SVR recently interviewed Jeff Salamon, Director of Marketing at MTD Products, Inc. the manufacturer of the Cub Cadet brand of products including utility vehicles. We discussed Cub Cadet’s new Challenger series of utility vehicles, as well as how they relate to their existing Volunteer product line of UTVs.
1. To potential utility vehicle buyers out there with many options in a really competitive market, what would you say are the main reasons to choose one of the Cub Cadet Challenger vehicles? What makes them stand out?
Well I think that there are several. One is the Cub Cadet brand and what it stands for. It is committed to strength, quality, and taking care of the owner experience. The brand has been in the market for over 50 years. The commitment to utility vehicles has been demonstrated over ten years in that space and it is committed to grow. The dealer network in the United States is important. That’s another reason. Cub Cadet dealer network is well trained, staffed with experts, staffed with parts and service departments and skills and product. There is inventory of product but also parts. Cub Cadet also has online parts ordering 24/7. And speaking of the product itself, it is a proven product. It has one of the most valuable standard options packages available on the market including alloy wheels, a roof, a windshield, they come standard with a front winch. Cub Cadet has looked at points along the machine and reinforced key areas that insure extended durability such as dual row wheel bearings and high strength reinforced frame. And the company continues to look at where and how consumers are using it and where we can add value to it. So it is constantly being looked at how it is satisfying owners.
2. What are the primary end users and applications do you see for the Challenger 500? The 700?
The focus on this is really versatility to take on a variety of tasks including off-road trails, so a blend of task and some enjoyment. We like to say that it’s for people who want more for their money and want that versatility and want to enjoy what they are doing. So it may be work but it is enjoyable. So we look at consumers. We look primarily at residential, large property owners and those who enjoy getting out in the great outdoors as well.
3. To potential buyers familiar with Cub Cadet’s Volunteer series of utility vehicles how would compare and contrast the Challenger series?
The Volunteer is a heavy-duty, dedicated utility vehicle. You can certainly take it out and have fun with it off-road. It is built with a capacity of 1,000 lb. payload, it has really been designed from the ground up for work but it is certainly not limited, as anyone would say, as a utility vehicle. You can put a whole days work in on it and still have an enjoyable time riding on your property or wherever. Whereas we say work and off-road for the Volunteer we say task and off-road trail for the Challenger. It has a 350 lb bed capacity, which is a lot of weight but it is a smaller bed then the Volunteer. So if you look at it as a continuum, on one end you have the Volunteer and on the other end you might have the pure sport/recreation utility vehicles. The Challenger is in the middle of that scale whereas the Volunteer at the work end of the scale. They all can do a little bit of work and they can all be enjoyable as well.
4. How would you describe the key differences between the 500 and 700? The 500 has a smaller engine. Is there anything else? Is there a different type of buyer it is appealing to?
The engine displacement is primary and price. So the price is probably a key component when somebody looks at the 500 versus the 700. It is a one thousand dollar price difference with a 500cc engine; 471cc’s to be precise. But those are the two primary differences. But from an application standpoint, if one is taking on some elevation changes, rough conditions, need a lot of pulling capacity and torque they would gravitate to the 700. If one has property and lets say they have several acres and are moving food and grain and other contents and it is a matter of carrying that type of load on a benign environment, where you are not going up a mountain or something, then the 500 is perfectly suitable for that. We took out the 700, as an example, to test it out in Moab four weeks ago at the Rally on the Rocks, and we road it for a week with a lot of other manufacturers. We were going up some extreme conditions. And one would want the 700 when you are going up a close to vertical face of rock with two people in the vehicle. I mean that is an extreme example but it certainly carried its own. I would imagine the 500 would too, but we took out the 700 for that very reason.
5. How did it do?
Fantastic! No problems at all. Not one problem whatsoever. The only dink we had is I was running on a pretty sharp drop off along a thing called Porcupine Ridge and my front suspension nailed a rock but all that happened was a tiny protective polymer piece we have chipped. And that was it. No structural damage for the whole week and we rode them every single day on these trails.
6. That sounds like tough work.
Oh it really was, and we were being filmed by a couple of magazines out there. The photographer said I want you to go up that rock face. And I said I don’t really want to go up that rock face. The machine might be able to do it under somebody else’s ability but me personally I did not want to do that. It was frightening. I know some people who would do it. The machine wasn’t the limitation, I was. But I climbed it up to a point I was comfortable and then said ‘OK, that’s enough” and put it in reverse.
7. So are these vehicles more for consumer or commercial buyers. How do you see the split between consumers and commercial?
I would say the Challenge and the Volunteer could be used in both commercial and residential applications. Having said that the Challenger is more suited for large area property owners because of its speed primarily. A lot of commercial users would like to have a machine, like the Volunteer, that has a 1,000 lb. capacity and a top speed of 25mph. They would prefer that, generally speaking. Whereas a consumer, may very well want that too for their property or what their doing, however we know that a lot of consumers aren’t limited to a staff of people using the vehicle and the concerns about that as much, so they would rather see something that goes 50 mph and still have some payload so they would gravitate to something like the Challenger and then you bring in the price point and that makes some sense for the consumer.
8. With price points below $10,000 and a lot of standard features clearly you are targeting the value-oriented buyer?
Well I think in the new normal, in the economy people are looking for quality and value for what they spend, and not to be equated with something that is low end. The price point can certainly be had out there but when you start to add in what we provide in terms what people want and they don’t have to go out and buy it. They [the Challengers] come stock with these great alloy wheels with large off-road tires, a windshield, it comes with turn signals, it comes with a hand brake, it comes with a horn, it comes with a winch, you don’t have to go out and buy that. So when somebody looks at that and says this is a heck of a valuable proposition and its backed by a great brand. So I think when someone says value, I think we are all looking for a good value; we shouldn’t equate it with low end.
9. When I think of where this is in the market, and maybe you can just respond to this, compared to some of the powersports brands like Honda or Yamaha, you guys are priced a little bit lower in a space, where companies like Kymco or CFMOTO may have found some success, an area associated with imported vehicles. You are in a similar price point but you have more of an established American brand. Is that a good description of where you might see yourself in the market?
Yes, if I’m hearing you correctly. Our position is really when one looks at the products out there that are similarly equipped or priced. What’s the difference between this unit and them? You’ve got the brand, a company behind them, a parts distribution that is state of the art, a dealer network that is expansive and trained. And that versus some of those other brands at the same price point is a big differentiator. On the other end of the proposition there, when you compare it to some of these other brands that are established whether they are sold through the power equipment channel or the powersports channel, the dealer network, the training, commitment to parts and service, quality and reputation is similar but in that case the differentiator is what comes as standard equipment and at what price. That is a differentiator on that side so we are in the middle. We can compete on both sides with this machine with those valuable assets we bring to the table.
10. What has been the response to the Challenger vehicles in the market to date from consumers and dealers?
Really positive. Very positive. I monitor social media and I get feedback from dealers that tell us how it’s being received in the market. And we just launched this in May, we are talking about a month now, a little bit over a month and we are pretty pleased with how it has been received.
11. In conjunction with the launch of the Challenger has Cub Cadet expanded their dealer network?
Where there are markets that are open for Cub Cadet, we are ready to look at qualified dealers. If the UV is attracting a quality dealer that is committed to service, and their customers and their community absolutely we would be happy to talk to them and expand into that area. With so many power equipment vehicles and products that Cub Cadet brings to market, there are a lot of reasons why a dealer may want to bring Cub Cadet in to take care of their customers in the community that they live in whether it is a UV or a state of the art zero-turn. We are always open. We see it building interest for dealers to represent the Cub Cadet line, and we are always open to that.
12. Cub Cadet is also planning on launching a crew version, when will that be in dealerships?
That will be in the market by next year.
13. Is that going to be a crew version based on the 700?
It will be a 750.
14. And will that seat four or five or more?
It will seat four.
15. Is there any other Challenger variations or models on the drawing board that you can disclose?
Well that’s an interesting question. I’ll say stay tuned on what else is coming from Cub Cadet. I’ll leave it at that.
16. In general, given how competitive the market is with many manufacturers putting out new vehicles every year, is that the product development timetable that Cub Cadet is looking at in the future, assuming the Challenger has some success in the market?
I will say that the market will see a level of innovation and product development in the UTV category from Cub Cadet unlike what they’ve seen in the past. In other words, I think people will see an increase in product development and innovation moving forward from Cub Cadet rather than have a formula that says every year for the next 30 years is going to be new product out there. We have plans on the space that will satisfy the customers that our dealers are satisfying in their communities and that’s how will move forward with the product development and innovation and not necessarily on a quantity of product but a quality and development of product. Somewhere between the quantity and quality you will see a mix from Cub Cadet
17. What about accessories and attachment and things like that? Would you say there is going to be renewed push in that area? I know other manufacturers have put some emphasis in that area. They find it pretty profitable area and it is good for the dealers.
Sure and if one goes to our website they can see the accessories and attachments for the vehicles. The same commitment and level of quality assurance we have in place for our vehicles we are also dedicating to our attachments and we are currently in the process of developing those. And those will be introduced as they pass our testing and quality assurance.
18. You mentioned one point about online parts ordering? What’s the turn around on parts typically. If I’m a consumer and I need a part, how does it work with in conjunction with the dealer network?
There are options on shipping, what makes most sense. They have options; if they need something right away they have an option to expedite. As far as dealers are concerned we work closely with our dealers. You can go to our dealers or you can go online. We do all we can to support their business but sometimes people want to go direct and get it shipped to them and that is fine too. Also if one orders over $75 we have free shipping. There are certainly some exclusions of course but not many. So your order over $75 comes to you without freight.
19. I would imagine ordering parts and accessories would often require a dealer’s help?
Yes, and our business does not cut out dealers and their help. We are very conscientious of making sure that our dealers find Cub Cadet to be one of their greatest brands in their store if not exclusively, certainly an important one, and that’s why we have been able to maintain well over a thousand different independent dealers throughout the US.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about Cub Cadet’s utility vehicles and good luck with the new Challenger series.
If you are interested in finding out more about Cub Cadet’s utility vehicles you can find them in the SVR database
or visit Cub Cadet’s website