by Steve Bauer
With the growing popularity of UTVs among consumers in recent years, more OEMs are faced with the question of how to incorporate increased UTV production into sometimes near-capacity facilities.
Many struggle to maintain a delicate balancing act. They must uphold a high level of quality and efficiency while at the same time attempting to keep production costs at a minimum while still manufacturing other vehicles in their various product lineups.
The decision to add an extra assembly line for only UTVs, set aside specific time for UTV-specific production or even move UTV production into a new facility depends largely on the specific OEM and their sales estimates and production capacities.
Adjusting to changing market environments
Russ Brenan, public relations supervisor for Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., says his company had to answer the following questions to determine whether a separate facility was a necessity to build its Teryx line:
n Is there enough capacity in the current manufacturing areas to meet demand (fabrication, welding, painting, assembly)?
n With the larger unit size, will the Teryx physically fit through the current manufacturing equipment?
n The Teryx frame is larger, with considerably more welds. Does the plant have enough welding space and equipment?
n Because the Teryx has more parts than an ATV, are the assembly lines long enough to allow for added parts storage and assembly time?
n What new manufacturing technology will be introduced with this product?
n What automation or other labor-saving ideas can be implemented with this product launch?
n If new assembly, welding or painting areas are needed, is there enough space in the current facility, or is there a need to add floor space?
n What future products are on the horizon and how will these products mesh with the production of Teryx and other current products?
n Does the Teryx have any special manufacturing requirements that need isolation from other vehicles or can they incorporate all products together?
Brenan says the company’s decision to create a Teryx facility in Lincoln, Neb., might have been completely different if those same questions were asked during the current economic crisis on Wall Street, for example.
“How Kawasaki Motors manufacturing builds the Teryx now might have been changed completely had we started building them two years earlier or two years later,” he said. “The nature of our market demand and product mix changes frequently. Flexibility is the key to competitive manufacturing in our industry.”
Brenan says a great example of that flexibility is the fact that the Teryx facility is able to produce other models as well.
“As business conditions change, the outcome of where and how we build a product can be completely different,” he said. “That’s why the Kawasaki Motors manufacturing facility where the Teryx is built, in addition to manufacturing the RUVs, also manufactures Kawasaki ATVs, Mule utility vehicles and Jet Ski PWC.”
One thing that is a constant within the company, however, is that the same decisions in terms of manufacturing are made for every new unit the company develops.
“This isn’t just an RUV-only decision,” he said. “The style of manufacturing for each of our products is determined by many factors and other recreational product manufacturers encounter the same issues. Again, it really all depends on the current market conditions at the time a product has been developed and ready for the assembly line.”
Polaris officials declined to elaborate on specifics regarding the costs associated with UTV specific facilities or other details of their UTV manufacturing process, including whether the company’s employees are trained to work on more than one type of model vehicle.
But Donna Beadle, Polaris’ external relations specialist for its ATV and Ranger lineup, says strong efforts have been made by the company to ensure that side-by-sides aren’t produced on the same assembly lines as other vehicles, thereby helping to increase efficiency on the production floor.
“We have separate lines for our side-by-sides so we don’t produce ATVs and side by-sides on the same line,” she said. “The Ranger RZR and RZR S models are manufactured in our Roseau, Minn., plant and our Ranger XP, 4x4, HD, 6x6 and Crew models are manufactured at our Spirit Lake facility.”
Beadle continues that the company uses each of its facilities to build other types of vehicles as well.
“We don’t have a UTV-specific facility,” she said. “Roseau also builds snowmobiles and ATVs and Spirit Lake builds Victory Motorcycles as well.”