By Karin Gelschus
FOREST LAKE, Minn. — Using the 42nd annual Hay Days Grass Drags as its stage, Arctic Cat created a buzz among some of the event’s attendees with the unveiling of three new snowmobiles.
The presentation’s high turnout reflects the anticipation for this year’s riding season and excitement about Arctic Cat, says Joel Hallstrom, snowmobile product manager of Arctic Cat.
The Arctic Cat presentation was just one highlight of Hay Days, which had a good turnout on Sept. 6-7. Put on by the Sno Barons Snowmobile Club, Hay Days is one of the largest snowmobile events in the world, and it aims to kick off the snowmobile season.
Hay Days began in 1967 with a few hundred people in attendance. The event has grown considerably, as last year’s occasion attracted nearly 30,000 people. Many Hay Day attendees are guessing this year’s official attendance number is greater than last year’s.
The money generated from the event goes to multiple purposes, including the Sno Barons Grant Program, which gives grants to other snowmobile organizations and clubs. Sno Barons also donates some of the earnings to race events in the area.
Arctic Cat’s unveiling
To many attendees’ surprise, the snowmobiles Arctic Cat revealed weren’t all race sleds, which is usually the case at Hay Days. Hallstrom says Arctic Cat has introduced consumer sleds off and on during the years, but they hadn’t done anything like that in recent years.
“We said this is the perfect spot,” he said. “It’s the kickoff of winter, and it’s the perfect time to do it.”
New COO and President Claude Jordan adds Arctic Cat is aiming to be more focused in terms of its product launches. “When an event like this comes along, we have an opportunity to launch them (snowmobiles),” he said. “Things like this are a great opportunity.”
Last year, Hallstrom says Arctic Cat didn’t have a product introduction at all. “This is head and shoulders of what we did above last year,” he said. “We didn’t walk out of here with the biggest buzz last year. We think this year we’re going to have the biggest buzz.”
The company definitely stirred things up when it uncovered its M8 153” HCR mountain sled (MSRP: $11,999), Sno Pro 600 race sled and lastly, the Z1 Turbo Sno Pro (MSRP: $13,299). The Z1 has a turbo-charged four-stroke 1056cc liquid twin engine that delivers 177 hp.
While it’s not unheard of, it’s also not a regular occurrence to introduce a consumer sled at Hay Days being that it’s mostly about racing.
Hallstrom, who presented the sleds, said the decision was part of “a really long, several month orchestrated plan (to do it at Hay Days). We just said you know what, we’re lacing up the gloves and lets go out there. We’ll come out of here with some buzz.”
Of course Todd Palin, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s husband, created some additional excitement with his presence. The Arctic Cat racer signed autographs and mingled amongst the Hay Day’s crowd. Sarah and Todd Palin have been involved in the industry for some time as they owned a snowmobile, PWC and ATV dealership from 1994-1997 in Alaska, according to the Star Tribune.
“That’s a great thing,” Jordan said of Todd Palin’s presence. “It builds a lot of excitement.”
The upcoming season
With the release of the three new sleds and the company’s increased intensity, Arctic Cat officials are looking forward to a strong snowmobile season.
Hallstrom says the company is in a position to have a strong year being that last year they concentrated on fulfilling dealers’ requests of cleaning out prior-year inventory.
“We reduced our production of snowmobiles in order to sell more of the noncurrents and get our dealers healthier and in better shape,” he said. “We did that. We sold lots and lots of noncurrents.”
With the cutback in production and more rebates, many dealerships were successful in moving old inventory, making room for 2009 sleds. Increased production this year is one of a few new feathers Arctic Cat has in its hat, Hallstrom says,
“You’re going to see a lot more intensity from Arctic Cat. We have a new national sales director, a new corporate office in Minneapolis. We had a new COO, president come on board. There are a lot of neat things happening on the upper level all through the ranks,” he said. “We’re a small company, but we’re still a big player. We’re excited. We’re coming out swinging.”
Jordan said he’s going to “focus on the product and stick with the innovation and excitement of the new product launches. You can see that (excitement) in the crowd as we launched the new product.”
Even though snowmobiles have always been the core of Arctic Cat’s business, Jordan says they’re working to do more on the ATV and UTV side. “We’re trying to do more with that, especially in terms of engine size,” he said and adds he’s “looking forward to learning the industry. I plan on spending a lot of time out there in the field.”