The best selling metric motorcycle in the U.S. from May 2009 to June 2010 wasn’t a high-output GSX-R or a big V-twin cruiser: It was a Kawasaki Ninja 250R – which carries a list price of $3,999.
Meanwhile, over in the ATV market, one of the best selling sport quads on the market in 2010 was the Raptor 250 – which far outsells most quads with twice its displacement, thanks in large part to its diminutive size, and an MSRP of $4,499.
So what about you, dear snowmobile market?
Various manufacturers have taken cracks at creating a true entry-level machine in the recent past, and there has been talk about the need for a “tweener” sled for kids coming off a 120 but too small for a full-sized sled for years. But as calendar year 2011 approaches, it still seems like we’ve got a big gap – there is, at this point, no Ninja 250R or Raptor 250 in our market.
A couple of years ago, Ski-Doo made a run at that entry-level market with the Freestyle – powered (at first) by a 269cc twin. Listed at $3,999, it features a full-sized but stripped down chassis. It didn’t last long, and soon it went the way of the Indy 340, Z 370 and like models. Personally, I wish the Freestyle chassis would have been a two-thirds scale of a full-size chassis, but my understanding of it is that the BRP legal department wouldn’t approve a sled purposely built as a ‘tweener for 10 to 14 year olds.
More recently, Polaris has launched its 550 IQ Shift, which at $5,999 was 2010’s least expensive, non-120-class snowmobile. It’s a very nice machine, but it’s still $6,000 and it’s also a full-size chassis – not exactly a match for the $3,999 Ninja.
Why hasn’t one of the major manufacturers filled this niche in the snowmobile market, you ask? Money, of course. Designing, engineering, testing and then tooling up to manufacturer a machine on a completely different chassis costs millions of dollars. In the bike market, Kawasaki can get that money back by selling hundreds of thousands of little Ninjas here, and across the globe – small displacement bikes are huge in Europe and Asia, for instance. However, if a sled manufacturer had to incur those startup prices, and then only really had a geographic subset of North America plus a little bit of northern Europe to sell to, it would get upside down in a hurry, financially. It sucks, but it’s reality.