When Yamaha first rolled out the Rhino back in 2004, it revolutionized the industry. A decade later, Yamaha Outdoors is doing it again with the introduction of the 2015 Viking VI six-person Side-by-Side (SxS). Since everything is bigger in Texas, the hill country outside of Austin was the perfect place to give select dealers and the media a sneak peek at another category creating machine. Initial feedback from the media and dealers alike would indicate that bigger just might be better when it comes to serving the SxS market.
First a little bit of backstory on the market positioning. Although there were some utility vehicle Side-by-Sides on the market at that time, the Rhino made everyone rethink the notion of what a SxS vehicle could be. Instead of a workhorse, the Rhino added a recreational component from their ATVs at the time (they even called the Rhino “the world’s largest ATV” at the press launch and introduced the concept of a “sporty” SxS). Fast-forward to last summer. Yamaha introduced the three-person Viking and targeted it at the largest segment of the SxS market – the multi-purpose, multi-passenger segment.
Contrary to popular belief, utility models still make up the majority of the ATV and UTV sales. Given that the Grizzly 700 remains the best selling 650-799cc class Utility ATV, and building on its reputation for its durability and core technologies, it made sense to base the Rhino successor on the big Grizzly, including its class leading Electric Power Steering (EPS) system. Executives promised that Yamaha would continue launching new models to cover all of the popular segments as part of the Viking introduction last year and the big VI definitely covers some key market segments!
“There’s no doubt that Side-by-Sides are the growth segment in our industry,” says Steve Nessl, Yamaha ATV/SxS group marketing manager. “We are tapping into that growth with the Viking VI. We expect to see it working ranches and hauling hunters from Texas to California, Oregon to Pennsylvania… and everywhere in between.” However, Nessl did indicate one of the reasons for launching the six-seater in Texas was because oil crews and large ranches need a vehicle that can comfortably and conveniently haul a crew of workers along a fence line or out to a remote oil rig. In fact, the dealers who did the best with the original Viking sales were concentrated in a corridor leading straight up from Texas through Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. These successful Viking dealers were brought in right after journalists from the farming, ranching and hunting journals had put the Viking VI through its paces.
While we generally leave the product testing to the consumer publications, we do have to say it really does seat six comfortably. The middle seats are reclined five-degrees and mounted on a slightly different plane. This means three good-sized editors at large (or in my case, maybe that should be XL) can sit without having their shoulders and elbows interfering with each other. The airlines should take note of what Yamaha has done with its three-wide seating arrangement.
Creature comforts include eight cup holders, sealed storage containers under the front seats, two DC power outlets… and the ride itself. The extended wheelbase (115.6 inches) helps smooth out the ride, while 8.1 inches of wheel travel soak up the bumps. The long wheelbase makes the Viking VI look deceptively low-slung, however there is a substantial 11.4 inches of ground clearance… and a full length steel skid plate further improves what Yamaha calls “terrainability.” Like the original Rhino, looks can be deceiving when it comes to off-roading. The combination of EPS power steering, On-Command 4WD and Yamaha’s proven Ultramatic automatic transmission makes operation intuitive and surprisingly capable.
Despite the long wheel base, the Viking VI is relatively nimble on the trail. If you put it in 4WD, the front wheels actually help pull the machine through the turns. Journalists and dealers alike were even encouraged to take the standard Viking out for a direct comparison to the six seater and there really was no spot on the trail that bigger version felt ungainly. The Ultramatic system means no jerky transitions and better yet, the sprag clutch engages for true engine braking when going downhill or decelerating.
All play and no work, leaves the Viking VI out of a job. The Viking is even better as a workhorse, starting with its stamped steel dump bed. Unlike the thermoplastic beds found on some UTVs, the steel bed is designed for serious work. Eliminating the wheel wells means there is a true 14 cubic feet of storage space and the bed is rated to haul 600 pounds of gear. It features four standard tie-down hooks to help make sure cargo stays securely strapped in place and it can accommodate a standard pallet. Speaking of work, a standard two-inch receiver hitch means the Viking VI can tow an additional 1,500 pounds.
Work or recreation, the Viking VI is competent off-road, capable of carrying six, confidence inspiring to drive and in short, has the potential to create a cult following for an entirely new category of Side-by-Side. Hopefully for Yamaha dealers, history will repeat itself and we will see high watermark sales surpass the Rhino back in its glory days.
Assembled in the USA
Yamaha’s Viking line has Georgia on its mind
The first hint of something big came when Yamaha quietly phased out the Rhino and launched the 3-person Viking in 2014. “Yamaha will be announcing another new utility SxS model this summer, and is gearing up for more new product launches with an accelerated product plan,” was the follow-up message from Yamaha’s ATV/SxS group VP, Mike Martinez. “We will stay on the gas throughout 2015 and beyond.” Facilitating this aggressive product schedule is an expansion of its manufacturing operation in Newnan, Georgia. Originally a golf cart operation, the plant outside of Atlanta added watercraft production, ATVs and later SxS over the years. Now nearly all Yamaha’s personal watercraft and ATVs are manufactured in Georgia, as is the new Viking and Viking VI.
“Having all of our production in Newnan continues to increase our efficiency and promote more coordination and collaboration with the factory so we can make adjustments and come up with new products that our customers want,” explains Martinez. “The company continues to invest in the Newnan factory to ensure production capability for the future and strengthen its commitment to the ‘Assembled in USA’ message.”
While some of the engines and a few electronic components are still coming in from offshore, virtually everything else is made in Newnan. However, they are still legally obligated to say “assembled” rather than “made” in the USA – “Proudly built Real World Tough and assembled in Newnan, GA, USA” is the marketing spin to get around the technicalities. More of the Viking is made in Georgia than anywhere else and now marketing and R&D will be done in Georgia as well.
Part of this shift to Georgia – Martinez calls it an “alignment” – includes moving ATV/SxS marketing and R&D from Southern California to Newnan. By the time this issue goes to press, most of the personnel will already be calling Georgia home. “Yamaha is aligning its ATV and SxS vehicle product development and market operations more closely with its manufacturing facilities,” he explains. “The alignment will increase efficiency, coordination and collaboration, which will make it possible to support accelerated new product development and more vehicle launches.”
So does that mean we will be seeing a race version of the Viking or a new sport ATV coming as a direct result of the alignment? “Yamaha will continue to give our customers and our dealer network exiting new product,” says Martinez… too cagey to commit to a sport machine of any type. It becomes a function of sales numbers. While utility vehicle sales dominate, high performance and sport machines have always been Yamaha’s lifeblood, especially on the ATV side.
“We’ve said it for years – as the economy turns around, so will the sport ATV market,” says Martinez. “We’re already seeing that happening. Last year, sales of sport-oriented vehicles were up over the previous year, and Yamaha’s leadership position in this category has us well positioned to continue dominating sport ATV sales as the economy continues to improve.”
Like Ray Charles sang, we will have Georgia on our mind through this alignment process. However, Martinez still won’t say when we will be invited to Newnan to see the new sport machines roll off the assembly line!
– by Robin Hartfiel