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Supporting sport quads

Tom Kaiser, Contributing Writer
March 12, 2012
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Yamaha stays on the gas in struggling ATV segment

As other pockets of the powersports industry show stabilizing sales trends, the ATV industry continues to lag with successive year-to-date sales declines. Times are even tougher in the sport ATV market, which observed a year-to-date sales drop of more than 40 percent in 2011 following several previous years of significant declines.

The exact sales numbers are not pretty. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the overall ATV industry suffered through yet another year of declining sales, down 13.5 percent at the end of 2011 — a fraction of annual sales tallied seven years previously, at the market’s peak.

Times are tougher for manufacturers, dealers and aftermarket companies focused on the sport and racing side of the ATV market, where declines were nearly three times that of total ATV sales.

In the face of these challenges, Yamaha continues to be the largest player in the sport quad segment in terms of product updates, unit sales, racing support and events geared toward the enthusiast media outlets.

While racing participation has struggled, most sport quad manufacturers have concurrently backed off investments with smaller racing contingency pools and fewer updates to sport model lineups.

Despite a plunging sport ATV market, Yamaha has turned to models like the Raptor 250 to help grow the market. The Raptor 250 is the lightest sport ATV on the market at 330 pounds and has an MSRP of $4,599. (Click image to view larger)

At its 10th annual sport ATV event for the enthusiast media, referred to as “Goons on Dunes,” company officials displayed the Yamaha 2012 Special Edition model YFZ450R and Raptor 700R, as well as updates to the Raptor 250 lightweight sportster.

With reigning QUAD X Series champ Dustin Nelson in attendance amidst the towering sand dunes, company officials hammered home a consistent message: Yamaha supports the sport quad market more than any other maker.

“From our full line of sport ATVs, to our racing support and even the OHV Access Initiative, Yamaha is clearly leading the ATV industry in supporting our sport and promoting safe, responsible riding and open sustainable riding areas,” said Steve Nessl, Yamaha’s ATV/side-by-side marketing manager. “No other OEM has the breadth or depth of programs that Yamaha has built to support the ATV market.”

Top Selling Model Updates

Riding a wave of turbulence, Yamaha’s Raptor 700R and YFZ450R have remained the best-selling sport ATVs and 450-class sport ATVs in the market. With no major mechanical updates or all-new models, the company highlighted its Special Edition sport ATVs with minor performance updates and aggressive graphics designed to resonate with a younger crowd at which its most athletic quads are aimed.

Priced at $8,949, $350 more than the standard model, the 450-class YFZ450R SE is wrapped in an attractive black and yellow color scheme and comes with a host of upgraded features: quick-release fasteners, special graphics, a black rear suspension swingarm and a dealer-installed Genuine Yamaha Technology Racing (GYTR) front grab bar.

For $8,999, $600 more than the base model, the Raptor 700R SE is powered by a big-bore 686cc engine and comes with a longer list of upgraded features: a wave-style rear disc brake, GYTR front grab bar and heel guards, skull-like graphics and a special black and gold color scheme.

The pint-sized Raptor 250 — the lightest sport ATV on the market — is available in two color choices for 2012, white and orange or blue and white. At $4,599, the base model is considered the sportiest 250-class sport quad and weighs in at a scant 330 pounds. It has an air-cooled 249cc engine, low-profile 19-inch rear tires, long-travel suspension and a five-speed manual transmission.

Sport Quad Ground Zero

The 2012 YFZ450R SE, priced at $8,949, comes with many upgrades, including special graphics and a black rear suspension swingarm. (Click image to view larger)

Yamaha invited Powersports Business to its annual media event, where Nelson and Pat Biolsi, Yamaha’s ATV testing supervisor, led the assembled journalists on hours-long rides throughout the Imperial Sand Dunes, called Glamis by much of the powersports community that frequents the sprawling riding area along the California-Mexico border.

A special YFZ450R was also on hand that came equipped with several GYTR upgrades to showcase the performance possibilities through the company’s in-house performance catalog: a CNC Ported Head Assembly ($2,245.95), CNC Machined Cam Set ($495.95), Performance Piston ($189.95), Fuel Mapping ECU ($349.95), upgraded intake components ($164.85), GYTR clutching ($540.85), stainless steel exhaust ($574.95), combination nerf bars ($419.95), plastic frame glide plate ($114.95), front grab bar ($139.95) and sprockets ($59.95).

Outside of its corporate umbrella, the company also brought in cooks from Camp Chef who highlighted their line of outdoor camp cooking accessories. Officials from GoPro, maker of wearable high-definition video cameras, were also on hand to talk about Yamaha’s promotion to give away free HD Hero2 Motorsports Edition cameras to its ATV customers in the first half of 2012.

Located in extreme southeastern California, the Imperial Sand Dunes are the largest mass of sand dunes in the state and extend in a band that’s 40 miles long and 5 miles wide. It’s one of the country’s most popular riding areas for ATVs, side-by-side vehicles and sand rail cars.

The Raptor 700R SE offers a wave-style rear disc brake, skull-like graphics and a special black and gold color scheme. (Click image to view larger)

During breaks to drink water and take in the otherworldly scenery, Yamaha’s team of media officials continued the discussion of its corporate efforts to support racing, make continued updates to its sport quad products and various other efforts like its ongoing OHV Access Initiative, which awarded more than $96,000 for seven riding projects in the fourth quarter of 2011.

In the racing arena, Yamaha is also expanding its national trackside assistance program with support at all AMA ATV MX National Championship series events in 2012.

“Yamaha sponsors top-level pro riders in all of the major ATV race series, and while many OEMs have cut back or dismantled their race teams, Yamaha strengthened its team with a new rider for 2012,” Nessl said.

Along those same lines, Yamaha is overcoming a down sport squad market by continuing to invest and innovate.

“Yamaha has been, is currently and always will be committed to the sport ATV market,” Nessl said. “Realistically, we are the only manufacturer that can make that claim and do so with a straight face. During good times, as well as bad — economically or otherwise — Yamaha has maintained its passion and support for the segment, which is a big reason why the company has consistently maintained a leadership position in the category.

“From the introduction of the Banshee, to the original YFZ450 to the Raptor 700R, Raptor 250 or Raptor 125, Yamaha has led the charge by offering enthusiasts a performance-minded machine in each class. Currently, we are the only manufacturer that offers a full, current line of sport ATV models, which not only solidifies our place as the leader in the current market, but puts us in the best possible position to do what we do best as the market continues to recover: Set the standard in quality and performance for sport ATVs and remain the No. 1-selling sport ATV manufacturer. Put simply, it’s just what we do, and we don’t plan to back off the throttle any time soon.”

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