Time for some rampant speculation!
While this nasty winter has many of us longing for warmer days so we can ride in comfort again, it hasn’t been all bad. After spending too much time outside this past weekend, a part of my brain froze. When it thawed, I briefly had the ability to see into the future. Instead of looking up next week’s winning lottery numbers, I decided to find out if Yamaha plans to come out with a pure Sport UTV to rival the Polaris RZR, Can-Am Maverick and Arctic Cat Wildcat families. In hindsight, this was probably the wrong choice.
What sparked my interest in Yamaha’s Sport UTV future were prior comments by Yamaha about its plans to introduce new models in categories where it doesn’t currently compete and to become a major player in all segments. As well, in Yamaha’s 2014 Business Results Report it said one of its main initiatives is to increase market presence “toward the long-awaited sports category.”
At first glance, you might think Yamaha’s recently unveiled Wolverine R-Spec fills the Sport UTV niche. However, I see the Wolverine as a competitor to the Kawasaki Teryx and Can-Am Commander, rather than the pure Sport UTVs. While we haven’t had a chance to ride it yet, Yamaha says the Wolverine is intended for rough country exploring, trail riding and hunting. It appears to be a versatile trail machine that is a significant improvement over the beloved Yamaha Rhino. Though the Wolverine looks more than capable of kicking up some serious roost, it does not exactly seem like a pedal-to-the-metal race machine. That being said, the aftermarket will no doubt turn it into one. ATV.com contributor Corry Weller has helped build many racing Rhinos in the past, one of which you can read about here.
Another interesting tidbit from Yamaha’s 2014 Business Results Report is that its ATV/UTV sales increased by 20% in 2014 and are projected to increase by a further 41% in 2015. If Yamaha’s projections are correct, that would be a 70% increase in sales in two years, which is a monumental jump. That tells me that Yamaha, along with expecting good sales from the Wolverine, might have something big coming this year. To impact sales that dramatically, I’m thinking a new vehicle would have to be in dealerships relatively soon – mid-summer seems as good a time as any.
Rampant Speculation Alert!
My unfrozen brain tells me that Yamaha is indeed planning to release a butt kicking, pure Sport UTV. But what will it be like?
While two-cylinder engines with about 1000cc of displacement power Polaris RZRs, Can-Am Mavericks and Arctic Cat Wildcats, Yamaha doesn’t really make a high performance twin. Its only big twins are found in its Star line of cruiser motorcycles.
If my thawed out grey matter is correct, a three-cylinder engine might be in our future. Yamaha uses triples in both its motorcycle (847cc, 115 horsepower) and snowmobile (1049cc, 130 horsepower) lineups. A triple would be unique for the Sport UTV segment, but I’d imagine Yamaha wants to be different. Of course, if Yamaha wanted to be really different it could put one of its screaming four-cylinder sportbike engines in a new UTV. An entire racing class was made for people who put a Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle engine into Yamaha Rhino chassis, but that seems a touch extreme for a stock machine.
Suspension is another area Yamaha needs to address if it wants to compete in the pure Sport UTV class. The new Wolverine R-Spec boasts independent double wishbone suspension front and rear with fully adjustable KYB piggyback shocks doling out 9.7 inches of travel up front and 10.6 inches of travel in the rear. That matches up very favorably on paper against the Kawasaki Teryx and Can-Am Commander, but the sport-specific Polaris RZR XP 1000, Can-Am Maverick 1000 X ds and Arctic Cat Wildcat X all offer between 15 and 18 inches of suspension travel and 13 inches of ground clearance. If Yamaha wants to compete in this class, consumers will be looking closely at suspension.
If history is any indicator, I would imagine both two- and four-seat models are coming, with the two-seater being introduced first. To appeal to as many consumers as possible, I don’t expect Yamaha will give its new Sport UTV a super long wheelbase, as it would be tough to drive anywhere but the desert. I’m thinking something in the 85-88-inch range – more Maverick than Wildcat.
I suppose it’s possible I didn’t actually see into the future and simply had a hypothermia-induced hallucination, but all signs point to Yamaha flexing its muscle and making a splash in the Sport UTV segment soon. It’s been a long time coming and I think the Yamaha faithful have been waiting for a vehicle like this. The Sport UTV segment is a lot more crowded than it was a few short years ago, but Yamaha has the ability – and the following – to make some serious noise and turn the industry on its ear in 2015.