Clark Vitulli, the CEO of one of the nation’s largest powersports dealership groups, knows first-hand why there’s talk of creating a transitional ATV for children ages 13-15.
Vitulli of America’s PowerSports, Inc. has two “pretty big-sized” boys, ages 13 and 14, that are no longer involved in the sport because they’ve outgrown their youth-sized ATVs and are not allowed to ride on their father’s larger vehicle.
Until the boys turn 16, there is no ATV on the U.S. market that is designed for their age group. Voluntary federal standards call for manufacturers to limit the power of youth-sized vehicles to 90cc. The result in some cases is similar that to of the Vitulli brothers, who are forced off ATVs for several years, or a worse-case scenario.
Even with federal standards and many state laws aimed at keeping children off adult-sized ATVs, many teenagers are allowed to ride larger ATVs, sometimes with tragic results. In fact, the majority of ATV-related deaths with children under 16 is the result of them riding adult-sized ATVs, said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
That’s why the commission is looking at several new or stricter ATV safety measures, including the addition of a transitional vehicle, one that could be designed for children ages 13-15.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s ATV safety review group will come to the commission this year with new safety proposals that could recommend or require manufacturers to provide a transitional vehicle. Wolfson stressed that the review group is looking at both alternatives — a recommendation or requirement — for a transitional vehicle.
Would the consumer go for it?
Glenn Hansen, Suzuki’s communications manager, said the initial question with transitional vehicles would be similar to all ATVs. That is, Hansen said, “what’s the cost to design and manufacture it, and can you recoup (the costs) with sales?”
Designing and manufacturing such a vehicle probably would not be as big of a question as sales.
Some OEMs have or have had ATVs with engines that could potentially fit in a transitional vehicle. Yahama sells a Grizzly 125cc and KYMCO sells a 150cc. Suzuki used to sell a LT160 for several years before stopping production in 2003.
But none of those machines were marketed to the younger age group because of federal standards, meaning how big, not to mention how profitable, the market is for such an ATV remains unknown.
“We’re certainly looking at the market,” said Hansen, noting Suzuki is in the process of updating the two-stroke 80cc model to a four-stroke. “In discussions on that topic, we’ve certainly talked about different sizes.”
Dealers see the need, but share concern about sales.
Vitulli of America’s PowerSports said he could not give manufacturers an exact number of sales the industry has lost because of the lack of a transitional vehicle. “Nevertheless,” he said, “I think there’s a need. This is a great way… to alleviate violations of the rules and regulations that are out there.”
Vitulli also said he thinks the transitional vehicle would be a good seller. But he said its overall impact on sales might be substitutional, eventually taking sales away from larger vehicles rather than adding to total revenue.
Brian Kane of RideNow Powersports Management Group, which has 28 stores in the United States, also believes there is a market for the transition vehicle. But he also said there could be some initial resistance from parents, who could have reservations about buying another short-term vehicle.
Kane, the director of parts and accessories for RideNow, has seen similar resistance from parents in buying youth-sized ATVs. That resistance, he said, is fading away now that dealerships are doing a better job of identifying customer needs.
What would it look like?
Vitulli of America’s PowerSports could see a transition vehicle with a chassis the size of a 250cc, but having far less powerful of an engine.
Yahama could potentially point to its Grizzly 125cc, which is the ATV of choice for many rental companies, said Steve Nessl, Yahama’s media relations manager.
Whatever size engine the transitional vehicle would have — and Wolfson said the commission's review group thus far has not pinpointed that — there would still be lingering concerns over what option parents would choose.
Would they start with the smaller 50cc or 90cc youth-sized bike, which happens now, or would they jump to the transitional vehicle?
“If they make a bigger machine, will the parents buy it for the wrong-sized kid, thinking he will grow into it?” said Suzuki’s Hansen, who still has faith in the current federal standards that were adopted in the late 1980s.
“It’s working now, we think, as long as parents comply and don’t let young kids ride ATVs they shouldn’t ride,” he said.
Others, however, see the need for a transitional vehicle if it's designed correctly.
“The concept is a winner if we can come up with (something) that satisfies that age range as far as performance,” Kane said.
An age-old question
The current federal safety standards are very much age-specific. The proposed transition class of ATVs could help change that.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking at “whether other criteria, such as body size or body measurements, should be used to determine the appropriate-size ATV that will help reduce the risk of injury and death to youth ATV riders,” Wolfson said.
The federal government isn’t the only body looking at changes to the youth ATV market.
Industry members of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA) are funding an ergonomics study that will look at children’s size and weight issues, skill sets, such as strength and reactions, hazard recognition as well as other variables, according to officials from Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), which is one of the companies involved with SVIA.
Results of the study could be available in late spring or early summer and will be shared with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's ATV group.
The SVIA group also will look at related issues, including whether just the transitional vehicle should be adopted or if there should be additional changes made to the youth class, BRP officials said. The industry also is investigating whether physical parameters, child weight and height, should be specified in safety standards in addition to a child’s age.
All of these matters dealing with the proposed transitional vehicle and possible changes in youth safety standards figure to be decided late this year. psb
Copyright 2006 Powersports Business