March 13, 2006 – Dealers: Price point key to new Phazer

MINNEAPOLIS — An old favorite brought back to life by Yamaha produced something almost dead in the current snowmobile market — some enthusiasm.
The manufacturer recently announced it was bringing back the Phazer, a hit in the mid-1980s. The new Phazer, which includes four models in the 2007 lineup, was shown off Feb.5-6 in Minneapolis at a Yamaha dealer show.
“It’s going to be great for the entry-level” snowmobiler, said Randy Clark, owner of Leisure Time Sports in Torah, Wis. “And that was one of the biggest problems I think with Yamaha.
“We’re looking forward to it.”
Yamaha hopes the entry-level snowmobiler will say the same thing once they see the lightweight sleds, which feature a new two-cylinder 498cc four-stroke engine that produces 80 hp.
“What we really wanted to do was maintain a fun snowmobile,” said Greg Hillyer, Yamaha’s snowmobile technical coordinator, “which for snowmobilers the fun factor is related to the performance.”
Price point — $6,399 for the base Phazer — also was key for dealers.
“Now you have an inexpensive sled for trail riding,” said Don Krussow, part owner of two Minnesota dealerships and a longtime snowmobile instructor who has seen his class size reduce dramatically over the past three to four years. Much of the reduction in interest in snowmobiling, Krussow believes, can be traced to the high price of new sleds.
“The other problem is snowmobiles got so damn heavy,” he said, noting anybody with back problems could not lift sleds. “These are lighter. That’s going to be another factor. The weight factor.”
The price of the Phazer was brought up repeatedly by other dealers.
Lance Nordstrom, sales manager for Interlakes Sports Center in Madison, S.D., believes consumers who might have pursued the Ski-Doo Freestyle or a low-displacement Arctic Cat sled now will have to compare the Phazer and its design, which was derived somewhat from Yamaha’s YZ250 dirt bike.
“I think the younger generation is going to climb all over it,” said Brandon Bunker, one of Nordstrom’s colleagues at Interlakes Sports Center.
Not all the dealers were totally sold.
Jeff Gaddy, a sales manager from a Washington state dealership, saw positives in the Phazer, but wondered if the design was aggressive enough. He would have preferred the sled had more narrow skis and front-end, “something that you actually lean into the turn like a motorcycle.”
Another dealer did not think the price was low enough to stop the current buying trend — consumers opting to buy ATVs rather than snowmobiles. And, the dealer noted, consumers generally can afford to buy only one, rather than both machines.
But another dealer saw a simple reason for the potential benefit from the return of the Phazer.
“It’s the only thing in the industry right now that’s going to create some excitement,” said Brent Wiehr, a part owner of two Minnesota state dealerships. “You got to have something different” to perk up the snowmobile market.
Wiehr said he still did not expect dealers to order a large number of Phazers in the current market.
But “if they wouldn’t have brought this out, I don’t think you would have seen dealers hardly order anything,” he said. psb

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