All-Terrain Trucks

Every contractor needs the ability to
haul cargo and crews back and forth with speed over a jobsite. It’s a
crucial time-saver and important moneymaker when you’re on the clock.
Traditional trucks are the obvious go-to tool for most contractors who
need to move materials and co-workers around their latest project. Load
up your bed, throw a few fellas in the backseat and truck off to your
project site.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are no roads. And while most four-wheel
drive trucks can conquer some serious off-road terrain, there are just
some applications that call for a specialty chore truck, engineered
specifically to traverse inhospitable, off-road topography. For such
applications, little trucks called utility vehicles, or UTVs, are
tailor-made for the job. Similar to their ATV cousins, UTVs are made
for off-road applications, but differ in that they can take at least
two passengers and have a bed for cargo and supplies. Today, companies such
as John Deere, Kawasaki, Kubota, Polaris and Yamaha (along with a bevy
of other big name corporations) manufacture a variety of 2×4, 4×4, 6×4
and 6×6 variations for both the commercial and recreational markets.

In the late 1980s, John Deere and Kawasaki launched the off-road
utility vehicle segment with their Gator and MULE UTV lines. From the
start, manufacturers aimed at creating a workhorse for hard-working
commercial purposes.

“The Kawasaki MULE was envisioned as a work
vehicle from the start, combining a purpose-built gasoline engine with
an off-road chassis capable of handling passengers and cargo,” explains
Vince Iorio, ATV and utility vehicle product manager with Kawasaki
Motors Corp. U.S.A. “The core models that make up the industry are very
much work machines and these types of machines lead the industry.”

Yet the commercial market today only makes up 40 percent of UTV sales,
while private users (many of whom are large estate owners and hunters)
make up the other 60 percent of the market, according the manufacturers
that CE surveyed.

“A recreational UTV tends to have higher
speeds, four-wheel drive, greater suspension travel, all-wheel
suspension and generally less utility capability in terms of cargo
volume and weight capacities than a purely commercial-grade UTV,” says
Lynette Hart, senior product marketing manager with John Deere utility
vehicles.

But even private users and hobby farmers are using their UTVs for as
much work as play. When not tooling around the countryside for fun,
large estate owners are hauling wood, transporting feed, ferrying
landscape materials, moving garbage or carrying construction supplies.

And that’s what’s great about utility vehicles — they offer plenty of
work and recreational options for both private and professional users.
These all-terrain trucks can easily handle almost any wilderness an ATV
can (although they are wider and taller than your typical ATV), with
the added bonus of passengers and supplies.

When considering the major commercial segments, parks, universities,
governmental agencies, landscape contractors, farmers and general
construction are the most popular hot markets for UTVs. And while most
manufacturers are wary of sharing market numbers (alas, no association
officially tracks UTV sales), growth is definitely on the rise.
Industry insiders estimate that sales are in the 120,000 to 150,000
units per year range, but there’s no hard data to confirm this.

“While we’re not able to cite industry figures, I can give you an idea
of percentage growth — for 2003 it was 12 percent, for 2004 it was 14
percent and for 2005 it’s estimated that it’s greater than 20 percent
[of market growth],” says Iorio.

An Evolving Market

Today’s UTV industry is changing rapidly. Take a look over the utility
vehicle landscape today and you will see a throng of manufacturers
looking to pick a niche in this fast-growing transportation segment.
Some of the latest players include Yamaha, Polaris, Honda, Kubota,
Husqvarna, Club Car, Cub Cadet, Snapper, Land Pride, Bobcat, Ingersoll
Rand, EZ-GO, Arctic Cat and AUSA (a recent UTV important from Spain).

Step onto a dealer lot of any of these manufacturers mentioned above
and you will find a variety of new options and innovative models like
never before. You will find engines (gas, diesel and electric) from 10
to 40 hp, payload capacities ranging from 400 to 2,000 lbs, towing
capacities ranging from 600 to 1,500 lbs and options in wet disk
brakes, power steering, electronic fuel injection, hydraulic bed lifts,
enclosed cabs and a whole slew of innovative suspensions and
attachments. When it comes to drive trains, you will have the option of
2×4, 4×4, 6×4 and 6×6 utility vehicles.

“4x4s are just over 50 percent of the market,” says Hart. “The 4×4
market has been growing very fast and is predicted to continue to grow
quite a bit over the next several years.”

Prices for 4×4 UTVs tend to range from $8,500 to $11,500, while pricing
for 4x2s is in the $6,000 to $8,000 realm and 6x4s and 6x6s are falling
between $8,300 and $11,000. Besides price and drive train, speed will
be a big concern when considering whether you want a UTV for commercial
or recreational applications.

“Speed is a big concern in
commercial markets where liability increases dramatically with speed.
There are certain underwriters who will not insure a vehicle with a top
speed of over 25 mph,” explains Iorio. “But higher speed vehicles are
fairly new to the market and have seen fairly good buyer acceptance. On
the recreational side, a number of products exceed 25 mph and the
market has accepted these models.”

While most UTVs still tend to only go up to about 20 or 25 mph, Arctic
Cat’s Prowler XT goes 50 mph and most Polaris RANGER UTVs go up to
around 41 mph.

“Some commercial applications such as road
construction cover long distances where it is more efficient to go
faster. Other applications such as university grounds maintenance
require slower speeds. Our exclusive SpeedKey technology delivers
both,” says Jan Rintamaki, RANGER marketing manager at Polaris.

SpeedKey is a dealer-installed option for Polaris (costing around $200)
in which a control module can limit the vehicle’s speed without loss of
power, depending on which key is used in the ignition. A yellow key
delivers full power yet limits top speed to 25 mph, while a black key
delivers full power up to 41 mph.

Speed can be dangerous on a jobsite, but in certain
situations it has its advantages.
“Nothing beats getting the job done quicker with the help of a utility vehicle,” says Iorio.

New Customers Buying Their First UTV

Besides increasingly faster speeds and quicker machines, the utility
vehicle market is similar to the ATV market in many ways. For starters,
much like the ATV market, UTV sales are being fueled by a constant
re-generation of new buyers each year. And this variety of new
customers coming into the market often only have a vague notion as to
what a utility vehicle is used for and how to outfit it for their
applications. Some buyers are more interested in safety and payload
performance, others are more concerned with speed, drive train and
off-roading potential. Each customer has a unique need, so consider
your applications first.

“Think about all the things you want to do with your vehicle — haul
dirt, go off roading, tow, plow snow, get to places quickly — and
discuss that with your local dealer,” suggests Hart. “Some features you
will want to consider are power and torque, serviceability, cargo box
design and capacity, terrain capability, durability and reliability,
creature comforts and available attachments.”

In short, you will need to outfit your UTV to coordinate with your
growing checklist of daily chores. First, you will want to investigate
the myriad of different accessories, features and attachments
available. When considering add-ons, enclosed cabs, sun tops,
windshields, brush guards, gun racks, performance light kits, towing
hitches, electric bed lifts and rotating beacons are popular options.
When talking attachments, mowers, brooms, snow blowers, blades,
seeders, sprayers, wagons and winches top the list. Although
attachments for UTVs are prevalent, they really aren’t as popular as
the growing number of accessories.

“We’ve found that having many accessories available for individual
models is the key to helping an owner or user customize the vehicle for
a particular use,” explains Iorio. “Attachments, due to the absence of
a means to power them, are not as high of a priority to the typical
buyer as are the creature comfort accessories.”

For professionals, a UTV can be used for more than just hauling
supplies and employees, so attachments definitely have a market.

“Customers don’t want to relegate their UTVs to a specific task. They
want to maximize their productivity,” says Rintamaki. “Accessories and
attachments extend the productivity of the machine, so naturally
machines with more flexibility are better for consumers.”

Along with accessorizing your UTV with the extras, customers will have
big options in tires, engines and seating. Most companies have three
tire options — turf, heavy-duty and traditional tire choices.
Third-party tire options are always available, as well as extras like
snow chains.

While most UTV models come with a gas engine, diesel engines are on the
rise; Kubota, Club Car, Kawasaki and John Deere now offer diesel engine
options. Diesel engines give better torque in tougher applications, as
well as last longer in the long run. Of course, gas engines are cheaper
to buy and are more established in this automotive-style industry.
Air-cooled and liquid/oil-cooled power plants are also a common option.
Liquid-cooled engines do a better job of keeping an even temperature
with the help of a radiator. They’re better for hotter climates and
higher power hauling jobs, which are prevalent in commercial
applications. Cost is the big differentiator —the typical cost between
an air-cooled and liquid-cooled engine is between $1,600 to $2,100.

Seating selections for UTVs are typically either two bucket seats or
bench seating. Bench seating offers the opportunity for three
passengers to ride, while bucket seats are, well, just more
comfortable. Kawasaki’s MULE 3010 Trans4x4 and Club Car’s XRT 1200 SE
offer four forward-facing seats, as well as a cargo bed. The MULE 3010
Trans4x4 can also be transformed into a two-passenger vehicle with an
extended cargo bed. Along with picking your preferences, buyers will
need to assess each unit as an individual model. So take your time,
kick the tires and grill your dealer on a variety of models.

“Shop the market carefully, examine the leading manufacturers’
offerings, determine what you are actually going to use the machine
for, find out which models can do what you want, then determine the
level of durability you desire,” says Iorio.

In fact, prepare a list of questions and put your sales person to work.
Is four-wheel drive on-demand or do you need to push a button or pull a
lever? What’s the size of the fuel tank? How much ground clearance does
the unit have? What is the cargo bed made of? How high is the bed off
the ground? What kind of protection does the UTV have on the front? How
fast does it go? What features

come standard? What’s the warranty period? Hey, how much is this all going to cost me?

“You need to have a complete understanding of what you will use the UTV
for and then go test drive it,”

says Rintamaki.

Keith Gribbins is managing editor of Compact Equipment.

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