Powersports dealers report varying retail success with sport ATVs, often connected with the location of their store, but those moving the machines say there's a broad and growing range of buyers chasing an ever-increasing pool of quads.
Location Spurs Sales
Unlike motorcycles, which can be operated wherever there are roads, and utility ATVs, which are practical tools for numerous tasks in a variety of locations, sport quads aren't designed for either, require open land and, ultimately, garner a much smaller consumer base.
So for off-road dealers across the United States, the location of a retail outlet, or its vicinity to riding areas, is especially important when trying to sell sport ATVs. As a result, the southwestern U.S. tends to be the biggest market for sport quads year after year.
"Sport quads make up probably about 60 to 70 percent of [our] ATV sales total," says Leo Garza, a salesman at Champion Motorsports in Roswell, N.M. "We don't really sell all that many utilities. It's really all about open desert riding, and we've got a big sand dunes area down here near Roswell."
"We're probably 50 percent sport quads and 50 percent utility quads right now," says Tony Beck, general manager at Walt's Motorsports & Marine in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
"We're moving a lot of sport ATVs," says Mike Duke, a salesman at Carter Powersports, a Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki dealership in Las Vegas. "This is definitely more of a sport quad market than a utility market."
"I'd say sport quad sales account for 75 to 80 percent of our total ATV sales," says Justin Jones, sales floor manager at Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside, Calif. Jones says his sport quad sales are assisted by the dealership's proximity to dunes in Glamis and other desert riding areas. "We don't have too many tracks."
However, those success stories are tempered by what dealers are seeing in the sport quad market elsewhere in the U.S.
"Sport quads aren't a big deal here," says Shane Talbert, a salesman at Woods Fun Center in Austin, Texas. Woods claims to be the largest powersports dealer in central Texas. The dealer sells product by Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, BRP, Suzuki and Polaris. "We carry them, but because of our rather urban location, we sell few and far between."
"I'd say sport models account for about 5 percent of our total ATV sales," says Gary Buderus, a salesman at Fremont Motorsports in Florence, Colo. Fremont was named the 13th largest Yamaha motorcycle dealer in Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas in 2007, and the 34th largest Kawasaki dealer in the western U.S in 2006.
"We're on the edge of the mountains here in Colorado, so we get a lot of hunters and ranchers and people generally looking for more uses out of their ATVs," Buderus says. "And, to be honest, most dealers in Colorado struggle with the sport ATVs simply because of the elevation changes. Although machines are running better now with fuel-injection, not many people want to ride a manual machine in this environment. It's a lot of work."
Jason Malone, sales manager at Hattiesburg Cycles in Hattiesburg, Miss., says a lack of riding areas has led to spiraling sport quad sales in his area.
Hattiesburg Cycles carries ATVs from Arctic Cat, BRP, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki, UM and Yamaha. "The market used to be a lot stronger, but things changed once there were fewer places around here to ride," Malone says. "A lot of the motocross tracks around here don't let the ATVs on the tracks anymore, the two national forests around here that did have ATV trails shut them down, and there's really no dunes or any other place to ride those kinds of units."
Who Wants to Ride?
Gary Laskin, ATV product manager for Polaris, says his company's research suggests the sport quad buyer has an average age in the high 20s to low 30s. About 85 percent of these buyers are male. "The data that we have seen suggests that around 8 percent of sport quad buyers participate in some kind of organized competition. Much larger percentages ride on the trails and the dunes," he says.
"It's mostly teenagers and twentysomethings who just want something to get out on," says Garza in Roswell. "Mostly the young kids fresh out of high school or going to college."
Mike Duke at Carter in Las Vegas says buyers vary in description: "We get younger guys, older folks, families, couples, everyone."
"I'd say young people between the ages of 19 and 25 make up probably a good 45 percent of the market," says Jones of Malcolm Smith Motorsports. "Of course, then we also have the families that come in, where the dad buys three or four quads to outfit the family."
"Our average buyer is a 25- to 45-year-old male, but we're also getting a lot of families," says Beck from Walt's in Arizona. "I've sold complete family packages — three of four units and a flatbed trailer — maybe eight or 10 times this year."
In off-road motorcycling, kids move up from 50s to 65s to 80s and on up. Are we seeing the same thing with sport ATVs?
"We are, but it's a lot harder with the age requirements," Jones says. "If parents start a kid out at 6 years old on a 50, two years later that kid is going to be ready to move up. But because of the age requirements, he'll only be able to operate an 80 once he's 12. I've actually seen quite a few people move from quads to two-wheelers because of that age requirement."
The sport ATV market includes units ranging in size from 250cc to 700cc.
Founded in 1980, Champion Motorsports sells Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, E-Ton and Suzuki, and claims to be the largest powersports dealership in southeastern New Mexico. Best-selling sport quads are the Yamaha YFZ450 and Kawasaki KFX450R. "It's all about 450s, although we're also moving a lot of the Yamaha 700s," Garza says.
Dune riding is the most popular use for the machines near Carter in Las Vegas. Salesman Duke says resulting demand is for "lightweight and powerful" units like the Honda TRX450 and Kawasaki KFX450. "You go out to the dunes, and you see the toy hauler travel trailer loaded. They're camping out there, and all of the clubs are out there. ... It's crazy."
Dune riding is popular with buyers at Walt's in Arizona, too.
"I probably sold 35 to 40 YFZ450s and probably 40 Raptor 700s last year, but that'll change a little this year with the introduction of the DS450 and KFX450," Beck says about business at Walt's, which retails ATVs from Kawasaki, Yamaha and Can-Am. "We're not that far from Glamis, and five miles out of town is a big riding area called Standard Wash, where there'll be 50 vehicles with trailers on any given Sunday," Beck says.
At Malcolm Smith Motorsports, which retails Yamaha, Suzuki and BRP, "It's a tough call between the YFZ450 and the Raptor 700," Jones says.
So what can help build the sport ATV market in areas where sales remain low? "More riding locations are the biggest thing," says Heath Atwood, a salesman at The Hitching Post in Hopkins, Minn. "I think more local races and riding areas would be of the greatest benefit. Right now, racers have to drive hours to a track and normal, everyday recreational riders have to have private property or drive hours north to find trails."