Suzuki jumps into entry level sport ATV market
April 21, 2003
Filed under Features
Suzuki boasts it was the “first on four wheels.” Now it has a new accomplishment to brag about. The motorsports giant began developing what it calls “the first real sport ATV for a wide range of customers” two years ago, and is ready to present the quad to the world.
For a company that initiated the sport quad market, it had some catching up to do. Suzuki’s competitors, primarily Yamaha and Honda, have flourished in the entry-level sport quad market in the past few years. Suzuki sat idle, only presenting the SportQuad 80, while the Blaster and 250EX were hitting dealership floors.
As an early-release 2004 model, the QuadSport Z250 is Suzuki’s rebuttal to its competition’s dominance in a small but fast growing market, which expanded 22% from 2001 to 2002. “We see the Z250 appealing to a wide demographic,” said Rod Lopusnak, ATV marketing manager for Suzuki, “from a 16-year-old kid up to 60 years of age.” The quad will sticker at $3,899, the same price as Honda’s popular 250EX model.
Suzuki had the competition in its sights when developing the Z250. According to the company, it normally takes roughly 36 months to develop a new quad from concept to production. But the new machine’s development, based on the Ozark 250 utility quad platform, took just over two years.
“The Z250 has been a little bit shorter process because of the Ozark 250,” explained Lopusnak. “Because there’s some carry over, this has been about a 24- to 27-month project we’ve put together.”
With a short development time, Suzuki focused on topping the other leading manufacturers entries into the 200cc to 250cc category. Honda, Yamaha and Polaris are share leaders, but Suzuki’s machine could change the standings. “Our target here is to take a serious piece of this market; we’re going to go after it aggressively,” Lopusnak said.
Suzuki strongly pushed the new quad into production, in light of industry trends. “In 1996,” Lopusnak said, “the 250cc sport ATV unit sales were around 12,000. Now we’re getting to the point where there will be easily more than 50,000 units just in this class.” Without an entry in the small sport quad segment, Suzuki was missing a key market.
“We definitely feel we have the best model in terms of an entry-level sport quad,” Lopusnak added. “I think with the Ozark and the LT-Z250, we really have strong positions covering the whole entry-level market.”
The Z250 is designed to be a beginner’s sport quad that won’t bore the rider as his skills grow. With an automatic clutch and reverse gear, the machine may initally turn true sport riders away. “The automatic clutch was a real touchy thing for the sport class. We weren’t sure which way to go, but our surveys showed 70% of the people wanted to have an automatic clutch versus a manual clutch.”
The machine has a 246cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine. “The base plant is an Ozark engine,” Lopusnak said, “but has a new intake and exhaust system, special gear ratios because it’s a sport ATV and a new crankshaft. Overall, there’s a 15% performance increase.” The powerplant is tilted at a 37-degree angle to create a lower seat height and increase ground clearance. With a dry weight of 365 pounds and low seat height, the machine should be comfortable for smaller riders.
At first, Lopusnak said, the Z250 had a single adjustable rear shock. After testing, Suzuki decided a change needed to be made. “We had Kayaba KYB develop a shock with a piggy back reservoir for it,” Lopusnak said. “Through testing and R&D, it worked out to be much better (than the original shock). This product would have been a natural upgrade for 2005, but we had time and Kayaba KYB was able to supply us with the shocks, so we added it to the 2004 model.
“This model in particular covers such a wide range of riders,” Lopusnak continued. “You’ve got entry level people who have never really ridden an ATV before, to people who are getting back into the market buying this model. The suspension’s adjustability, from the various weights of this wide range of potential buyers, lets the owner adjust and specialize the product for their riding needs and size.”
Just as the Z250 is easy to maneuver for new riders, it also has enough torque to keep experienced riders’ attention. “In our product concept,” Lopusnak explained, “we did a lot of surveys, a lot of dealer visits, and a lot of customer visits to find out what people were looking for, before we started to build the Z250. Our findings were that people want it to be performance oriented — they want to know it’s a sport quad and to look like a sport quad. That’s the American way. They also wanted it to be easy to use, low maintenance; just simple. They also wanted it to resemble the LT-Z400 and continue to build brand loyalty and recognition.”
As of now, Suzuki has reappeared in a market it created. The 200cc to 250cc sport quad market will change drastically with the implementation of the Z250. “A neat thing about this specific category is that Suzuki really created this back in the mid to late ’80s with the 230 QuadSport. That model started the whole sport quad revolution and it had a lot of the same basic features (as the Z250), from the electric start, sporty suspension and disc brakes. It’s kind of neat to see where it has transcended. Of course, we have a much better model now due to technology.”
The addition of the entry-level Z250 is also part of a larger plan to round out Suzuki’s entire line of ATVs. “The nice thing about what Suzuki is doing now is we’re representing all those (ATV market) segments. So, when a person goes into a Suzuki dealership, we’re representing all those segments and a dealer doesn’t have to turn
Lopusnak also said there are a few other key segments in which Suzuki does not currently compete. According to him, by next September, there will be one or two more models added to the lineup. “We’re definitely going to shore up those segments and compete in them as aggressively as we have in every other segment,” Lopusnak said.