“It’s the most fun you’re going to have under 25 mph,” says Brad Darling, president of ARGO, speaking about ARGO’s XTVs. The ‘Go Anywhere’ extreme terrain vehicle manufacturer was back again this year with a new ride-and-drive event at ERX Motor Park located outside Minneapolis. Following its event last year in Austin, TX, where ARGO unveiled its 2017 XTV line, this year, you guessed it, the brand unveiled its 2018 ARGOs. However, the company decided to also use this event to drop a bomb of a surprise on the media in attendance – an ATV line up!
Last year’s trip to Austin coincided with Darling’s first day on the job at ARGO after having worked for Arctic Cat for nearly 17 years. In the year since Darling’s arrival and subsequent naming as president, he has been busy with several big initiatives for the company as it celebrates 50 years in 2017.
The biggest initiative was the launch of an ATV product line – fun at more than 25 mph. Darling’s introduction of the Xplorer ATV lineup was in the interest of ARGO’s future, its growth potential and a way to do more for its dealer base.
“When I saw the XTV product in Austin, I started to look at it and think, ‘How does this work within our current dealer base, and what’s the future,’” he says. “What impressed me the most about the company was its aspirations to grow. The new ownership, that had bought the company in 2014, made it acceptable to take this company to the next limit.”
While Darling wanted to grow the business by adding a new product line, the last thing he wanted to do was take any attention away from the XTVs. Those vehicles are and will still be the company’s main focus.
Featuring leading terrain capabilities, excellent value and enhanced performance, the complete 2018 ARGO XTV lineup is categorized into two distinct vehicle families – Recreation and Commercial.
The Recreation line includes the Frontier, Avenger and Conquest series, while the Commercial lineup includes the Avenger and Conquest series.
Much of the 2018 XTV models remain fairly similar to 2017 iterations, however the company has listened to owners’ pleas to reduce engine noise and added a new, upgraded triple differential ADMIRAL HS steering transmission to the Avenger 8×8 LX. The company plans to further enhance the XTV experience through design and function upgrades as well as continuing to expand the accessory options available.
“We’ve got some really good dealers,” Darling says. “What attracted me before signing on to this company the most were the dealers out there selling one, two or three units a year, and the dealers out there selling 50, 60, 70, 80 units a year. When you have 80 ARGOs going out of a dealership, that tells you there’s a market. I looked at that and started establishing a strategic plan.”
He started by interviewing ARGO employees, asking them where the company should go, what do they want to do, what’s working and what’s not working? He spoke with end users to get the voice of the customer, and with the dealer base to get their voice. It was a four- to six-month project, according to Darling. Then he started to roll through a strategic plan for ARGO through 2020.
“By the time we were all done, it summed up to essentially say we want to double our dealer base and triple our business,” he says.
The key for Darling was knowing what it was going to take to get there. His first case of business was to bring on more people in sales roles – establishing the largest sales team ARGO has ever had – with the goal of signing new dealers.
ARGO took a unique approach to the locations of its dealer base, too. Ensuring that there wouldn’t be too much overlap and keeping the goal of profitability top of mind, ARGO dealers are spread further apart than other brands in the industry.
“When we started lining up where our sales team was going to be placed and our target areas, what we did at the same time was establish that we wanted 624 dealers,” Darling says. “We are two to three times fewer dealers than other brands. We aren’t into that market-share game, we just want to do a good job and want our dealers to be able to make money.”
While this was underway, Darling and his team also asked plenty of questions to ensure an ATV line would be greeted with open arms.
“The first question we asked our dealers was how do we mean more to them,” Darling says. “We analyzed right away that we are low volume. We went out to our dealer base with a six-page survey and on the second page said, ‘In the next 12 months are you interested in adding ATVs, SxSs, lawn and garden, marine, snowmobiles, PWC, etc.’ Then on page five we asked, ‘Should ARGO decide to brand an ATV or SxS, would you be interested?’ It went from 6 percent interest in adding a new line to 64 percent interest in an ARGO-branded product. We looked at that and said, ‘There is a lot of power in this ARGO brand name that has been around for 50 years.’”
Darling also asked ARGO owners similar questions and found that 66 percent of them own an ATV and only 21 percent owned a SxS.
“What we realized is that the ARGO itself is in consideration if they are looking for a SxS, but not if they are looking for an ATV,” he says. “Then we went back to our dealer base to figure out what percentage either don’t handle ATVs or handle the Japanese brands. We looked at that because we want to bring out two-up ATVs and the Japanese don’t have two-up ATVs.”
What ARGO came up with after a year of analyzing data is the Xplorer ATV lineup. The Xplorer ATVs consist of both a 503cc version and a 997cc version. With a focus on performance and innovation, the ATVs are available in one-up riding with the XR 500, EPS and LE configurations and for two-up riding with the XRT 500, EPS and LE or XRT 1000 LE configurations. ARGO partnered with TGB in Taiwan to manufacture the vehicles.
The 500-class features a 39hp electronic, fuel-injected engine, a large rack capacity, ample ground clearance and comfortable suspension travel. All ARGO Xplorer ATVs also come equipped with a standard, two-inch hitch receiver.
For easy control, the Xplorer’s Tri Mode Speed Sensitive Electronic Power Steering (TMSS EPS) provides riders with selectable minimum and maximum assist on the EPS and LE models.
The XR 500 LE and XRT 1000 LE feature 26-inch premium Innova tires mounted on 14-inch black aluminum wheels. The XRT 1000 LE model features a powerful V-twin, 997cc, 4-stroke, single overhead cam engine that puts out 83hp, and also comes equipped with active descent control and an electric un-locking, turf mode, rear differential.
ARGO made the active choice to enter this market guns blazing by offering seven configurations right from the start rather than testing the waters with only one or two options.
“The first thing customers look at is the 500-class ATV,” Darling says. “The reality is the models with power steering are going out the door much more than they did when it first started. So we had to have a power steering model. Then, many people in the off-road business want aluminum rims and bigger tires. We were able to step all the way through with our XR 500, XR 500 EPS and our XR 500 LE. The LE has more of the bells and whistles, including power steering. Our biggest seller will end up being the XR 500 EPS because people just want power steering and don’t care as much about the rims and extras.
“We did the same thing on the two-up models. Analyzing our dealers, we found out how many carry Japanese ATVs. If you sell Arctic Cat, Polaris or Can-Am, you already have two-ups today. If you’re selling a Japanese brand you don’t and there is a nice two-up market out there. So for those dealers selling ARGOs and a Japanese brand, the ARGO Xplorer ATV makes sense and a lot of the Japanese brands don’t have ATVs up around 1,000cc either.”
ARGO identified certain segments within the ATV category that it wanted to focus on. It chose to bring the Xplorer in with a full-size chassis and a focus on premium tires, suspension, good gauges and functions.
“We didn’t want to cheap out to get the right price,” Darling says. “Consumers still want a full-feature vehicle. They don’t want something that has been de-featured to hit a price point. Our strategy to keep up with the quality of our XTV was to make sure we had high quality on our ATV as well.”
Why get into 1,000cc if the bigger market is 500cc? Darling says it adds credibility and legitimizes ARGO’s entry into the ATV business, and ARGO can bring 1,000cc in where competitors are pricing 850cc. However, pricing for the Xplorers has yet to be released, but models should be available for the fall selling season.
With a lot on his plate in his first year as ARGO president, Darling has been delivering on his promises. The company plans to launch one new ARGO product a year for the next five years and will keep its focus on the XTV product. The sales team and engineering team have been staples to the company’s success this year, and will continue to be a big factor moving forward.
That being said, it’s the company’s dealer base and current owners that really provide ARGO with a future focal point.
“We continue to listen to our customers,” Darling says. “We’re going to answer the questions that our consumers and owners are asking us. We will never forget where we came from. We want to make sure that we are continuing to evolve and change while maintaining quality.”
ARGO celebrated its 50th anniversary in mid-August with an Expo at its factory in New Hamburg, Ontario, for dealers and distributors, as well as a special day for folks in the community.
Big things are happening at ARGO. Its XTVs are continuing to deliver that “Go Anywhere” performance, and the new line of Xplorer ATVs excited the media during the ride-and-drive event. With the growth ARGO is experiencing, you have to wonder where the company will be in another year from now, because Darling isn’t done yet.
“After 14 months, I look back and can say I’ve checked a lot of boxes off, but I’m pretty impatient and we haven’t gotten to where we need to go,” Darling concluded.