Part rec, part utility, early signs are it’s a hit
Roger Hapka, director of product planning for Off-Road Vehicles, and Ben Dieter, ATV product manager, shared their insights on the launch of the Sportsman ACE with Dave McMahon, editor in chief of Powersports Business.
PSB: Wow, first of all what a great launch. The best we could come up with as a description is part ATV/part UTV. How did you determine the ACE would be a viable product for the market?
RH: We do spend a significant amount of time and effort studying market trends and consumer trends. The observations were telling us that there was a potential opportunity here, so we put together some concepts and went out and shopped them with prospective consumers. We had some targets in mind. It gave us some good direction on what people were looking for, so we did build some prototypes and looked at variety of possibilities and did some consumer testing, and that really led us to the configuration of the product that we launched this week.
PSB: As you’re meeting with these focus groups, how many twists and turns were there before the final product was formed?
RH: Some of the things that we were trying to read as we were going through the research were should we be looking at a product that’s more recreational in nature, or should we be looking at a product that’s more utility in nature. As we were going through the research, we realized it needed to be something that captured a good combination of both [and] was going to add more value to the prospective consumer base.
PSB: What sort of reaction did you get from some of the first riders?
RH: The reactions we got from anybody who wanted to ride it this week were very, very positive. Two of the things that come to mind were people who saw it for the first time, when they had a chance to ride it, they thought, ‘I won’t fit in that machine. It’s going to be too small.’ One individual was 6-foot-3, 275 pounds and he was convinced he wouldn’t fit in it. He was totally surprised how well he fit in the machine. There were some comments about people saying they were more comfortable in that than they are in a RZR. They didn’t think a vehicle that small and compact would offer that much space. Second is the performance of the machine. We positioned it as a 32 horsepower ProStar engine, and it sets expectations. After they had a chance to ride it, they were pleasantly surprised at how well it performed.
BD: We had some female riders who didn’t want to get out of it. They felt at home in it. That was encouraging. They felt it was a perfect blend of power, performance and capability. It wasn’t too much; it wasn’t too little; it was perfect.
PSB: Looking at some of the early designs, does the final product look similar to what you had set out with?
RH: Initially when we looked at the designs, there were some more sporty designs vs. utilitarian designs, and like I said, we ended up in the middle. The most important thing was following up on the feedback we were getting on our research. There were three themes that kept coming back to us: comfort, confidence and fun. For comfort, you think of ease of operation and accessing new customer groups, the things that were important were that it have a seat and steering wheel, and familiar foot pedals — a throttle pedal and brake pedal. Also, ease of ingress/egress was important as well for a broad prospective customer group. I think it’s fair to say that this vehicle is easier to get in and out of than any vehicle in our off-road lineup. You can actually plant yourself in the seat while your feet are still on the ground, and likewise getting out, you can place your feet on the ground before you get off the seat. You can’t do that with any of our other vehicles today, so that was a big plus as well.
PSB: It looks cool as anything and is priced nice at $7,499. How much of an attraction do you think it will be for the “non-non” market, or those with no powersports vehicles previously?
RH: We’re looking at that in two ways. With new entrants to the sport, and the second one where you have families and not everybody participates. We’re considering those new entrants as well, but not necessarily a group that has no familiarity. It might be a family that has ATVs but maybe mom doesn’t ride them. That could open up some things. We think this vehicle will be attractive because it comes in at a lower price point, and it also fits very easily in a pickup truck so you don’t need to invest in a trailer right off the bat. A lot of our feedback has been that they wanted something smaller. What we’ve been able to determine is that for prospective buyers it’s not necessarily that they want something smaller, they want something that they’re comfortable riding.
PSB: I imagine that since it’s so easy to get into and out of, the older demo could be a match?
RH: We think about the population of people who brought us to the peak of the ATV market in 2004-05 timeframe, they’re getting older. We’ve all heard the saying ‘With age comes the cage.’ For people with less mobility, the fact that this is one of the easiest vehicles to get in and out of — there’s some opportunity there. We don’t position it as a high performance vehicle, but more of an entry-level vehicle when it comes to performance. We’re expecting that this product will allow us to grow the category and not just substitute our products or competitive products. It’s one of the best opportunities we’ve had in recent history to be able to do that.
PSB: I’d like to take that thing for a ride on the closest trail around, but with the storage capacity, it appears to be more than capable for work also.
BD: We talked about it being the perfect blend of recreation and utility. We didn’t sacrifice one for the other. You mentioned the fact that it has storage capacity, with the rack up front that you can strap things to and almost three gallons of storage underneath. It also has a big box in the back for hauling spraying or securing tools, mending fences. The storage capacity is significant, and it pulls 1,500 pounds. It’s four-wheel drive, sure-footed. I’ll hit it again how big it is the ingress/egress. You think about the farmer or rancher, they’re often not driving long distances, but rather checking fences or looking after livestock. They can get in and out easily. There may be other situations where you have a farmhand. You might be the owner, but you’d be more comfortable putting a farmhand in this.
PSB: There are more than 20 accessories available for it already? Sounds like a good way to put the personal touch on the unit.
BD: It’s a huge benefit for the consumer to make it into the vehicle they want it to be. On an ATV, there’s a limited amount you can do to be protected from the elements. This opens a new set of possibilities with the accessory integration.