Utility Upgrades

December 13, 2013 06:35 PM

Manufacturers and customers continue to push the limits

From ATVs to high-performance utility vehicles, farmers have long wish lists to tackle with their workhorses. Exceptional market growth during the past two years has spurred a wealth of choices.

As the market broadens to include ATVs, utility vehicles and side-by-sides, so does the terminology. In the farming category, the development of rider-active ATVs and utility vehicles occurred in the early 1980s. Since then, side-by-sides have emerged—carrying riders literally side-by-side like a utility vehicle but capable of higher speeds and performance.

"From 1987 to 2007, all we had was under 25 mph," says Kevin Lund, product manager of John Deere Gator Utility Vehicles. "As utility vehicles got faster and sport utility vehicles became more capable of doing work, they merged in the middle—higher speeds with cargo boxes, roomy interiors, operator stations—that’s where it gets jumbled together into a high-performance utility vehicle segment."

Manufacturers agree that the expansion of the side-by-side segment is pushing sales forward.

"Polaris has introduced more than 10 models in the past five years," says Donna Beadle, Polaris external relations specialist. "With farming, ranching, hunting and construction, more people are going to side-by-side models."

According to Steve Nessl, Yamaha ATV/SxS group marketing manager, the first-time buyer ratio for the side-by-side utility sector is upward of 70%. "That means a lot of people are just becoming familiar with the product and buying their first one," he says. "The interesting part of that 70% is that those side-by-side buyers are not new to the industry. They have owned utility ATVs in the past. It truly is a progression for the industry."

Expedited turnover. A normal purchase cycle is five to seven years, Lund notes. "Typically, at the 700-hour range, the customer starts looking to trade," he adds. "But when you come out with something more innovative—for exam­ple when we launched our 825 Gator in 2010—we saw a lot of people truncate that purchase cycle."

Some farmers use a combination of machines to tackle different chores. "We see farmers using both ATVs and side-by-sides in different ways. For
example, they use a Grizzly ATV for riding fence lines and spraying weeds, and a side-by-side for hauling feed, tools or people," Nessl explains.

When making a buying decision among an ATV, utility vehicle or side-by-side, consider how you will use the vehicle for work and pleasure.

"People pick five main things they want to do with it—then they get it home and do 100 things with it," Lund says. "Customers are always pushing the capabilities to the edge somewhere—terrain maneuverability and hauling capacity."

For many farmers, ease of maintenance is a priority, Beadle adds, because they handle that themselves.

What’s ahead. To keep one step ahead, there is a lot of experimenting taking place both internally and externally on utility vehicles across the
industry, Lund says.

"For farming customers, comfort will really start influencing their purchase decisions—roominess in the cab and suspension," notes Travis Hollins, Yamaha ATV/SxS group product planning manager.

"Farming can be so specialized, and one of the great things about side-by-sides is their ability to be customized," Nessl adds. 

You can e-mail Sara Brown at sbrown@farmjournal.com.

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