U.S. snowmobile sales down, but worldwide sales growing

Who's buying?
The average snowmobile buyer is about 44 years old and earns about $80,000 annually. Industry officials say credit requirements are tightening, but most buyers still qualify for credit.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Polaris and Arctic Cat are two of the oldest names in the snowmobile industry. Both have corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants in Minnesota.

Both companies declined interview requests from Minnesota Public Radio news for this story. But snowmobile dealers around the region report a mixed bag so far this year.

"Canadian, European, Russian sales are now bigger than the U.S. sales."

Scott Berger sells snowmobiles at Wheels Inc., in Fargo.

"Actually we're a little ahead of last year at this point. New sled sales, we're down to the point where we may have only one or two units per model that we have left now," said Berger. "Used, [snowmobiles are] really hot this year. In fact I'd say by the end of August we were on our used sleds pretty much sold out."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

About an hour down the road in Fergus Falls, there's a little less activity at Frontier Power Sports.

Manager Mark Moxness reports sales are off about 25 percent compared to last year. "Used sled sales are good. New sled sales are kind of sluggish and I think that's just the economy that we're in," said Moxness, who ruefully defers a prediction about what the new year will bring. "I wouldn't even venture to guess. If you can tell me where the stock market will do and what a barrel of oil will cost in six months I might tell you," said Moxness. "Snowmobiles, boats, everything, it's all about the same. It's we're scared; we don't know what's going to happen. Just a lot of uncertainty. "

Two snowmobile dealers with different stories are reflective of general snowmobile sales trends this year.

Sticker price
The price for a new snowmobile ranges from $5,000 to $11,000.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association President Ed Klim said U.S. sales through November, are about five percent less than last year.

"Most of those sales declines are in the state of Michigan, which has been in a long-term recession due to the failure of the domestic auto industry. We have some softness starting to appear in New York state," said Klim. "But the rest of the country is either up or equal to last year. And last year was a pretty darn good year for snowmobiling."

Soft sales in the U.S. are only part of the story, according to Klim who pointed out there's a growing snowmobile market worldwide.

"North America is still the primary market, but last year, if you add the sales from Canada with sales to Europe and Russia together, the Canadian, European, Russian sales are now bigger than the U.S. sales," said Klim.

Both Polaris and Arctic Cat, two of the oldest names in the snowmobile industry with corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants in Minnesota declined interview requests from MPR news for this story. But snowmobile dealers around the region report a mixed bag so far this year.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service

Overall snowmobile sales in Canada are up 20 percent from last year and Russian sales are also ahead of last year, according to Klim.

That gives manufacturers a place to market sleds that don't sell in the U.S.

"And the manufacturers have been working diligently to open new markets in particular in Europe and Russia," said Klim. "So a lot of the excess product is going overseas. It's a good export business right now for the manufacturers and the United States."

The snowmobile industry has at least partially escaped the credit crunch that battered U.S. auto dealers according to Klim.

At the Fargo snowmobile dealership where he works, Scott Berger points to a nearby sled with a sticker price of less than $5,000.

"You know, the payment on that with Polaris- approved financing is only like $59 a month," said Berger. "That's excellent."

The question for snowmobile manufacturers is whether U.S. consumers will feel enough confidence over the next three months to take on another monthly payment.