After nearly 50 years ARGO is re-establishing itself
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]bout an hour and a half drive outside of Austin, Texas is the Canyon of the Eagles Resort, a site chosen by ARGO for its new LX series press event. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, among a lush and hilly landscape in Central Texas, surrounded by Blue Bonnets and plenty of water, it was obvious we would have a great environment to test drive the new ARGO line up of vehicles.
For those unfamiliar or with only a vague understanding of what an ARGO vehicle is, the company has trademarked XTV (Extreme Terrain Vehicle). An ARGO combines elements of an ATV and UTV to become something completely unique in the powersports world. Oh, and who needs four wheels when you could have six or eight? That’s just the beginning of what makes an ARGO different from anything else available.
Before we go too far, let us back up and give you some history, because Argo started in 1967 and will turn 50 years old in 2017. ARGO is owned by Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG) founded in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1962. As the subsidiary of a German company, its objective was to design and manufacture power transmissions and gears for the North American market. ODG developed and manufactured a special transmission for a 6-wheel-drive, skid steer ATV called the Amphicat. Realizing the potential of the ATV market, ODG decided to introduce its own 6-wheel, amphibious vehicle in 1967, and the ARGO was born. It was named for its stamina on land and water after the Argonaut of Greek mythology.
In the years since, ARGO, which is located in New Hamburg, Ontario, has done well developing a unique and versatile vehicle. However, sales began to stall and consumers wanted more out of the vehicle than they were getting. Fast-forward to today, and both ODG and ARGO were purchased in August 2014 by private equity firms Aperion Management and Falcon Investment Advisors. As part of that purchase, Enoch Stiff was brought in as ARGO’s new CEO, and over the past 18 months he has been addressing the things contributing to the company’s misfortune.
New ownership committed to building upon ARGO achievements and getting the company out of its stalled position in the market. They focused on differentiating it from traditional ATVs and UTVs; with more focus on improving the ARGO’s ergonomics, functionality and habitability, and leveraged existing vehicle lines and improved R&D efforts.
Under its new leadership, ARGO also had to change its approach. “We needed a common vision, a new strategy and to educate the distribution channels,” Enoch says. “Sales previously relied on people seeking out an ARGO rather than the company marketing itself to prospective buyers. ARGO wasn’t engaging the larger market. But this is all changing.”
Roughly half of ARGO’s business comes from the hunting market. Historically, ARGO had ignored the recreation side of the marketplace. Enoch wants to hone in on specific markets to target the ARGO at, such as hunting, utility, emergency, cottage, government, agriculture, mining/construction and recreation.
To aid in that effort, ARGO recently hired former Arctic Cat executive Brad Darling as its new president. In fact, his first day on the job was with us media folks test riding the product. He assumes responsibility for leading and growing ARGO’s commercial and recreational markets, building and executing a global expansion strategy based off of the company’s recently launched target market vehicle platforms.
Speaking of the vehicle platforms, ARGO currently has 100+ dealers in Canada and 175+ in the U.S. The company has distribution to more than 50 countries. In 2015, ARGO unveiled 12 new target market models, the most ever in the company’s history. Here in Austin, Tex., the company unveiled its LX series models, which are scheduled for a Q2 launch and are a high-end luxury model that represents ARGO’s first foray into the more affluent side of the recreational market.
To test drive these new vehicles we left the comforts of the Canyon of the Eagles Resort, as it was located on a nature preserve that didn’t allow off-road vehicles, and took a couple minutes drive down the road to a 1,300-acre property called Reveille Peak Ranch that contained all the necessary ingredients for putting these ARGOs through the paces.
As previously mentioned, these vehicles are unlike anything else on the market. Here’s a better idea of what that means… ARGOs are skid steer driven, meaning they don’t steer like a conventional vehicle where the front wheels turn in the direction you want to go, but rather one whole side of the vehicle slows down in order to make a turn. The slower you’re going, the better turning capability the vehicle has. The vehicle is capable of 90-degree or more turns, but at higher speeds, the vehicle is limited to how tight a turn it will make so as not to throw the driver or any passengers out in the process.
ARGOs today only come with either six or eight wheels. The vehicles have a uni-body design and are fully amphibious. The body of the vehicle has a skid plate underneath to add ruggedness. And because the ARGO is all-wheel drive, as long as just one wheel is touching the ground, it will go. The vehicles also have a lower center of gravity, which helps in those extreme terrain environments.
One of the more unique features are the tires. ARGOs don’t have suspension, instead the tire pressure is kept extremely low to help absorb impact. The new LX models feature beadlock wheels that allow the tire pressure to stay at just 1.5 – 2 lbs., which gives these models an even better ride, speed stability and control.
To improve ergonomics, the ARGO LX has seats that feature improved cushioning and adjustability, access steps and handrails to make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle, a versatile entertainment and communication system, and enhanced lighting that past ARGOs lacked.
Under the hood ARGO runs 100% Kohler engines, and each vehicle has a 7-gallon gas tank that allows for roughly 8 hours of driving. The LX series features a 30 hp (8×8) and a 23 hp (6×6) 748cc EFI engine capable of going 25 mph and 22 mph on land, respectively.
You may notice in the photos that the driver is seated on the right. While ARGO was originally a European idea, the reason for the driver position is because it is ideal for the engine configuration and transmission alignment.
One of the ARGO’s most distinguishing features is its amphibious capability. The ARGO can power through all types of wetland environments, including slow-moving streams, rivers, ponds, and small lakes. The ARGO’s tires have a specially designed tread that allows it to propel through the water. While the top speed in water is just 3-4 mph, an outboard motor option can be added to accelerate you to 10 mph. With efficient load distribution, an ARGO can swim with up to 750 lbs.
On land, the ARGO LX is a blast to drive. With a twist of the handlebar throttle the ARGO is off and steering is easy. The vehicle was never meant to be a speed demon, but going 25 mph over harsh terrain is plenty. The vehicle truly had no issues going wherever you wanted to go. In fact, you might hesitate to go through certain terrain well before the ARGO fails to traverse it.
The ARGO LX 6×6 and 8×8 (MSRP $19,145 / $27,295) come in a number of exclusive colors – Cranberry Wine, Sunset Magic, Royal Nautica, Silver Shadow, Crimson Shadow. However, all ARGO vehicles have an array of additional options to customize the vehicle to your liking and activity. For example, ARGOs can be outfitted with tracks that go right over the tires for better winter driving.
In addition to the LX series, ARGO also had the Wilderness series onsite. This series includes the Outfitter 8×8 ($34,995), HuntMaster 8×8 ($27,795) and Scout 6×6 ($17,895) and 8×8 ($22,195).
Overall, the new and improved ARGO was impressive, and we think consumers and dealers will agree. In 2015 alone, ARGO added 34 new dealers and increased sales 20% from August 2015 to present. The ARGO is no doubt a unique vehicle, and it’s one with seemingly infinite possibilities. Buyers beware – get ready to go where no vehicle has gone before.