The powersports industry could see expanded offerings in the UTV market from Japanese manufacturers in the near future.
Both Kawasaki and Suzuki officials said at their respective dealer meetings that they are looking very closely at the utility vehicle market.
Kawasaki already has its Mule UTV, which the company estimates is the No. 2 selling utility vehicle, only slightly behind John Deere’s Gator. Company officials said they are now considering offering a more sporty version of the Mule.
Suzuki does not currently have a UTV, but is interested enough in the segment that it has designed different vehicle prototypes, said Rod Lopusnak, ATV operations manager.
“We’re working on it,” Lopusnak said of the company’s ongoing research into the UTV market. “I can’t say we’re definitely going to do it, and I can’t say we’re not.”
One hurdle for Suzuki, Lopusnak said, is finding an appropriate location to manufacture UTVs.
“It does not make sense currently to manufacture them in Japan because of the size” of the vehicle, Lopusnak said. “Our preference is to deliver it to the dealer assembled. It’s a lot less work for the dealers.”
Whether UTV manufacturing could be done at Suzuki’s Rome, Ga., plant is something the company is considering.
“We’re definitely looking into it,” Lopusnak said of UTV manufacturing, “The dealers want it.”
But he said there is some apprehension at Suzuki that the UTV market, which has been increasing at a double-digit rate according to some industry estimates, could become saturated and mirror the PWC market. After considerable growth in the ’90s, PWC sales have largely flattened in the past decade.
“It was booming, booming, booming,” Lopusnak said of the PWC market, “then you started to get excessive regulations. The government got involved. A lot of different manufacturers jumped in. Then, it became unprofitable for both dealers and manufacturers, and a lot (of them) pulled out.”
Besides looking at the market’s possible growth, Suzuki also is looking to see what UTV features are “accepted well and what’s not accepted,” Lopusnak said.
Kawasaki also is researching the UTV segment, particularly the recreational side.
“That’s a trend we see happening,” Patrick Kelly, Kawasaki’s product development manager, said of consumer interest in sporty UTVs. “So naturally, that’s what we want a part of as well. But we’re not going to get into that until we’re ready to do it with the right products.”
Kawasaki provided an estimate of UTV sales. No official sales numbers are reported by an industry group, but Kawasaki and Powersports Business estimate that John Deere has 20 percent of the market share, Kawasaki has 19 percent, Polaris has 18 percent, Yamaha 17 percent, Kuboa and Textro have 5 percent each, Club Car has 4 percent and Ingersoll-Rand has 3 percent.
Kawasaki officials also said they estimate 188,000 UTVs were sold in 2005 and up to 200,000 will be sold this year. UTV sales, as a whole, have more than doubled since 2003, according to Kawasaki estimates.
Copyright 2006 Powersports Business