Free Range Snowmobiling Thoughts
Bits and pieces of sense and nonsense
Story by Jerry Bassett, Photography by Jerry Bassett, Jan 15, 2009
As we sit about and engage in what we’ll call free range thinking on a series of sensible and nonsensical topics, we couldn’t help but think of things that aren’t enough for a real article, but taken as bits and pieces might mean something — or not!
As we read an Associated Press piece about colors, we couldn’t help but think how it might benefit Ski-Doo sales. Check out the 50th anniversary Ski-Doo. It’s very yellow.
The AP article predicts, “…that cheerful and sunny yellow will be the influential color of 2009.” The AP writer quotes Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, which provides color standards to design industries. Eiseman claims Pantone expects the public to embrace many tones of optimistic yellow, stating: "I think it's just the most wonderful symbolic color of the future. It's invariably connected to warmth, sunshine and cheer — all the good things we're in dire need of right now."
A yellow hue called “Mimosa” is listed as the key yellow, although yellow hues in general are expected to help defuse the current gloom and doom. Bright and cheerful yellows began showing up in earnest at fall previews of spring fashions. The color, state color experts, is mindful of upbeat times.
Just as orange became popular a few seasons ago, that color’s popularity seems to be evolving into the yellows, which have already proven popular in the home market, according to the AP article.
With its historic color being yellow, Ski-Doo may fit into an upbeat trend. That 50th anniversary Ski-Doo is certainly yellow; will it be a harbinger of increased sales?
At the Minneapolis powersports show that combined ATVs, snowmobiles, boats and RVs, you could find more sales people in the manufacturers’ booths than potential buyers. Of course, we attended on a Sunday; the historic ‘down’ day when folks attend church and stay home to watch the local professional football team on television. Still, some display staff told us that attendance had been less than expected. If you had wanted to get info on sleds and ATVs this was a good opportunity as booth staff had plenty of time to chat with you.
As for what may be coming for 2010? Well, we wonder what to expect as far as the US economic woes may have on sled makers. Let’s face it, if cautious consumers impact sled sales, then we might expect the four sled builders to be cautious as well and hold back on some introductions.
Despite that, we were told a year ago that 2010 would be a ‘big’ year for Polaris. The teller of that news was Polaris snowmobile general manager Scott Swenson. That was why, he explained, the 2009 product introduction was a bit limited.
While we suspect we know of one new model that may be coming for 2010, we wonder like you what else there could be. We hear rumors of new power, but can’t really confirm that. Sales of the Liberty 600 twin have been good. The 800 twin has been placed in more models. There is a 4-stroke issue, though.
The current outsourced Polaris 4-stroke remains the only such engine in the model line up. While it has proven adequate, it is limited in its potential and certainly not as ‘hot’ as the 4-strokes from Arctic Cat or Ski-Doo. And it hardly competes with the 4-stroke options from Yamaha. We suspect that regardless of what Polaris may say publicly, the company has to be looking at a 4-stroke solution.
Polaris engineering has proven that it can build 4-strokes. We are quite impressed with the all-new Polaris-designed and built 850 twin in the new Polaris Sportsman XP. However, we don’t see that motor powering a sport sled any time soon. It seems too heavy. Plus, design criteria for an ATV and a sport snowmobile aren’t the same. No, the ATV engine is likely the future power source of an amped RZR and Ranger UTV, but not a sled.
Based on that ATV motor, though, we would be silly to think that Polaris couldn’t build a capable 4-stroke of its own. It may have to do so to meet tightening emissions and fuel efficiency standards, which will most likely get even more restrictive under a more liberal, less powersports friendly federal administration.
A not so friendly rumor making the rounds is that one of the current four sled makers has told dealers that it expects the future to consist of only three snowmobile manufacturers. A few years ago we wouldn’t have taken such speculation very seriously, but who knows.
Who would we guess might be the odd sled maker out? We aren’t going there. Mainly because we’ve gone through such a shake out before and were surprised by which companies didn’t make the cut. In the past we would have bet on John Deere to be a long-term player in the sled business. It was a well-run firm with product that kept getting better and better. When the snowmobile product group was closed and the Horicon, Wis. production plant changed over to lawn tractor manufacture, John Deere had innovative products ready to go. It was John Deere that came with the direct drive clutching set up. It was to expand throughout the line. There was a telescopic strut front suspension planned and undergoing tests on the sport sled line. Indeed, John Deere had sleds to carry it to greater market share, but higher ups planned otherwise and John Deere disappeared as a sled brand.
Kawasaki had a smallish niche and wasn’t a big surprise to drop out. Still, the niche that Kawasaki enjoyed was solid and its products were good enough and certainly performance-oriented enough to gain a loyal following.
Then, of course, we all know that Arctic Enterprises couldn’t make the cut, even though its Arctic Cat brand was #1 in sales. Now, if you were a non-Arctic Cat fan, you would look to Arctic Cat as the company most in jeopardy. We don’t. In fact, it has become obvious that some, let’s just call them disingenuous, rumor-mongers like to pick on that company.
While it seems to be an almost annual stirring of the pot at this time each year, we don’t buy into these rumors because the Arctic Cat crew is more than capable of sustainability and remaking itself to survive. And, we figure that this has proven to be an historic time to float rumors about everything. Let’s not forget that the same people and attitude that brought Arctic Cat back from the dead are still there. Of all the powersports companies we can think of, there are none as passionately committed to snowmobiling from top executive to line worker than the one in Thief River Falls, Minn.
Once upon a time, this writer strolled through an expanding Arctic Cat factory with one of the original re-founders of Arctic Cat. We chatted about how the company had grown and become successful beyond his best plans. This man was one directly responsible for the rebirth of Arctic Cat, cajoling dealers, talking to consumers, conning enthusiast magazines into giving him ‘extra’ advertising and editorial coverage, and working virtually 24/7 to breathe magic back into Arctic Cat. He had succeeded. Production was well beyond what the original re-founders had seen as their break-even goal. The company grew and grew. But they all realize that, if necessary, the company could realign itself by downsizing and remain successful into the future. We feel confident in the Big Four of snowmobiling and figure that rumors are just that — rumors.
Lowering expectations and sorting out needs from wants for the short term may be the answer for all of us. After all, slow times in some areas frequently mean good times in other areas. Sales of new sleds may slow, but aftermarket sales may pick up as we decide that we will keep our current sleds, but add to them. Instead of a new sled with the latest shocks, we might opt to get those better shocks for our current sled. We might decide to bolt on more power. Or add a new chromed windshield. Or get that set of touring bags we’ve been thinking about.
We like we see from the Big Four this season. Even if what we get for 2010 reflects a cautionary introduction of new products, we plan to appreciate the simple fact that we still can get bored and engage in some loosely organized, free range thinking.