Just before unveiling Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A.’s new Viking side-by-side at its national dealer meeting in mid-June, Mike Martinez, VP of Yamaha’s ATV/SxS Group, explained the company’s reasoning behind leaning toward the utility segment.
“Obviously we want to go where the highest potential for both unit and accessory volume is today, so we did a lot of research and analysis,” he told the crowd of 2,200 gathered at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
That direction took Yamaha down the utility route, as the OEM found more than 60 percent of the side-by-side market is aimed at farm and agriculture use. So that’s where they targeted the Viking, the first of five side-by-sides to be released by Yamaha over the next five years.
“If you look at the side-by-side industry, and you look at the size of the industry, still the biggest market is more that utility-type customer, but they’re not just using it for utility, they also use it to go hunting and recreation riding, so we’re trying to make a product that’s going to cover all the hunting aspects, all the recreation and do the utility as well,” Martinez told Powersports Business.
The Viking is a three-seat, four-wheel drive UTV powered by Yamaha’s familiar 686cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, SOHC, single-cylinder, four-valve, fuel-injected engine. It features an Ultramatic transmission with high, low and reverse, optional Electronic Power Steering (EPS), 12 inches of ground clearance at its lowest point, a more effective cooling system and the three-way On-Command system with 2WD, 4WD and a locking differential. The standard two-inch receiver is rated to pull 1,500 pounds.
Though the Viking wasn’t quite the sporty machine some dealers were expecting, it was lauded as a potential home run from dealers in agricultural regions and those who have had success with the now-discontinued Rhino.
“The Viking’s awesome. Long overdue, but I was sure when Yamaha came out with something it was going to be top shelf right from the get-go,” said Jonny Johnston, owner of Cambridge Motorsports in Cambridge, Md.
“I think it’s going to look good. I think it’s got a place in the market,” added Edward Kiper of Kiper Yamaha in Falls of Rough, Ky.
Noticeable immediately upon seeing the Viking is the three-seat configuration. Yamaha wanted a vehicle that offered seating for more than two, while not decreasing bed space.
“Traditionally there’s two-seat vehicles with a large bed, or if you have four seats, you have a small bed. We didn’t want to sacrifice the bed size, so we’ve got the full bed, and we’re able to get a third passenger in there, so the best of both worlds is what we were aiming for,” Martinez said.
The cab offers pass-through bucket seating with an offset center position set 5 degrees back to improve comfort with maximum shoulder room. Each passenger has a three-point seat belt and a headrest. Yamaha says it was able to offer more head room than other models without giving up ground clearance. And yet the Viking also has a large assisted dump bed, with enough space to carry a fully loaded pallet and the capability to haul 600 pounds.
“We sell a lot of side-by-sides for the utility use, and then for the hunter, where there’s two or three people using it. So I like the extra room. In bringing out a new side-by-side, I think that’s the first direction they should’ve taken,” said Dean Owens of Owens Cycle in Yakima, Wash.
Kiper explained that he’s glad to see multi-passenger seating because he’s already lost some customers to units with more rider capacity. And added seating is what 75 percent of Chris Creel’s Rhino customers are looking for at Laurel Yamaha in Laurel, Miss.
Though some dealers were disappointed Yamaha didn’t put a larger engine in the new vehicle, others were happy to see a time-tested powerplant at play.
“I know the 700 engine has been proven for years as a real, real durable engine,” said Arlen Mickelsen of Superior Outdoor Power in Superior, Neb.
“I know there’s others — other companies have larger motors and stuff — and that will be a little issue to have to deal with sometimes because it only has a 700cc, but this is probably all they’ll need,” Creel explained.
The target customers for the Viking are those who need the machine to do utility work, but also like to use it for recreation. Yamaha made it clear that some of the key players in this market are farmers and hunters, and dealers see the machine appealing to the same demographic.
“Most of these are an older customer that’s buying these, that’s got children and grandchildren that want to ride, so I see it being a just a little older customer,” Creel said.
Though a number of the features on the new Viking were appealing to dealers, the price also stuck out as competitive. The base model is priced at $11,499, the same as the 2013 Rhino, and the EPS version starts at $12,499.
“We’re used to hearing people say, ‘I just spent $15,000 for my machine, $14,000 for my machine,’ and here comes Yamaha in here and goes $11,499, and it is a big deal. It should be a big hit; it really should,” Mickelsen said. “It’s going to shake up the other manufacturers. All of them are thinking, ‘Let’s add more features, raise the price.’ Here Yamaha added more features and didn’t raise the price.”
As with other models in its 2014 lineup, Yamaha’s goal was to make the Viking’s price competitive in a market where customers are usually looking for the best value.
“We do a lot of pricing research when we look at the competitive models, and we really kind of come down to where is the best price point for this particular customer,” Martinez explained. “The challenge is getting to that price point from a development standpoint, so that’s where we were able to really work hand-in-hand with both Japan and YMMC [in Newnan, Ga.], to get to that price point. That was one of the biggest feats with this model.”
Though some dealers were convinced of the Viking’s prospects immediately upon seeing the model, others learned through further information and sitting in the seat. The next-day seminars that followed the unveil and the head-to-head demos versus the Polaris Ranger went a long way in showing many dealers exactly what they’d be selling, reported Bob Starr, general manager, motorsports communications, Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A.
“There was some concern — Is the Viking going to have improved performance? — and they could see that immediately. They wanted to see comfort; they could see and feel that immediately. And they wanted to see handling and off-road capability. They could see all those,” Starr reported.
Yamaha expects the Viking to be a volume model, a point not missed by dealers like Creel, who have done well with the Rhino over the years. The Viking, which is being manufactured in Newnan, Ga., for worldwide distribution, will arrive in showrooms beginning in August. It’s available in Steel Blue, or with a sun top in Hunter Green, Red and Realtree AP HD camo. A Special Edition Tactical Black model is set to arrive in spring 2014.