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Sportsman ACE launched after heavy research

By Dave McMahon

Latest Polaris product aimed at bringing in new participants

The launch of the Sportsman ACE by Polaris in January was unique in a variety of ways. Foremost, the vehicle, best described as a single-seat side-by-side and geared at new entrants to the marketplace, set itself apart in terms of consumer insight during its run from paper to production.

“We probably did as much or more focus group research — understanding what we were trying to do with it — than probably any product we’ve ever developed,” Dave Longren, vice president of Off-Road Vehicles and chief technical officer at Polaris Industries, told Powersports Business shortly after the product’s launch. “You had the idea and concept that there might be something there. What we’re trying to do is listen to what people like or don’t like — why aren’t you riding? There are a lot of people in side-by-sides that if they had the opportunity, they don’t want to be riding as a passenger all the time — they want to drive. So you’re trying to figure all that out and you get a big headache putting together the puzzle that has all the things they want. We have to ask lots and lots of questions to get a grasp of it.”

Polaris launched the Sportsman ACE during its annual North American company-wide sales meeting, this year held in Austin, Texas. The event also included a webinar on the product to the dealer network, followed an hour later by a public unveil.

“It was a surprise to everyone that we had something coming,” Longren said.

The ACE was kept under wraps until its appropriate reveal.

“This one was maybe a little different because we had patents that were issued on the product about two years ago that showed the architecture,” Longren said. “They were issued sooner than we thought they would, but what was going on internally with the development never leaked at all. It’s challenging when you have to do all the development work, the testing and marketing, and in this case we were building production and getting ready for immediate ship. The risk was there but luckily it didn’t get out.”

With the global market also getting a simultaneous reveal of the ACE, interest and feedback were immediate upon the launch. Dealers were able to place orders as fast as they could get them in after the launch, and the ACE was expected to ship to dealers within a week. The launch of the RZR XP 1000 last year also featured nearly immediate product shipments to dealers.

The launch of the Sportsman ACE was global in stature, with vehicles on site at dealerships and events throughout the world on launch day in January. North American dealers first learned of the product via a webinar at the OEM’s sales meeting in Austin, Texas.

The launch of the Sportsman ACE was global in stature, with vehicles on site at dealerships and events throughout the world on launch day in January. North American dealers first learned of the product via a webinar at the OEM’s sales meeting in Austin, Texas.

“We’ve gotten into a cadence on the off-road side where when we introduce something, we want to have it available,” Longren said. “We like to have the product available and ready to go, just to meet the customer expectations on it.”

Polaris had the ACE on display around the world on launch day, at either trade shows or other events. The vehicle could be seen at Dakar Rally events in South America, and at key dealerships in Australia.

“It’s the first time we’ve been able to coordinate something like that and pull it off,” Longren said. “The ability to introduce the product globally is becoming more and more important to us, particularly with products that have more global reach as opposed to a regional niche reach.”

Longren never gets tired of launch day events for new products such as the Sportsman ACE.

“You have your own perception of what the market is, or the opportunity or the problem that you’re trying to solve, but you never know until you start to go broader with it whether you really got it right and whether or not people really get it,” Longren said. “The part to me that is the best is that we’re trying to create a new category of bringing new entrants in to allow them to enjoy off-road riding — either elderly people who can’t or people who want to do something different, or they want a smaller vehicle. The response we’ve gotten globally has exceeded my thoughts — they get it immediately. That’s been the cool part.”

Designers and engineers were met with the task of appeasing consumers who liked the size of the footprint of an ATV, the steering and foot controls of a car application of a side-by-side from a controllability and predictability standpoint, and the comfort of bucket seats vs. sit-on. The ease of ingress/egress, a key attribute for the older set, is one of the hallmarks of the ACE.

“Dealers view it very favorably in terms of getting people who currently aren’t buying into the market,” Longren said. “Maybe they go with this product and then later want to step up to a side-by-side. Guys that are die-hard ATV riders, that want to be rider active, they probably aren’t going to want this machine.”

The 32 horsepower ProStar engine and $7,499 pricetag are the two most important numbers that accompany the ACE.

“The power to weight ratio — we didn’t set it up to be super aggressive in acceleration. It’s very controllable, yet it has good power and decent speed. The engine is right for it. The right balance or combination of a vehicle that we’ve gotten really good at in the RZR world, the power-suspension-agility package — we’ve brought that back into this product. The opportunity is there and real. Putting a good vehicle that performs appropriately into that spot is going to grow the industry, which is good for everybody.”


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