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No more dirt for Arctic Cat

By Liz Keener

TSV reveals Textron Off Road will be dirt brand, while Arctic Cat will be snow only

When dealers, media and Textron employees walked into the Alliance Aviation Services hangar that would serve host to an April event, they had to walk around — or under the tail boom of — a Bell Helicopter. 

Past the chopper and into the hangar, on display were Arctic Cat snowmobiles, ATVs and side-by-sides; Textron Off Road Stampede side-by-sides; stock and accessorized E-Z-GO personal transportation vehicles and — opposite the helicopter — a Textron AirLand Scorpion, a jet aircraft designed to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Mouths were agape as dealers walked in and began exploring the aircraft and powersports vehicles. 

Textron Specialized Vehicles (TSV) invited about 50 dealers who currently carry Textron or Arctic Cat products, half-a-dozen members of the media and a large contingent of its staff to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to learn more about the merger of TSV and Arctic Cat, following Textron’s March 6 acquisition of Arctic Cat. The event was also streamed live to a couple hundred dealers, as well as TSV employees in Thief River Falls and St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Augusta, Georgia. 

John Collins, vice president — Consumer for TSV, introduces Textron Off Road’s yet-to-be-named side-by-side that will be released this fall.

Textron Off Road ORVs

The biggest announcement to come out of the event was that Textron Off Road will now be the name of all dirt products, while the Arctic Cat brand will remain only on snow vehicles. 

The decision was made only after thorough research, explained John Collins, vice president — Consumer for TSV. He told the audience in attendance, “I think it’s important that you know we didn’t take lightly the decision that we were going to move our dirt product away from the Arctic Cat brand to the Textron Off Road brand. This was a decision that was born from very extensive conversations.”

TSV’s consumer research showed that 74 percent of competitive side-by-side and ATV owners said they would be more likely to consider purchasing products like Alterra, Prowler and Wildcat, if they became a part of Textron Off Road. Those polled also said they have an extremely or somewhat favorable opinion of the Alterra sub-brand; 85 percent said the same about Prowler, and 92 percent view Wildcat extremely or somewhat favorably. Armed with that information, Textron Off Road is retaining each of those sub-brand names. 

The decision to take the Arctic Cat brand out of the dirt segment has come with mixed reaction, Collins admitted to Powersports Business. “I’d be lying to you, if I didn’t tell you that we see a tremendous amount of passion for Arctic Cat, and there are dealers that say, ‘For god’s sake, keep the Arctic Cat brand on every vehicle that you produce.’ But there are an equal number of dealers that say, ‘I get it. I get that there’s a broader value proposition here, a level of technical expertise that Textron can bring.’ 

“Outside of the Snowbelt, it is universal that the brand to lead with is Textron Off Road. We have spent money studying this, studying consumers, studying dealers, and what we’ve learned is if you can get a customer or a dealer aware of who Textron is, that consumer is far more likely to buy a Wildcat, Prowler, Alterra, Stampede under the Textron name than they are under the Arctic Cat name. And it is almost exclusively true in warmer weather climates, but it is also true in the colder weather climates.”

Tommy Bryant of Tommy B’s Custom Carts in Veedersburg, Indiana, was happy to learn about the merging of the dirt products under one brand. “I like that everything’s coming over on the dirt side as Textron. … That’s been my biggest concern, how is everything going to fit together. I like it. I think it’s going to be a very good thing.”

Bryant currently sells Textron Off Road’s Stampede side-by-sides, as well as personal transportation vehicles from TSV’s E-Z-GO brand.

Arctic Cat dealer Glen Hubbard of Hubbard ATV in Russellville, Arkansas, was a little hesitant, but still receptive to the news. “Obviously, when you bleed green and you’ve been with it a long time, it makes you nervous, but they are moving forward. It’s pretty obvious we’re going to move forward, and they’ve done a lot, put a lot of thought into it, so we’re just going to get on board with it,” he said. “We have tried for a really long time to get the Arctic Cat name out there. Now we’re going to be switching gears. We just have to move forward.”

The Textron Off Road Wildcat XX is expected to launch in the spring of 2018.

Inventory issues

Collins assured Arctic Cat dealers that TSV has plans in place to help them move excess inventory before taking on any new vehicles. 

To that end, Arctic Cat introduced the No Brainer Sales Event in early April. Through the program, customers who purchase a new 2015-16 Arctic Cat ATV are eligible for financing as low as 0 percent for 60 months, or up to $5,700 in savings, or those buyers can get up to $5,700 in savings and financing as low as 3.9 percent for 60 months or 4.9 percent for 72 months at participating dealerships. In addition, new 2017 models are available for financing as low as 3.9 percent for 60 months, or 4.9 percent for 72 months, along with a rebate up to $1,000. The No Brainer Sales Event runs through June 30. 

In the first two weeks after the launch of the No Brainer, retail sell-through was up 40 percent nationally. Collins said, “This is a little bit of us putting our money where our mouth is. What we’re committed to is a healthy dealer channel. An unhealthy dealer channel doesn’t help the OEM, doesn’t help the dealer. We understand that a lot of these are small businesses, and they don’t need to be choked with amounts of inventory that they can’t sell. So we have absolutely put our best foot forward here, and the No Brainer is an industry-leading rebate program.”

He added, “At the same time, our expectation is not that dealers bleed us down and don’t continue to invest in Arctic Cat and Textron Off Road. We believe that through the product portfolio that Textron Off Road has — to include the Stampede, the E-Z-GO value proposition that most Arctic Cat dealers don’t have — we can put products on the floor that don’t have to sit two years before being sold. Our expectation is to take our medicine now, flush this inventory and backfill it with better, more competitive products.”

Brand transition

While the plan with the No Brainer Sales Event is to clear dealer inventories for new product, the program will also help Textron Off Road move the Arctic Cat-branded ATVs and side-by-sides out of dealerships. 

There are no plans to rebadge current inventory, but all dirt vehicles coming out of the factories from now on will include the Textron Off Road branding and logo. “For a period of time, Arctic Cat dirt products and Textron Off Road products will live together. And they’re going to point to each other, so when you go to Textron Off Road’s website, it will point to the Arctic Cat website; when you go to Arctic Cat’s website, it will point to Textron Off Road. You’ll see the same thing socially,” Collins explained. “We’re not going through a massive exercise right now to go rebrand every side-by-side and ATV, but as we launch new products — and we have a very aggressive plan around new products — new products will be launched under the Textron Off Road brand.”

TSV announced two of those new products at the Dallas-Fort Worth event. The Wildcat XX — the first vehicle that will be released as a direct result of the merger — will feature a 125-hp Triple 998 engine, 17.5 inches of front and rear suspension travel, King Shocks, KMC 15-inch wheels, 30-inch tires, full doors and a race-inspired ROPS. Arctic Cat originally announced that the Wildcat XX would be made available in the fall of this year, however, Textron Off Road wants more time to perfect the model, reported Collins. Textron Off Road is aiming for a spring 2018 debut, though the release could come earlier, if the model is ready before then.

Textron Off Road will also be revealing a yet-to-be-named 100-plus horsepower side-by-side with class-leading suspension and an extended cab this fall. That vehicle was in development by Textron before the Arctic Cat acquisition.

Kevin Holleran, president and CEO of Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc., led off the presentation.

All brands under one roof

Textron executives also shared the Textron company story, and talked about what a combination of Textron Off Road ORVs, Arctic Cat snow products and E-Z-GO personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) will bring to dealers. 

“I want to introduce each of you to the very unique value proposition that comes with each of the different products and brands that we carry, and at the end of the day, my expectation is that you’ll see this, and you’ll say, ‘You know what, I get it. It attracts a different customer; it brings a different level of profitability to my business, and I understand this opportunity that I’m being presented with today,’” Collins said at the beginning of his presentation. 

He told dealers about the 14-vehicle E-Z-GO PTV lineup, which sells well in areas with lakes, campgrounds, cabins, RV parks, beaches, or close-knit communities. Collins also talked to dealers about the two- and four-passenger Stampede side-by-sides, which he said fit well within Arctic Cat’s current ORV lineup as a competitor to Polaris’ Ranger XP 900 and 1000. 

Erik Nelson, vice president and general manger of Snow and International for TSV, then shared the Arctic Cat snow brand with those in attendance. Dealers seemed intrigued by what TSV is offering in terms of a diversified lineup.

In Indiana, Bryant is looking forward to adding Textron-backed ORVs that previously lived under the Arctic Cat brand. “I do like Arctic Cat vehicles. I’ve always been interested in them. I have been for a few years. They’ve always seemed to be underpowered, but they’ve had great suspension,” he said. 

Jason Clement, a top Arctic Cat ORV and snowmobile dealer in his district, is excited to add E-Z-GO PTVs at Mega Powersports in Gaylord, Michigan. “I think there’s definitely a market for what they’re talking about. I think there’s definitely some holes there. We live in a community that has tons of lakes, and I think that the golf cart segment would be great to add on, and I like some of the ideas that they’ve got with the side-by-sides, too, that are a little bit different that what we have now, too. So I think it will be a really good piece.”

He added, “We’ve done some off-lease golf carts before. We bought fleets of used carts, and, as an example, we’ll have a basic golf cart out there, and then we’ll have an accessorized golf cart that’s lifted with cool wheels, and it’s painted. So it goes right along the lines with what the guys were talking about on stage, where they said, ‘You aren’t going to sell the basic golf cart.’ It’s like everybody comes in, and they want to make it their own. And we’ve seen the same thing, but we’ve mainly done used golf carts in the past, so we’re excited to try and do the same thing with new.”

Hubbard said he’s just starting to look into E-Z-GO PTVs but is interested in the prospect. “You do see a lot of them running around, people using them in all kinds of areas. And they’re quiet, and there’s a different clientele that might want them, and we might as well be getting our money, also, by going with them.”

Looking ahead

As Textron Specialized Vehicles moves forward following the Arctic Cat acquisition, the company plans to continue to share the Textron story and the company’s expertise across Bell Helicopters, Cessna, Beechcraft, Jacobsen, Textron Marine & Land Systems and more than a half-dozen other brands. 

To move its powersports business forward, TSV has launched a national ad buy for the No Brainer Sales Event, focusing most of the promotion in regions where there is a lot of excess inventory or where dealers are able to move product quickly. The company is also offering spiffs for individual salespeople and dealerships to sell through the Arctic Cat product. 

In addition, TSV plans to invest in Arctic Cat’s facilities in St. Cloud and Thief River Falls, Minnesota. 

“We’re committed to winning. We don’t play for second place,” Collins said. 

 

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