By Lisa Young
Snowmobiles in Russia? In Poland? Though they’re not the typical places that come to mind as snowmobiling hot spots, they are of increasing importance to snowmobile manufacturers. The global market for snowmobiles is growing and will continue to mature well into the future, industry experts say.
Beyond North America, snowmobiles are coming into their own in a number of countries, particularly in the European Union. There, interest is developing alongside the economies of emerging countries.
“When you look at the situation globally, the snowmobile business is poised to grow substantially,” said Dominique Godbout, director of strategic planning for PWC, ATVs and snowmobiles for Ski-Doo maker BRP.
From April 2006-March 2007, there were 35,026 snowmobiles sold in Europe, a 16 percent increase over the previous selling season, according to statistics from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA).
Russia is one of Europe’s hottest snowmobile markets. There, snowmobile sales were up 15 percent for the year. The country has seen double-digit growth (10-15 percent minimum) for the past three or four years, says Ed Klim, ISMA president.
Worldwide snowmobile sales were down 3 percent in 2007, but much of that can be attributed to poor sales in the United States, which was down 13 percent for the year. European and Canadian snowmobile sales combined outweigh the United States, Klim says.
Although Russia is a relatively new market for snowmobile sales, the Scandinavian countries have long been an important area for the industry. Still, sales there are growing as well. During 2007, sales in Norway, Sweden and Finland reached 19,807 units. Through last year, there were approximately 420,000 registered snowmobiles in the region.
Following Russia, Finland and Sweden are Europe’s top growth markets, Klim says. Though the growth isn’t as strong for the two countries as in Russia, it is still increasing. There is also new potential growth in Poland. The eastern European country had previously dealt mostly in used sleds, but is increasingly selling more new units, Klim notes.
The developing snowmobile market in Europe, to a large extent, is attributable to greater economic freedom, especially in Eastern Europe, experts say. As countries previously under Communist rule evolve under capitalist systems, consumers are gradually gaining in the amount of disposable income they have and the ways they can spend it. In essence, some countries are catching up to the levels of snowmobile use in the United States and Canada.
“Where there’s snow and interest, people are buying if they have the money,” Klim said. “Freedom in Eastern Europe means more people are buying snowmobiles.”
In addition to increased financial ability, snow accumulation plays a large role, Godbout says. Although some might be worried about global warming’s potential effect on snowfall, many areas, especially in Europe, have access to large amounts of snow.
Klim agrees, saying it is common to find snow depths exceeding five-six feet. That snow can stick around into April in Scandinavia, he adds.
There’s also the fun factor.
“Snowmobiling is fun and people want to have fun no matter where they are,” Klim said.
Klim has traveled and snowmobiled extensively in Europe and has seen the growing interest in snowmobiling there first-hand. He spent time recently meeting with enthusiasts from Poland, Slovenia and Germany.
The key to growing the European market even further is building up the area’s snowmobile trails and riding areas. Right now, there are few developed trails, especially in Russia, and so most snowmobile riding is off-trail.
Russian and other European officials are being proactive about changing the trail situation. A number of government officials and European snowmobile dealers have traveled to North America to observe the U.S. and Canadian trail systems. The visitors have talked with Klim and trail developers to understand more about trails, grooming and the rules and regulations that are in place to make riding safer. The Russians are “making a substantive financial investment” to get their trail system up and running, Klim said.
As far as who is snowmobiling in other parts of the world, the demographics probably aren’t far off from what they are in the United States and Canada, though there haven’t been any official studies. European riders are nearly identical to North American riders, but in Russia in particular males are much more likely to own and ride snowmobiles, Klim says.
“[Snowmobilers abroad] are probably people who are doing quite well economically who have access to a house outside of major cities, where they can go out and use the product,” Godbout added.
Along with the larger amount of off-trail riding, many Scandinavian riders take more of an adventure approach than riders in North America. Otherwise, enthusiasts do much of the same sort of riding as in the Western Hemisphere, Klim says.
With abundant snowfall and an increasing number of people with disposable income, not to mention the massive amounts of countryside riders can visit, the global market for snowmobiles remains bright.
“There is absolutely no reason to think it won’t continue to grow,” Klim said.
Copyright 2008 Powersports Business