Manufacturer of the Year 2011: Polaris Industries

December 30, 2011
By Motorcycle USA Staff
A higher steering ratio means less input at the wheel causes greater turning.
Strong sales from its Ranger UTV lineup have powered Polaris Industries to record profits in 2010 and 2011.

While most of the major OEMs are still reeling in 2011, business is booming for Polaris Industries. The Minnesota-based company registered record-breaking profits in 2010, and by all accounts it is projected to beat those numbers for 2011. Strong sales in the UTV segment, specifically its Polaris Ranger lineup, get credit for the boom, but sales figures for its Victory Motorcycles are up in 2011 as well.

The sales stats are impressive, but it is the bold strategic moves that make Polaris our selection for Manufacturer of the Year. The headline grabber came in April of 2011, when Polaris snatched up Indian Motorcycles. Attempts to resuscitate the Indian brand have come and gone, and it remains to be seen how Indian will mesh against its now sibling brand, Victory. That said, Indian is a heritage marque with huge potential for its new owners.

Less hyped than the Indian acquisition, but perhaps more important for the future bottom line, Polaris expanded its electric vehicle holdings in 2011. The company already produces an electric version of its Ranger side-by-side, and the EV LSV, an electric-powered UTV for the military. This year the company further consolidated its position in the EV market with a trio of investments. First it snapped up Global Electric Motorcars from Chrysler, just weeks after acquiring Indian (GEM located near Victory in Fargo, North Dakota). Polaris then became a major investor in Brammo Inc, leading a $28-million wave of investment in the Ashland, Oregon-based electric motorcycle firm. Then in November it purchased Goupil Industrie SA, a French-based builder of commercial electric vehicles.

The original Indian motocycle logo; the company dates itself to before wed even settled on the spelling of the word motorcycle.
Polaris acquired a heritage brand with Indian Motorcycles. The big question is what will the company do with it?

It bears mentioning that not all Polaris news was good for American workers. A 2010 decision to move some production south of the border by opening a plant in Monterrey, Mexico still stings, but that blow was softened somewhat by the 2010/11 successes. Business was so good in fact that original plans to completely shutter its facility in Osceola, Wisconsin got a temporary reprieve, with approximately 50 engine manufacturing jobs spared the axe. Polaris also added jobs to at its Spirit Lake, Iowa facilities to pick up the production slack. We also commend the company’s profit-sharing system, which divvied out $13.6 million of its 2010 profits to hourly and non-salaried employees. The company reports those cash bonuses represented 19% of the workers’ annual pay.

For the time being, Polaris is definitely “winning” as Mr. Sheen might say. And considering the perpetually bleak economic forecasts, having an American manufacturer operating in the black and sharing the wealth with its workers… that’s some welcome news in the powersports industry.

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