Hustler Turf Enters UTV Market with LEVELIFT™ Bed Technology

Hustler Turf MDF LevelLift

The new Hustler Turf MDF LevelLift utility vehicle features a patented bed technology and diesel engine.

The new Hustler Turf MDV utility vehicle.

Hustler Turf, a manufacturer of zero-turn mowers, is entering the utility vehicle market with two models, including one with their patented LevelLift bed technology. LevelLift allows the bed to be lowered to the ground or raised back up for easier loading/unloading of material. The bed can lift up to 750 lbs and can dump material from any point in its arc of motion.

The two models being offered by Hustler Turf are the MDV and MDV LevelLift. MDV stands for Maximum Duty Vehicle and as the words suggest the vehicles are designed for heavy-duty applications on ranches or farms, parks, campuses and industrial locations. Some of the key features common to both models include:

  • Kohler, 1038cc, 23.4 hp diesel engine
  • 2WD/AWD
  • 37 mph top speed
  • Independent front suspension with flex swing arm
  • Floating rear axle
  • 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes
  • 25″ wheels
  • 1,650 lb. towing capacity
  • 8″ of ground clearance
  • Power steering

The most significant difference between the two models is that the MDV has a 1,200 lb. cargo box capacity and the MDV LevelLift has the bed technology with a 750 lb. cargo box capacity. The manufacturer’s website does not list any MSRPs for the models but I found vehicle pricing on an Internet listing the MDV MSRP at $15,999 and the MDV LevelLift MSRP at $20,999.

Hustler Turf adds to the list of power and farm equipment manufacturers that have been updating or starting utility vehicle lines over the last several years. While some like Cub Cadet are offering  value priced vehicles with a nice package of features and others are offering utility vehicles to fill out their stable of products, Hustler Turf is providing a vehicle with a unique technology. The significant price premium for the technology in the MDV LevelLift model suggest that it will probably have a relatively limited market appeal. However, it may prove highly useful for specific applications. This is in line with recent trends in the commercial UTV market, where manufacturers are offering pre-configured vehicles or special option packages designed for specific end-use applications.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

 

Polaris Reports Q1 2017 Earnings

The General product line with models like the General 1000 EPS Hunter Edition in Polaris Pursuit Camo was a bright spot in Polaris’ Off-Road Vehicle business.

Polaris Industries reported adjusted sales of $1,158.9 for Q1 2017, an 18% increase from q1 2016. Management reported gains in the Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) business, large gains from Global Adjacent Markets and increased revenue from the recent TAP acquisition. In the ORV business Ranger and General product lines improved while the RZR line was down as expected. The side-by-side market continues to be highly competitive with elevated promotional costs. Management reported market share gains for Polaris ATVs. In the Global Adjacent Markets Aixam Mega was strong as well as the government defense business which helped increase revenue by 24%.

The following are highlights from the earnings call related to STOV markets. Figures are in comparison to Q1 2016 unless noted.

  • ORV retail sales were down 5% for the quarter.
  • ORV promotions were key as well as a targeted marketing campaign which showed results in March.
  • RFM inventory management system will be expanded for side-by-sides later this year.
  • Management reports an improved process for quickly tracking and identifying vehicle issues that will improve product safety and recall response.
  • Management did not change full year guidance for the ORV business and expects promotional costs to remain elevated and on par with 2016 levels.
  • ORV promotions are being matched by competitors.
  • Taylor-Dunn added to the significant increase in Global Adjacent Markets revenue.
  • Management expects RFM and a revamped marketing organization to create a more customer focused organization and improve sales.
  • ORV retail sales for the year are expected to be down slightly.
  • The ORV industry is expected to be flat to down for the year and was down mid-single digits in Q1 2017.
  • Continued poor performance in the oil and gas regions and the agriculture market are hurting sales.
  • The Multix launch was underwhelming, and a rapidly changing regulatory framework related to safety requirements and emission standards may provide significant obstacles.

Learn more:  Seekingalpha.com (Earnings call transcript)

 

Another Large Ranger Recall From Polaris

2015 Polaris Ranger Crew 900 Sage Green

The 2015 Ranger Crew 900 Sage Green is part of another large Polaris recall.

Polaris 2015 Ranger XP 900 EPS Hunter Deluxe Edition

The Ranger XP 900 EPS Hunter Deluxe Edition is included as well.

Polaris 2015 Ranger 900 XP Solar Red

The wide-ranging recall includes all model year 2015 Polaris Ranger XP 900, XP 900 EPS, and CREW 900 like the Ranger 900 XP Solar Red.

Despite extensive efforts to address recall problems, Polaris announced another large recall of Ranger vehicles. Approximately 51,000 model year 2015 Ranger XP 900 and Ranger Crew utility vehicles are being recalled because “…the heat shield can fall off the vehicle, posing fire and burn hazards…”. The recall also includes about 1,500 2017 Sportsman ATVs that have been sold. Vehicle owners should stop using the vehicles and contact their local dealer for a free repair. (Full recall details follow at the end of the post.)

One question with all these recall is what impact are they having on the company’s sales. Management has reported losing market share in recent quarterly earnings calls, and a chunk of that is likely to Can-Am, which has had successful introductions of their Maverick X3 models in the sport segment and their Defender models targeting the more utility/work oriented segment. The recalls have been so large and persistent and stretching over such a long period of time that one would have to assume some damage to the Polaris brand, even though Polaris management appears to be reacting relatively quickly to the overall recall issue. Management reports making high level personnel hires, bringing in other personnel with specific engineering expertise, developing new processes and spending significant financial resources to address the issue. This latest recall came as a result of their new process to more quickly track post-sales issues.

Besides affecting the brand and sales directly, these recalls may indicate a more deep-seated problem with the company’s product development process. Some of these recalls are the result of underlying engineering and design issues. How did these issues survive their product development process? Addressing this issue is arguably the most critical.

One of Polaris’ advantages on their way to a dominant position in the off-road vehicle market has been their ability to quickly and regularly produce new vehicle models. What CEO Scott Wine likes to refer to as their “armada” of vehicles provides Polaris with an extensive lineup of vehicles to cover a wide range of market sub-segments, end-use applications and price points. This has enabled Polaris to better meet specific customer needs with more tailored vehicles than their competitors.

The ability to innovate and quickly bring new vehicles to market is even more important now as competition in the side-by-side market has elevated in the past 2-3 years. A host of OEMs are now producing more vehicles, more quickly and attacking a wider range of market sub-segments. This translates into greater head-to-head feature and pricing competition between individual vehicle models. If a weakness is revealed in a product lineup then it needs to be quickly remedied with a new model or variation of an existing model or that OEM risks losing sales on an ongoing basis. Therefore, the vehicle product development process is critical to success and Polaris will need to fix any underlying problems in their process.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

The following recall details are from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Recall Details

Units:  About 51,000

Description: This recall involves all model year 2015 Polaris Ranger XP 900, XP 900 EPS, and CREW 900 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs). The recalled ROVs were sold in a variety of colors and have either three or six seats and a rear box. “Ranger” is printed on the rear box, and “900” is printed on the hood of the ROVs. All 2015 Ranger 900 models and vehicle identification numbers (VINs) are included in this recall. The VIN is printed on the frame on the driver’s side towards the rear of the vehicle. To check for recalled vehicles by VIN, visit www.polaris.com.

Model Year Model Number Model
2015 R15RTA87AA RANGER 900 XP SAGE GREEN
2015 R15RTA87AR RANGER 900 XP SOLAR RED
2015 R15RTA87AC RANGER XP 900 POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO
2015 R15RTE87AA RANGER XP 900 EPS SAGE GREEN
2015 R15RTE87AR RANGER XP 900 EPS SOLAR RED
2015 R15RUA87AA RANGER CREW 900 SAGE GREEN
2015 R15RUA87AR RANGER CREW 900 SOLAR RED
2015 R15RUY87AA RANGER CREW 900-6 SAGE GREEN
2015 R15RTE87AK RANGER XP 900 EPS BLACK PEARL
2015

2015

R15RTE87AM RANGER XP 900 EPS SUPER STEEL GRAY
2015 R15RTE87AS RANGER XP 900 EPS SUNSET RED
2015 R15RTE87AW RANGER XP 900 EPS WHITE LIGHTNING
2015 R15RTE87AX RANGER XP 900 EPS SANDSTONE METALLIC
2015 R15RTE87AZ RANGER XP 900 EPS SUNSET RED SILVER
2015 R15RTE87AB RANGER XP 900 EPS HUNTER EDITION
2015 R15RUE87AC RANGER CREW 900 EPS POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO
2015 R15RUE87AM RANGER CREW 900 EPS SUPER STEEL GRAY
2015 R15RUE87AS RANGER CREW 900 EPS SUNSET RED
2015 R15RUE87AW RANGER CREW 900 EPS WHITE LIGHTNING
2015 R15RUZ87AC RANGER CREW 900-6 EPS POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO
2015 R15RUZ87AS RANGER CREW 900-6 EPS SUNSET RED
2015 R15RUZ87AW RANGER CREW 900-6 EPS WHITE LIGHTNING
2015 R15RTE87AV RANGER XP 900 EPS VOGUE SILVER DELUXE
2015 R15RTE87A5 RANGER XP 900 EPS HUNTER DELUXE EDITION
2015 R15RTE87A2 RANGER XP 900 EPS NORTHSTAR DELUXE EDITION

Incidents/Injuries:  Polaris has received 13 incident reports involving the recalled ROVs, including five reports of fires. No injuries have been reported.

Remedy:  Consumer should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Sold At:  Polaris dealers nationwide from April 2014 through March 2017 for between $13,400 and $21,300.

Manufacturer(s):  Polaris Industries Inc., of Medina, Minn.

Importer(s):  Polaris Industries Inc., of Medina, Minn.

Manufactured In:  U.S. and Mexico

Learn more:  CPSC.gov

Bad Boy Off Road Rebranded Textron Off Road

Vehicles like the gas powered Stampede 900 will now be sold under the Textron Off Road brand instead of Bad Boy Off Road.

Textron Specialized Vehicles recently announced the rebranding of their Bad Boy Off Road brand of vehicles to Textron Off Road. The rebranding is designed to take advantage of Textron’s association with strong engineering and manufacturing through their long established brands in aerospace, defense and automotive such as Bell Helicopter, Cessna, Beechcraft, Lycoming and Cushman.

The Textron Off Road brand of side-by-sides currently features the gas powered Stampede and Stampede XTR, the all-electric Recoil, Recoil iS and Recoil iS Crew and the hybrid Ambush iS.

“We are changing our brand from Bad Boy Off Road to Textron Off Road to better reflect the detailed design, precision engineering, manufacturing expertise and high performance for which Textron is known, across a number of major industries,” said John Collins, vice president, consumer for Textron Specialized Vehicles. “Our new name is more indicative of the level of performance, quality and innovation that we build into our side-by-sides, and demonstrates how serious Textron is about its future in the powersports market.”

The rebranding makes sense for Textron for a number of reasons. The Bad Boy name is fairly well known in the hunting segment of the utility vehicle market, but this is more of a niche market, and before being acquired in 2010 by Textron there were some quality issues associated with the brand. In 2016 Textron rebranded Bad Boy Buggies to Bad Boy Off Road so there has not been a lot of time to build brand value, and thus not as much to lose in rebranding at this time. While the Textron brand may not be as well known in the utility vehicle market, the company’s collection of more well known manufacturing brands generates higher brand awareness in general. In addition, utility vehicles from Cushman and E-Z-GO fall under the Textron umbrella and certainly are known in commercial UTV segments and, by association, Textron has some awareness there as well.

A bigger question than whether rebranding is good for business, is how the Textron Off Road product lines integrate with recently acquired Arctic Cat products. While their distribution networks are more likely complimentary than duplicative, the question is how their individual vehicles fit together. Textron Off Road’s electric UTVs are a nice compliment to Arctic Cat’s gas powered vehicles, but how does their Stampede line of UTVs fit with Arctic Cat’s Prowler, HDX and Wild Cat vehicles.

If you look at a comparison between the Stampede 900 EPS, Arctic Cat HDX 700 XT EPS and the Arctic Cat Prowler 1000 XT EPS, they have similar price points and features and specifications. One could imagine the Stampede line could be turned into more of a value-oriented brand with lower price points. Value UTVs have become a competitive segment of the market as better quality imported brands and lower priced offerings from established brands target value consumers. However, Stampede’s initial marketing campaigns have been aiming higher than value-oriented customers. Another option might be to target specific market sub-segments, perhaps, in conjunction with geographic targeting based on the Stampede’s distribution network. The greater the differentiation between the various Textron brands, the better chance Textron has of convincing dealers to carry several Textron UTV brands, and of leveraging the distribution channels of their different brands.

Vehicles under the Textron Off Road brand will be available in April, 2017.  Learn more:  Textron.com

Cub Cadet Expands Challenger UTV Line

The new Cub Cadet Challenger 750 utility vehicle

The new Cub Cadet Challenger 750 utility vehicle

Cub Cadet Challenger 550

The new Cub Cadet Challenger 550 utility vehicle

Cub Cadet has launched the Challenger 550 and Challenger 750 utility vehicles as they continue to expand the Challenger product line, which already includes the 400, 400 LX, 500, 700 and 750 Crew. The new models continue Cub Cadet’s theme of providing a value oriented offering with a solid set of standard features.

The Challenger 550/750 comes standard with what is essentially a partially enclosed cab with high-sided sealed doors, standard roof and sealed ROPS. Optional upper doors and a rear window are available to create a completely weather-sealed cab. The interior cab design features interior and exterior door handles, a tilting steering wheel, open storage, closed glove box and premium sculpted seats.

The new models are designed for customization with a front accessory mounting panel above the windshield and a rear mounting rack. The cargo bed has integrated attachment points or “T” slots for purpose built accessories. The vertical slots accept standard ¾-inch plywood for partitions and slots on top of the side rails to accommodate standard 1 x 3-inch furring strips.

“Customization of utility vehicles is extremely important according to the customers we continually talk with,” said Tom Mielke, UV Product Marketing Manager, Cub Cadet. “We’ve designed the Challenger Series with exclusive features that give owners the power to customize their utility vehicle for the challenges they face – at the farm, ranch, off-road or in the woods. These new additions continue to raise the bar on standard features, designed around what people want to do with their UV while also improving style, comfort and convenience.”

A growing list of accessories will be available in 2017 to customize the vehicle including:

  • Upper Doors (Pair)
  • Scratch-Resistant Vented or Folding Polycarbonate Windshields
  • Rear Window
  • Spare Tire Mount
  • Dual 11.5-Inch LED Light Bar Kit
  • Four Cube LED Light Kit
  • Rock Sliders
  • Rear Bumper
  • Front and Rear Turf Tires
  • 72-Inch Snow Blade

Key specs and features for the the Challenger 550 and 750 are as follows:

  • 546cc, 27.5 hp EFI engine (550); 735cc, 35.8 hp EFI engine (750)
  • Top speed 45 mph
  • On-demand 2WD/4WD and automatic CVT
  • Selectable locking front/rear differential
  • 3-way adjustable shocks
  • 12″ of ground clearance
  • 26″ tires
  • 500 lb. capacity dump bed
  • 1,200 lb. towing capacity
  • 3,500 lb. winch
  • Sealed windshield
  • High-sided doors
  • Roof
  • LED headlights
  • Available colors:  Cub Yellow, Blue, Red, Black and Camo
  • MSRP:  Challenger 550 – $9,999; Challenger 750 – $10,999

A quick comparison between the Challenger 750 and 700 shows that the 750 has a more powerful engine, larger capacity cargo box by 150 lbs., improved doors and windshield, LED rather than halogen headlights, slightly more ground clearance and a better drivetrain. The differences between the Challenger 550 and 500 are similar.

The new UTVs are available at local Cub Cadet dealers. Learn more:  Cub Cadet

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Can-Am Adds 2017 Maverick X3 Max Models

2017 Can-Am Maverick X3

2017 Can-Am Maverick X3

Can-Am Maverick X3 X ds

2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 X ds

2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 X rs

2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 X rs

Can-Am recently announced their new four-passenger Maverick X3 Max family of vehicles for model year 2017. The lineup includes the Maverick X3 Max, X3 Max X ds and the X3 Max X rs and continues the company’s plan to launch new side-by-side vehicles every six months. Key specs for the Maverick X3 Max include:

  • 154 hp, Rotax ACE 900cc turbocharged engine with electronic fuel injection and Donaldson high-performance air filter
  • Quick Response System X (QRS-X) CVT
  • Selectable 2WD / 4WD with Visco-Lok X auto-locking front differential
  • Dynamic Power Steering
  • 20″ of front and rear suspension travel
  • 4-link Torsional Trailing-arm X rear suspension
  • FOX 2.5 PODIUM Piggyback with QS3 compression adjustment and bottom-out control
  • 13″ of ground clearance
  • Hydraulic brakes with twin-piston calipers
  • 28″ Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires and 14″ aluminum wheels
  • 64″ width
  • Integrated front bumper
  • HMW skid plate
  • Quarter doors
  • LED headlights and tail lights with unique Can-Am LED signature
  • MSRP:  $24,999
  • Available in White

The Maverick X3 Max X ds has many of the same features with the following differences:

  • FOX 2.5 PODIUM RC2 Piggyback with dual speed compression and rebound adjustments
  • 29″ Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires
  • 14″ Aluminum beadlock wheels
  • Slightly longer at 164.4″ vs. 162″
  • MSRP:  $27,399
  • Available in Triple Black and Circuit Yellow

The Maverick X3 Max X rs has many of the same features with the following differences:

  • FOX 2.5 PODIUM RC2 Piggyback with bypass, dual speed compression and rebound adjustments in the front
  • FOX 3.0 PODIUM RC2 remote reservoir with bypass, dual speed compression and rebound adjustments in the rear
  • 22″ of front/rear suspension travel
  • 14″ of ground clearance
  • 30″ Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires
  • 14″ Aluminum beadlock wheels
  • 72″ width compared to 64″
  • Slightly more than 100 lbs heavier
  • Full roof
  • MSRP:  $29,099
  • Available in Triple Black and Gold & Can-Am Red

Learn more:  Can-am.brp.com

Self-Driving Vehicles = Growth For STOVs?

Google Prototype self-driving low-speed vehicle.

My colleague recently penned an article exploring the nexus of self-driving cars and golf car-type vehicles. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Hardware costs are dropping precipitously and may soon be within striking distance of being affordable for golf car type vehicles.
  • Golf car manufacturers are already exploring the technology and in some cases conducting testing.
  • Other companies are using GEM vehicles as self-driving test vehicles.
  • Gated communities with low speed vehicles provide a lower complexity environment that is more conducive to self-driving solutions.
  • Self-driving technology could expand potential growth avenues in non-golf car markets, an area of focus for golf car manufacturers

The article points to gated communities and urban fleets as potential market segments for deployment of self-driving technology. There are also other potential market impacts not addressed in the article that this technology can have.

For one, self-driving technology could provide an impetus for LSVs sales in the personal transportation sector. Purpose made LSVs have not quite reached their potential in this segment due to the relative cost of LSVs compared to the available market alternatives such as used golf cars, golf cars modified to be LSV compliant, customized golf cars and new golf cars. Put simply, not enough customers have found the additional price of LSVs to be worth the additional benefits. LSVs for personal transportation have done best where local regulations have favored them such as where golf cars or modified golf cars are not allowed on public roads but LSVs are, or where night time driving or other driving restrictions require LSV compliant technology.

Self-driving technology could be a differentiator for personal transportation LSVs. Since they are higher priced, LSVs are likely to feature self-driving technology before traditional golf cars. While it is possible existing golf cars could be retrofitted with self-driving technology, it may prove cost prohibitive and, more importantly, likely to encounter regulatory issues. It’s one thing to slap on some lights and an auto-style windshield, it’s quite another to install the software and hardware components necessary to create a self-driving vehicle, not to mention supporting the system with updates moving forward.

Regulatory issues brings to mind another consideration in regard to self-driving technology, medium speed vehicles (MSVs). While a few states in the US allow medium speed vehicles, at the Federal level NHTSA has never created a MSV classification and, in fact, has strongly opposed the idea on safety grounds. A MSV would require prohibitively expensive safety features akin to a highway capable vehicle.

Can self-driving change this dynamic? It is a possibility worth considering. In January, 2017 NHTSA completed their investigation (PDF file) of Tesla’s Autopilot and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) system, which was initiated following a fatal crash of a Tesla with a tractor trailer in Florida. Their conclusion was that, “A safety-related defect trend has not been identified at this time and further examination of this issue does not appear to be warranted.” However, for the purposes of this discussion, the most important finding of the report was related to Tesla vehicles before and after they had Tesla’s Autopilot Technology Package (ATP) installed at purchase or through updates. “The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.”

This is an astonishing drop, and even more so considering it does not take into account whether Autopilot was in use. Therefore, this improvement is likely a conservative finding. The question is straightforward. Can MSVs use self-driving technology to make them safe enough to pass NHTSA’s regulatory rigor? Why rely on a package of older and likely more expensive safety technology to improve MSV safety when a potentially cheaper and possibly more effective solution is on the horizon. It may soon be time to revisit the possibility of creating an MSV classification, which could open up a range of potential growth markets.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Textron Partners with New Holland on Rustler UTV

New Holland Rustler 850

A partnership between Textron and New Holland bares fruit with the launch of the New Holland Rustler 850.

Textron Specialized Vehicles continues to expand their footprint in the small, task-oriented vehicle market partnering with New Holland to produce the Rustler 850 utility vehicle. New Holland, a leading manufacturer of agricultural machinery, turned to Textron 18 months ago to help them update their Rustler brand of utility vehicles with a new vehicle. The partnership makes sense for both companies. For Textron Specialized Vehicles, the partnership gives them access to New Holland’s well-established distribution channel in the ag market. For New Holland, they can more efficiently use their product development resources by taking advantage of Textron Specialized Vehicle’s expertise in utility vehicles. One challenge for the new vehicle will be the relatively depressed demand in the ag market that has been ongoing for a number of quarters.

The Rustler 850 is based on a Textron chassis but has a number of features and characteristics based on New Holland’s market knowledge and feedback from their dealers. These include:

  • 1,000 lb. capacity cargo bed that can fit a full pallet
  • 1,500 lb. payload capacity
  • 2,000 lb. towing capacity
  • 45 mph top speed for more speed than some other farm focused UTVs
  • Front end design that recalls their T6/T7 tractors
  • Trademark New Holland blue color

Other key features include:

  • 62 hp, OHC, EFI engine
  • All-Wheel Drive with automatic locking front differential and selectable locking rear differential
  • Dual A-arm front and rear suspension with performance shocks
  • 9.3″/10.4″ of front/rear suspension travel
  • 11.25″ of ground clearance
  • Electronic power steering
  • 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes
  • 26″ Kenda All-Terrain tires
  • ROPS and 3-point seat-belts
  • Front steel brush guard

Current available attachments include a LED light package and winch with a cab with heater, electric dump bed and camo graphics in development. A four-person version is also in the product line plan. The Rustler 850 will be available this spring.

Learn more:  Farmindustrynews.com

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

How Will Textron’s Arctic Cat Acquisition Impact The STOV Market

Textron E-Z-GO Logo

Textron’s recent acquisition of Arctic Cat raises some interesting questions about the acquisition itself and how other companies in the market may react. In particular, what does the acquisition mean for Club Car.

One question is whether or not Textron will continue investing in the Bad Boy Off-Road brand. Except for the electric powered Bad Boy Off-Road UTVs the brand’s product offerings are redundant given the more popular Arctic Cat product lineup. One can argue that the dealer networks are sufficiently different that the brands can effectively reach different customer bases and not cannibalize each other’s sales.  A quick perusal of the Bad Boy dealer network indicates that most of their dealer s are golf car related with some power sports dealers. Moving forward, Bad Boy how much resources are put into product development, and what type of vehicles they develop should indicate the direction the brand will take in the context of Arctic Cat acquisition.

Another issue is the potential clash of corporate cultures between Textron Specialized Vehicles and Arctic Cat. Textron is a large conglomerate with over $13 billion in sales annually and a particular corporate culture while Arctic Cat is a much smaller company coming out of a powersports background. How well these companies will mesh will be interesting to see. Keeping Arctic Cat as a stand alone operating unit can mitigate any cultural problems to a certain degree. However, any future financial difficulties at Arctic Cat could generate more intrusion from Textron management regarding Arctic Cat operations.

Club Car is targeting the commercial market with the Carryall 700 and other vehicles.

A more intriguing question is how the acquisition of Arctic Cat might impact Club Car, which is now the only large stand alone fleet golf car manufacturer. While Yamaha Golf Cars are separate from their UTV and ATVs business, they are both part of their Power Products division. Similarly Textron has developed their Textron Specialty Vehicles division that combines a range of small, task-oriented vehicles from airport tugs, to fleet golf cars to off-road ATVs and UTVs.

Ingersoll-Rand and Club Car has taken a decidedly different approach. Rather than collecting other categories of vehicles, they have opted to focus on building out the sales of golf cars for personal/golf use and commercial oriented utility vehicles that are based off of their golf car platform. Management confirmed this approach when asked about the Arctic Cat acquisition during their recent fourth quarter earnings call.  According to recent financial results Club Car has been successful with positive growth in the commercial/utility segment while the fleet side continues to lag. However, the business is relatively small compared to the overall size of the company which had $13.5 billion in sales in 2016, and Club Car is part of their smaller Industrial segment.

This raises the possibility that Club Car may be an inviting candidate for divestiture. But who might be interested in buying Club Car? One possibility is Honda Motor. They already have a range of motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and scooters. An acquisition of Club Car could further diversify their vehicle portfolio. In addition, golf is a popular sport in Japan so there could be some degree of personal affinity among the management towards owning a leading golf car company. Club Car would offer a premium brand and a different distribution channel that might be useful for moving other Honda products. It would also add some electric vehicle expertise to Honda as well as additional global manufacturing capabilities.

Another possibility is Polaris, which has been acquiring small vehicle brands over the past several years. Polaris tends to acquire leading brands in a particular segment and many consider Club Car to be the leading golf car brand. Besides the premium brand, Club Car would bring some other positives to the table:

  • Global brand and distribution
  • China based manufacturing facilities as well as Southeast US facilities and supplier network not far from Polaris’ new Huntsville, AL facility
  • Large volume of electric vehicle sales that can be used spread costs of new battery and electric powertrain development.
  • Entry into the golf car segment
  • Largely separate distribution channel from existing products but similar enough to cross-sell some other Polaris brands
  • Good presence in commercial small vehicle market that Polaris has been targeting

The one drawback is that, from previous presentations, Polaris management considers the golf car segment a low growth segment. In large part this is due to the stagnant fleet golf car market which is the major portion of the golf car segment. However, E-Z-GO’s recent introduction of lithium battery powered fleet golf cars represents a potentially significant shift in the market. If lithium battery golf cars can disrupt the fleet market, this might create a more appealing market to Polaris. Providing an opportunity to leverage their expertise in electric vehicles, increase electric vehicle unit volume to lower costs and find a growth avenue in an otherwise stagnant fleet market. Despite recent headwinds from recall issues, Polaris still has the financial resources for such an acquisition. It will be interesting to see if they move in this direction.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

John Deere Streamlines Gator Production

Marc Cesare,, Smallvehicleresource.com

John Deere's New Four Seat XUV 825i S4

A four seat Gator utilty vehicle from John Deere, the XUV 825i S4

John Deere is close to finishing an expansion of their Horicon Works facility in Wisconsin to consolidate Gator utility operations under one roof. The 388,000 square foot expansion allows the company to add assembly and shipping to production operations at the location. Management expects the move to be completed by March 2017. As part of the expansion, 70 new assembly jobs and 10 salary positions will be added to the existing work force of about 1,000. According to management, “We’ll be able to serve our dealers and customers better, improve the overall quality of the vehicles, and make our operations more efficient.”

While the growth in the UTV market has slowed, investments like this and others from the major players indicate that they continue to expect some market growth. John Deere spent an estimated $35 million on the expansion. The work and commercial utility segment, where the Gator is popular, has been targeted by a number of companies in search of sales growth. Coupled with the lower overall UTV market growth and other factors, this has increased the competition in the UTV market.

Learn more:  Stackyard.com