PERU, Ill. — Looking for a side-by-side to do some trail riding this summer — or even just for doing some work around your farm?
“I say good luck if you can find one,” said Brian Leone, of Leone Polaris in Peru.
Leone, like other dealers of off-road vehicles, has seen an explosion in demand for the vehicles throughout 2020 and that demand is not expected to dampen much going into 2021.
“It’s been the most unbelievable thing that I’ve ever seen. If we get something on the floor, it very rarely lasts more than a week,” he said.
The surge in demand started about this time a year ago, as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders had families at home and with limited recreation options. Suddenly, exploring the great outdoors became the recreation of choice and the vehicles that enabled that became hot commodities.
Formally known as UTVs, or utility terrain vehicles, but more commonly known as side-by-sides, the four-wheeled vehicles came onto the scene around 1999.
When they were first introduced, as a roomier and larger alternative to the popular three- and four-wheeled ATVs, all terrain vehicles, UTVs were mostly used as utility vehicles, for farm and construction use.
“They were mainly utility vehicles until about 2006, 2007 and then the recreation side got really popular and that’s what has been driving their popularity ever since,” Leone said.
Out Of Stock
Derrick Palmer, manager of the Sievers Equipment store in Jerseyville, said his store has continued to sell the units for utility use, but has seen the interest in them growing since Sievers bought the Jerseyville store in 2017. Sievers operates six Case dealerships in Illinois and one in Missouri.
“At the end of the first quarter of 2020, a lot of places closed down and there were a lot of people at home. My 20 to 30 on the lot, in about a month and a half to two months, went to zero,” Palmer said.
The rush to buy one of the vehicles — and the fact that there were none to be had for a period of time — was historic.
“Every dealer experienced the same thing in the same time frame as their inventory levels went to zero. There was nothing around. You might get one unit in a month and as soon as it hit the ground, it was sold. I’ve been in this business 21 years. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it like this. I’ve seen models of certain equipment be hot property and they couldn’t build enough of them, but not across the board,” Palmer said.
That demand continued throughout 2020, with Polaris dealers throughout the Midwest quickly selling out of any and all models they had in stock.
“We’ve been completely out twice and usually we have 60 to 70 machines in stock. Right now, I think we have three or four ATVs and Rangers and that’s the most we’ve had since February,” Leone said.
Polaris offers prospective buyers the opportunity to custom order a machine built to their specifications. The wait time on those machines even now ranges from a month to four months, depending on the model and the upgrades, Leone said.
While more people have placed orders for new machines, many, especially last year, wanted them immediately.
“When I’m in the shop on a Saturday, people come in and they’ll say, ‘What do you have for side-by-sides?’ ‘Well, we don’t have any, but we can order you one.’ ‘No, we want one right now,’” Leone said.
Part of the delay even now is due to manufacturing constraints. Suppliers of parts for the vehicles also were impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns. That reaches across all lines and types of equipment, said Palmer, from side-by-sides to lawn mowers and tractors.
“They had some issues with their suppliers. They source out some parts and some of those suppliers can’t get those parts to the manufacturers,” he said.
Judging by orders placed late in 2020, it looks like the demand will continue, Palmer said.
“I have 30 units on order and 20 are sold before they even show up. It might be two to three months,” he said.
The demand extended to winter recreation. Leone said he saw double the demand for Polaris snowmobiles last year that the dealership usually sees.
“What we are seeing in the snowmobile business is people who own older snowmobiles or who had one in the past now want to get back into it,” Leone said.
A return of snowy winters to the area means snowmobilers don’t have to go far to find good snow.
“I am going to predict that for snowmobiles, we are going to be completely sold out by Dec. 1,” he said.