Jun. 30, 2008 – A logical, hopefully lasting impact on ATV safety
June 30, 2008
Filed under Columns
There are some issues of national interest that seem magnets for irrational thoughts and behaviors.
Oil prices. Campaign financing reform. Congressional hearings on baseball and steroids. And last but certainly not least, ATV safety.
It is the latter subject that constantly draws my ire, with what has become standard practice both in the national media and among community leaders. These groups are constantly calling attention to the result of a misfortunate ATV incident without giving as much thought to why it happened in the first place.
It is a lapse of common sense that is both curious and incredibly irritating. In fact, this practice makes me want to imitate my 6-year-old son, who when especially upset will utter the word “stupid” in a long, drawn-out manner, and then repeat himself because he can’t think of another word that sums it all up so nicely as that one.
It is that type of response that came to mind when reading an online article in the Calgary Herald about a 2-year-old who recently died in an ATV incident. The headline of the article, “Toddler’s death spurs calls for ATV safety review,” has been echoed in who knows how many North American newspapers. And yet read a little further and the following details emerge: The unfortunate toddler was one of four kids riding with their relative on a private ranch when the accident occurred. Five people on a 2-up ATV.
None of the riders had helmets.
Thankfully, a bit of rational thought has emerged in this whole issue of ATV safety, which the federal government has visited and revisited in the past decade. At the Arctic Cat ATV dealer meeting held recently in Thief River Falls, Minn., the manufacturer unveiled one of the first vehicles designed to improve youth safety. It’s a 150cc ATV that is referred to as a “transitional vehicle” because it’s made for youths who are transitioning in size from growing kids to nearly mature adults. Arctic Cat says its 150cc is designed for children 14 years and older.
Such a vehicle makes sense for several reasons as it provides a safe middle ground for those kids too large for a 90cc and yet not big enough or skilled enough to handle a 250cc. Plus, as a parent, you have to feel better about your child riding a vehicle that is quite lighter than the traditional 250cc. Arctic Cat’s 150cc is more than 130 pounds lighter than its 250cc.
But what really makes the most sense is how Arctic Cat is marketing this product, first to its dealers and hence to its end users. This type of vehicle was born from discussions the industry had with the Consumer Product Safety Commission about youth ATV safety and was later adopted in the latest voluntary guidelines that major manufacturers follow. So its birth not only appeases federal regulators but addresses safety guidelines that the industry as a whole sees as crucial.
But Arctic Cat made it clear at its dealer meeting that it’s holding the new vehicle up as more than just a product for a teenager, but one an adult will enjoy riding as well. And that marketing spin seems critical to us for this type of vehicle to have any kind of lasting retail sales impact and hence, a real impact on youth safety efforts.
For when the transitional vehicle was originally conceived, Powersports Business asked some of the nation’s largest dealers about what they thought of the concept. Their reaction: It makes a lot of sense in regards to safety, but is a parent really going to spend thousands of dollars on a product that their kids will only use for a couple of years? Or, worse yet, will some parents just skip over the 90cc category and go straight to the transitional category?
The latter concern is one that can only be addressed by fervent discussion with dealership staff to ensure consumers are educated about the risks of such a move. We know this is happening to a large extent already and will continue in the future.
But it’s the other issue that seemed the hardest to address: How to sell a parent on the idea of buying an ATV that by definition is designed for a 14-year-old but not necessarily an 18-year-old. And we think Arctic Cat has the answer: Ensure the consumer knows this type of vehicle isn’t just a blast for your teenager, but for yourself as well. Not to mention other adult beginning riders who might be attracted to the 150cc for its lighter weight and hence, easier turning ability.
“It’s just such a neat vehicle,” said Ole Tweet, general manager of Arctic Cat’s ATV division. “You could put an adult on it, and they have a blast because it’s not too small for them. If you put you or me on a 90, that’s not a very pretty sight, and we’re not going to enjoy it. You get on that 150, you’re going to enjoy yourself.”
We don’t believe Arctic Cat will be the only manufacturer to offer this type of vehicle this year, nor will its marketing spin necessarily be different from others. Still, it’s heartening to see such common sense brought to an issue that so often is utterly lacking in that department. psb
Neil Pascale in editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.