For a number of years now many of us in the industry have been watching and waiting for the entry of a Chinese manufacturer into the North American snowmobile industry. Back a few years we got pretty close with the 3/4 sized sleds being shown by Phantom in Canada and Premier in the states. But as well all know, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and atomic bombs. Despite what appeared to be valiant efforts, neither of these companies could seem to pull off the list of items that needed to be tended to that were required to import and sell the China-manufactured snowmobiles here in the U.S. The sleds are being built and sold, just not here. Companies like Tangsun Motor in Shanghai and WuXi Copower in JiangSu have several small snowmobile models, they even call them snow scooters and the like. It is difficult to actually tell who is building them and who is selling them at times, there are so many. Who knew?
It shouldn’t be rocket science to made a snowmobile SSCC (snowmobile safety certification committee) compliant, but it must be far more demanding than one realizes. We have China-built motorcycles, ATVs and now side-by-sides, and no longer are they being looked at as inferior or lesser. Case in point, the line of motorcycles, ATVs and side-by-sides sold in the U.S. from Chinese manufacturer CF Moto. Anyone familiar with their dirt products has watched this manufacturer come to the plate and now offer some intriguing models. On paper they are super impressive with their feature list, coming in with pricing that seems ridiculous in comparison, as their models are loaded up with accessories that are costly add-ons from our traditional manufacturers. And the crazy thing is the dealers selling the CF Moto products are usually the same dealers that already sell one or more of our “traditional” brands.
So if we were to be putting any money on which Chinese powersports manufacturer is going to be the first to come to the plate in the U.S. with a less expensive snowmobile, based on their performance so far in the ATV and side-by-side markets it would be CF Moto. Most logical would be to first fill the gap that our traditional manufacturers seem unwilling or unable to fill, the entry-level market. We might even get to see some form of this elusive 3/4 sized snowmobile, fully-featured but with a smaller frame and lower powered so it wouldn’t scare the hell out of a younger, or less experienced rider. Not everyone needs a snowmobile with a 4-stroke engine that lasts for 50,000 miles, nor do they all need a sled that goes 110 MPH or can climb through the deepest snow, or costs well over $10,000. We all know there is room at the bottom for a fun, yet exciting entry level snowmobile. Might even be one that appeals more to people who are not snowmobilers right now, wouldn’t that be cool. A new manufacturer being able to bring new participants into the sport.
How could they do this when others can not? Profitability. If they can build a machine for less, maybe not as big or as powerful but still very satisfying to a less demanding consumer, much like they got their foot in the door with their ATVs and side-by-sides, we might be in for a big surprise. The key element here is opportunity. Bad snow years one after another kind of take the wind out of the sails to enter a new market, and of all the powersports markets snowmobiling is the most volatile and most dependent on mother nature. We always have dirt, we always have water and we always have pavement, but we don’t always have enough snow. Yet, this dynamic might be the reason a less expensive machine would be able to succeed. Less of an investment, less of a commitment, might just be the ticket when consumers are less confident.