By Chris Vogtman
RENO, Nev. — With a healthier inventory and strong military strategy, Polaris “feels very good about the consumer demand for [the ATV] business” heading into the 2008 model year sales season, said Mike Dougherty, general manager of the company’s ATV division.
“The traditional ATV industry is soft, and what we are seeing is retail is down about 10 percent year to date,” Dougherty said at the Polaris 2008 media launch in Reno, Nev. “The industry has hit a little bit of a slow time on what we traditionally measure sales of the traditional OEMs and [single-passenger] ATVs.
“Consumer demand still feels very, very healthy to us. If you look at the growth of side-by-sides and imports and in some of the mass market distribution that isn’t being reported, we actually feel very good about the consumer demand for this business.”
One key issue for Polaris last year at this time was a high dealer inventory. Dougherty said Polaris has been working on inventory and it is now about 15 percent lower from where it was last year. With a healthier inventory
position, Polaris has seen its market share increase a half point.
Polaris says the military also has become a focus of growth potential from a demand and profitability standpoint. “It started out with SoCom and it has grown from there,” Dougherty said. “We are pretty proud of the fact that the U.S. military is using our product.”
To help bolster the Polaris lineup, new utility and sport models were introduced at the press launch. Also to reduce consumer confusion, Polaris has streamlined its branding initiative and now primarily only has the Sportsman and Outlaw brands.
With strong growth in the two-passenger market, Polaris added the Sportsman Touring 500 and Sportsman Touring 800 models into the
2-Up ATV fray with enhanced passenger comfort from the seat to the rear suspension. The X2 models, with their unique transforming passenger seat and rear cargo box, are now offered in Sportsman 500 X2 or 700 X2 — in place of the previous 800 X2.
Polaris hopes to tighten its stranglehold on the 2-Up ATV market with four two-passenger ATVs in its lineup. The 500 X2 is the top-selling 2-Up ATV on the market, according to Polaris officials.
“Our X2 models have captured 40 percent share of the 2-Up market with [just] those two models,” said Gary Laskin, ATV product
manager. “It’s the fastest growing segment in the ATV business. We are the fastest growing brand in that segment.”
The largest change in the single-passenger department comes in the way of a Sportsman 400 H.O. with new styling and the now-defunct Sportsman 450 powerplant, churning 455ccs. The Sportsman 400 receives styling similar to the Sportsman 300 — name changed from Hawkeye — and is 91 pounds lighter than the old Sportsman 450.
Back in the lineup for 2008 is the carbureted Sportsman 500 H.O. “Customers are getting a tremendous value with this ATV,” Laskin said. “When we first introduced the Sportsman 500, it was $6,499, so it’s $500 cheaper 12 years later. It’s the best price ever on the best-selling 4x4 ATV ever. It’s by far the best value in the class, and it’s even the same price as some Taiwanese straight axle competitors.”
Much like the Sportsman branding, Polaris has refined its sport quad lineup and all machines now receive the Outlaw nameplate.
Back this year is the Outlaw 525 IRS with the KTM engine. But joining it is an all-new Outlaw 525 S, which employs a swingarm suspension, straight axle and Fox shocks all around. For 2008, the IRS version receives Fox shocks up front, but Ryde FX shocks remain out back. The 525 S weighs in 20 pounds lighter than the 525 IRS.
To prove Polaris is serious about the sport market, it unveiled its all-new Outlaw 450 MXR that is powered by a 448cc four-stroke KTM engine. This machine has best-in-class power and acceleration, according to Polaris officials.
The 450 MXR comes standard with fully adjustable Fox Shox all around and Maxxis Razr MX 20 x 6-10 front and 18 x 10-9 rear tires. With the lower-profile tires, the machine sits one inch lower than the Outlaw 525 S. All Outlaws will be available with red or white plastic.