All-Terrain Vehicles are such a common sight on the land, you wonder how farmers ever coped without them.
Sales of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are a bright spot in what has been a depressed motorcycle market during the first six months of 2009.
ATVs buck the trend
Half-yearly figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) show 55,500 motorcycles, scooters and ATVs were sold to the end of June this year, a 14 per cent decline on the activity recorded in the same period last year. But despite this overall decline, ATV sales have remained at the boom levels of 2008; the 9722 units sold representing just a 0.1 per cent decline on last year's numbers. And most of those sales have come from the working ATV sector with FCAI Chief Executive Andrew McKellar crediting the Federal Government's business tax breaks as part of the reason why the rural ATV market has held up so well. The rural ATV market is in fact responsible for 81 per cent of all ATV sales, with sport and children's models taking an equal share in the remaining 19 per cent of the sector.
In the first six months of the year Honda led the total ATV market with 2740 sales; Yamaha was close behind with 2558 while Suzuki (1568) and Polaris (1483) battled it out for third and fourth respectively.
Honda on top
Honda's number one position is due largely to its TRX420, variants of which were the three best-selling ATVs over the first six months of the year. All are farm/work ATVs with the TRX420FA (four-wheel drive automatic) the number one best seller (636 units) while the 420TM (two-wheel drive manual) sold 531 units and the 420FM (four-wheel drive manual) enjoyed 464 sales. Honda also had two other machines (both farm/work ATVs) in the top ten, the TRX250 (in fifth place with 359 sales) and the TXR500FM (in seventh place with 334 sales).
The Polaris Hawkeye
Slotting in between Honda's (three) TRX420s and the TRX250 was the Polaris Hawkeye with 337 sales. The Hawkeye was actually the best selling ATV for the first four months of the year but was swamped by the TXR420s in the last couple of months due in part to Honda's attractive cash-back and special finance deals.
The story of the Hawkeye is interesting. First up, Polaris is an American company competing in a market where Japanese machines are more the norm. Even so, Polaris has long dominated the large-engined ATV market but the Hawkeye has extended Polaris's reach into the volume mid-sized market with a machine it claims was purpose built for local conditions.
"This is a story about how a Global company can get local. The Hawkeye was developed due to extensive research in the Australian and New Zealand markets back in 2000. Our US engineers went back to Minnesota and began work on a completely new machine for the industry", said Polaris Industries Managing Director, Peter Alexander. What they came up with was a 300cc engine, automatic transmission and, unlike its Japanese competitors that rely on traditional swingarm rear suspension, the Hawkeye has independent rear suspension for improved ride comfort.
Polaris has another top-ten bestseller in the Sportsman 500 (ninth with 279 sales) but has even higher hopes for the newly released Sportsman XP models. Available in 70hp 850cc and 40hp 550cc models, the Sportsman XPs are "99 per cent" new from the ground up and feature a second-generation independent rear suspension and anti-kick steering with the option of power assistance.
Rounding out the ten best sellers were Yamaha's Raptor 90 (a children's ATV in fifth place with 343 sales), Suzuki's 250cc Ozark farm ATV (eighth place with 300 sales) and Yamaha's versatile 700cc Grizzly (tenth place with 274 sales).
Side-by-side market drive
Not captured in the FCAI figures are the increasing sales of what is known as 'side-by-side' or utility vehicles like the Kawasaki Mule, the Yamaha Rhino or the market-leading Polaris Ranger. Where an ATV is like a four-wheeler motorbike and has handlebars and motorcycle style controls, these side-by-side or utility vehicles are more like a tiny truck with a small bench seat (for two people sitting side-by-side - hence the name), a steering wheel, seat belts, and car style controls. While you 'ride' an ATV, you 'drive' a side-by-side.
This new style of work/utility vehicle is appearing on farms and in other utility and working applications in increasing numbers in much the same way that ATVs displaced traditional two-wheeled farm or 'ag' bikes over the last twenty years or so. Is this another seismic market shift in the making?