All terrain vehicles enter the off-road race

ATVs are designed for adventure and tackling the regional terrain

Gulf News

Dubai. Don’t ever think sport utility vehicles (SUV) have the run of the land when it comes to off-roading in the UAE and elsewhere in the region. Not when demand for all-terrain vehicles (ATV) - or quad bikes - is swelling into a sizable niche. And that is just the way Polaris Industries, a dominant player in the global ATV category, and its president, Bennett Morgan, wants it.

“The Gulf has grown to be a significant market for Polaris, especially in the UAE where we recorded sales of around 1,300 units last year and we expect to see definite growth and penetration in the coming years,” said Morgan, who also has the dual responsibility of chief operating officer at the $2.7 billion US headquartered company.

“In particular, while there have been relatively low sales in Saudi, we see great potential and where we aim to reflect the kind of sales currently seen in the UAE. We also intend to further expand within existing markets such as Oman.”

In fact, Polaris will shortly have representation in Saudi Arabia, which has the potential to take on the UAE as the biggest regional market for ATVs in future.

With all the possibilities the Gulf’s landscape offers, one would have thought ATV sales would have easily outgrown its niche status. Until a year or so ago, numbers have been steady rather than veering towards the spectacular. But dealerships see untapped possibilities, especially when GCC destinations are showcasing their credentials for tourism laced with more adventuresome pursuits.

Polaris’s local dealership – Sports Specialised Equipment (SSE) – has just lifted the curtains on the largest Polaris showroom in the world in Abu Dhabi. “There is a wonderful opportunity for Polaris in the Middle East, particularly as we have studied and designed products specifically for the type of terrain you find here,” said Morgan. “Since we introduced the RZR and RZR XP 900 we have seen sales grow tremendously.”

While it looks to this region to build up the numbers in the years to come, its home market continues to be the pre-dominant contributor to the Polaris numbers. So much so, the US generated 84 per cent of total sales in 2011.

“Despite these difficult times, Polaris continued to out-perform the auto industry during this period and continued to see growth where other competitors and markets remained stagnant,” said Morgan. “We have seen similar performance in power sports where Polaris has equally outperformed the industry in the US.In fact, we’ve been delighted to see Polaris carry a lot of the momentum generated stateside across all regions, with the notable exception of Western Europe, where the market has been relatively flat.”

And, while Polaris goes chasing after higher numbers, Morgan is intent on an incremental exposure gains for the two bike brands the company has in its portfolio – Victory and Indian. The latter has a legacy to live up to, being the first American-made motorcycle. Polaris Industries acquired the brand last year.

“The motorcycle market is dominated by tremendous brands with loyal followers. In many ways, every bike we sell has to be a conquest sale,” he said.

Besides all-terrain vehicles and bikes, Polaris is hedging its bets by investing in electric vehicles. ”We’re very excited about the long term potential of electric powertrains and vehicles,” said its president, Bennet Morgan. “We see it as a $4 billion, albeit very fragmented, marketplace and are entering the market with similar strategies under the Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) and Goupil brands.

“We know that by entering early we can get to grow that side of the business. We are still early in our journey, with our businesses close to breaking even.”