The Missing Link: Small, Affordable Snowmobiles

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?

Kawi sells a ton of Ninja 250s -- what's the equivilent in the 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.

The Raptor 250 is popular because it's small and affordable. You pretty much have to buy used to get that in snowmobiles today.
          There are a couple of company working with Chinese importers to offer some sort of tweener – maybe one of the will prove themselves as a legitimate option. For more, however, we’re left to buying our pre-teen kids old used crap to hold them over once they get off on their 120s, and there’s no truly affordable entry level new sleds. Many current or longtime snowmobilers don’t mind buying old stuff and keeping in running because they are mechanically inclined, but the lack of product in that market is definitely hurting potential growth in our sport.

One thought on “The Missing Link: Small, Affordable Snowmobiles

  • Avatar for Joe

    I’ve been thinking this for a long time! Somebody has to do something about it before my kid gets much bigger.


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