Is the Polaris Slingshot a surprise sales success?
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No. Despite its funky styling, unexpected recalls, and being intermittently banned from operating on the road in various states, the three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot – technically a motorcycle, Polaris adamantly states – has apparently received unanticipated accolades in the sales and preorders department during 2015.
Buried within the earnings call transcript from the results of an otherwise sobering fourth quarter (the term "dumpster fire" is also a fairly accurate description), was acknowledgment by Scott Wine, Polaris Chairman and CEO, that while "Fourth-quarter sales were down 13%...Indian [Motorcycles] and Slingshot...exceeded both our budget and prior-year comparisons."
When the bulk of a quarterly earnings call focuses on the sales of your company's primary driver of revenue – ORVs and snowmobiles – falling by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter, that's high praise indeed.
For a quirky vehicle that doesn't automatically fit into any identifiable niche, the fact that during the cold months of the fourth quarter – a generally low-selling season for an open-cockpit, unheated plaything – year-over-year sales increased "upper single digits," suggests that there might be a market for the vehicle after all.
Just how impressive is the rise in fourth-quarter sales? Take a look at the most direct competitor to the Victory and Indian motorcycle brands, and it's understandable why Bennett Morgan, President and Chief Operating Officer of Polaris, was practically jubilant in his announcement of single-digit increases for the segment. Harley Davidson, the 800-pound gorilla in the domestic cruiser market, reported that not only did its year-over-year fourth-quarter retail sales not produce such lofty single-digit gains, they managed to decline 3.4 percent in the United States. Those results were at least partially blamed on intense competition, presumably a portion of that competition coming from the Slingshot and the Polaris motorcycle duo.
Unfortunately, Polaris doesn't break down sales between its motorcycle and Slingshot brands. However, some nuance in the earnings call suggests that Slingshot is poised for a breakout year, having overcome some of the state-by-state regulatory hurdles that presented an obstacle to buyers and the quality-control issues that resulted in recalls. We'll know around the end of April. That's when Polaris should announce its 2016 first-quarter earnings.
Interested in a Polaris Slingshot? Head over to the company's website to learn about some of the features of the "motorcycle." A new base model will set you back $21,119 (plus freight and setup). For that money, you'll get a 2.4-liter Ecotec engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission, pumping out a respectable 173 horsepower. With a curb weight of just 1,713 pounds, that's an impressive power to weight ratio.
The base model will also get you ABS, lockable storage bins, and a glovebox. Want something to listen to while you're "riding?" You'll need to fork over an extra four grand to upgrade to the SL model and its media console. If you're interested in test-driving one, just make sure you wear a helmet and have the proper endorsement on your license. It is a motorcycle, after all.
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