylinder engine. (See Powersports Business July 25th issue for more details on the new Cat.) And a few manufacturers, including Simplicity/Snapper and kart specialist Brister are somewhere in between the two primary groups.
The appeal of these vehicles to hunters is pretty obvious. “With a Mule utility vehicle, you can carry all the gear you could possibly want or need in an off-road capable, four-wheel drive vehicle,” explains Vincent Iorio, Kawasaki's ATV Product Manager, “plus a hunting companion to go along with you.” Iorio also notes that “We offer both the Mule 3010 4X4 and the 3010 Trans4X4 utility vehicles in (Realtree) Hardwoods Green HD camouflage, and offer a complete line of matching accessories to enable the vehicle to be customized by an owner. Several of the more popular accessories for cold-weather hunting are windshield, hardtop, soft cab, and even a heater to keep occupants warm.”
The aftermarket also recognizes significant opportunities here. “The demand for utility vehicles is increasing,” says Kyle Phillips, Product Development Specialist for the Moose Utility Division of Parts Unlimited, “and there's definitely a demand for more accessories.” So Moose has introduced several new products for this vehicle segment this year including a fully insulated console bag that sits on the seat between the vehicle occupants and a gun scabbard with foam padding that attaches to the roll bar. The scabbard allows quick access to the firearm from either end and features extra pockets designed to hold ammunition. Both items are available in black or Mossy Oak Break-Up camouflage.
They're not alone. “We have a gun rack that is specifically designed for utility vehicles, which is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry,” reports Brad Danbom, V.P. of Sales and Marketing at Cycle Country. “We do a double gun rack that's good for rifles and shotguns and compound bows.” This product also attaches to the roll bar behind the seat.
Kawasaki has also upped the ante in the UUV product category with their four-seater Trans4X4. “The four-passenger model can still allow quite a bit of gear in the shortened cargo bed, and four people,” says Iorio. “(It's) an ideal situation for waterfowl and other bird hunting where decoys or dogs can take up a lot of space.” Alternatively, the Trans4X4 can be converted back into a two-seater, increasing cargo capacity when needed.
Polaris is touting their addition of electronic fuel injection (EFI) to their Ranger, one of the longer standing and more capable players in this market. “We see a lot of movement in hunting to EFI,” says Polaris ATV Product Manager Jeff LeFever, “for reliable starting in cold weather, but it is also a lot more fuel efficient, and you don't lose power in higher elevations, either.”
Meanwhile Yamaha has announced new versions of their side-by-side model, the Rhino. The Exploring Edition is aimed right at hunters with its additional occupant protection, extra storage, and camouflage or Hunter green exterior. There's also a new lower-end model, the Rhino 450, in green only.
No matter what you call these vehicles, they are playing an expanding role in hunter mobility, and the manufacturers are recognizing that trend. Look for additional brands and more models with more advanced features to come to market over the next couple of years.
- Dave Wells