Polaris Is Giving Off-Road Vehicles the Tesla Treatment

Polaris says its nearly-silent Ranger XP Kinetic is ideal for sneaking up on deer or puttering around a herd of nervous livestock.

(Bloomberg) — Animals don’t know much about greenhouse gas emissions, but they aren’t too fond of combustion engines. At least that was the pitch from Polaris Inc. when the EV-maker unveiled its Ranger XP Kinetic in late 2021, making it one of the first off-road vehicles to get the Tesla treatment. The nearly-silent machine would purportedly be ideal for a hunt, or for life on a farm full of nervous livestock. 

Now those use cases will be put to the test as the Ranger starts shipping to dealers this week, an early step in the push to bring battery-powered drivetrains into more remote, rural places. Polaris, which posted almost $7 billion in revenue from off-road vehicles last year, declined to disclose how many electric Rangers it plans to make, but said the first batch sold out quickly. 

“We’re taking a very measured approach,” said Steve Menneto, president of the company’s off-road unit. “Over the next 10 years, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”

The global market for off-road vehicles is expected to nearly double by 2030, in part because electric models will be cheaper to own and maintain than gas-powered versions.

While the Polaris Ranger can claim first-mover advantage, Bombardier Recreational Products Inc., one of the company’s chief rivals, has already pledged to have an electric model by 2027 in each of its product categories. That includes snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles and off-roaders like the Ranger. BRP is spending $300 million to develop its own electric motors, inverters and modular battery packs; by 2035, the company plans to have at least half of its vehicles powered entirely by batteries. 

Electrification is “a customer trend that we cannot ignore,” BRP Chief Executive Officer José Boisjoli told Bloomberg Green, adding that at least one in 10 BRP customers currently buying gas vehicles wants an electric alternative. As in the auto industry, off-roading heavyweights like Polaris and BRP can also expect to face a parade of competitors from EV startups, each angling to be to trails what Tesla is to interstates.

Emissions aside, electric drivetrains offer certain off-road advantages. The Ranger, for example, is more powerful than its gas-powered siblings and excels at towing: It can drag up to 2,500 pounds. Polaris reckons it will be 70% cheaper to operate and maintain, as the EV doesn’t need oil changes, air filters or a host of other combustion parts and pieces. No spark, no spark plug required.

For now, the biggest obstacle to adoption may be at the dealership. The XP Kinetic costs $25,000 and up, more than double the starting price of the regular Ranger line. Polaris is lobbying hard for federal incentives that would subsidize off-road vehicles the same way tax rebates buttress on-road EVs — one bill would afford a tax credit of up to $2,500 on a rig like the Ranger. But to date, no such provisions have made onto the books at the federal or state level. 

Distance could be another deterrent. The XP Kinetic will travel just 45 miles on a charge (or 80 miles if configured with a larger battery pack, which costs another $5,000). Electric vehicles are generally heavier, as well, which isn’t ideal on tricky trails or in deep snow. 

At the moment, the best use case is arguably fleets of commercial vehicles that drive on fixed routes. United Rentals Inc., which serves large construction sites, has ordered an unspecified number of the new electric Polaris, for example. BRP, meanwhile, is developing a snowmobile for tour operators in Scandinavia that dispatch hundreds of machines a day on 50-kilometer routes.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.