Mower company enters market with Maximum Duty Vehicle (MDV)
“How do you enter a cut-throat market with a me-too product?”
That was the question that Excel Industries considered for years prior to determining that its debut vehicle in the utility vehicle market would be the only one of its kind.
So it was not surprising to see the excitement running through the company’s factory in Hesston, Kansas, in April when the company revealed its Maximum Duty Vehicle, powered by a 1028cc, Kohler Diesel engine. And while the standard bed model brings a $14,999 MSRP, the hook is the LeveLift bed technology option, which will be offered for $19,999. Hustler’s current zero-turn mower dealers are ordering the MDV with LeveLift feature at rate of about 80 percent, company officials said. Both models are powered by a 1028cc, 23 hp Kohler Diesel engine.
Hustler — inventor of the zero-turn mower in 1964 — had its sights set on taking the UTV market by storm, and did so in methodical fashion. The idea for the machine was born more than 10 years ago, when the company’s CEO was looking for a solution. He had been using a people-mover — a golf cart — to haul his trash a quarter of a mile to the curb of his property. He knew there must be a better way to transport bulky items.
After the first of a handful of prototypes was built in 2009, by 2012 the vehicle’s design was decided upon. A patent for the LeveLift Bed Technology was secured by 2014. The company found a vehicle platform partner in AUSA, a commercial vehicle manufacturer based in Barcelona, Spain. AUSA was in search of a presence in the U.S., home of the largest UTV marketplace in the world.
“It took longer than we had hoped, but this was needed in the utility vehicle market,” said Paul Mullett, president and CEO of Excel Industries. “No one has anything like it.”
Adam Mullet, vice president of sales and marketing, noted that the relationship with AUSA eliminated the need for Hustler to design the machine from the ground up, which expedited the company’s production plans. The LeveLift bed technology places the vehicle in a one-of-a-kind category in the UTV space. Once loaded, LeveLift brings the cargo box back up and into position on the MDV. The UTV has the ability to lift, lower and dump its cargo at any point along its arc of motion.
With a top speed of 37 mph and a load capacity of 1,685 pounds in the standard model, the MDV’s target buyers include farmers and ranchers, university facilities managers, municipality workers, parks and recreation employees and people on industrial campuses. A floating rear axle, rather than independent suspension, is just one feature that allows for an impressive ride while also handling the load with ease. In other words, if there’s work to be done, the MDV can remedy plenty of potential headaches.
“We’re going after the work segment,” Adam Mullet said. “This is not a vehicle to go out on the sand dunes. This is vehicle for fixed-base operations, municipalities, farm, ag. Anybody that’s actually doing work. We’re not going trail climbing in the mountains with this machine. We went for a tough, military-style look, not this sporty look like it’s going 80 mph.”
There’s plenty to like about the MDV. As Bruce Cooper, director of dealer channel sales, noted, it offers a way for the aging farmer or rancher to get back into action on the land and use the LeveLift to assist with moving weighty products that he might not be move otherwise.
It also offers a labor-savings for potential commercial buyers, turning two-man jobs into solo jobs by removing the need to have to have two people do heavy lifting up and into a cargo box. The bed will lift 750 pounds of product off the ground.
Some Hustler dealers already had product in their showroom during the media launch, which attracted dozens of local dignitaries. The initial production run will be about 10 units per day coming out of the Hesston facility, located just north of Wichita. In its current configuration, the factory could produce up to 6,000 MDVs per year. Paul Mullet noted that the new assembly line will add more than 40 jobs to the factory lineup, in addition to dozens of new jobs its supplier partners throughout the state.
Hustler created the assembly space alongside its BigDog lawn mower line by shifting parts to its 650,000-square-foot warehouse in Kansas City.
“We used to keep several weeks’ worth of parts supply here, but we have that down to three days,” Adam Mullet said. “So that freed up most of this space. We have trucks running to KC every day bringing parts down. And we don’t keep any finished inventory here anymore. When it comes off the line, it goes straight on a truck to Kansas City.”
Hustler’s network of more than 2,200 U.S. dealers first viewed the MDV at their fall 2016 dealer meeting.