When the Novel Coronavirus Disease, or COVID-19, was declared a pandemic in March 2020, nobody knew what the coming months would hold. Businesses shut down, schools transitioned to virtual instruction, and “work from home” became the norm for many, all in the name of curbing the spread of the virus.
It was (and continues to be) a pretty uncertain time. But through it all, there was one thing that many people seemed to agree on: the economy was sure to suffer.
And they were right—for the most part. Putting so many people out of work and the entire country on lockdown meant less spending and fewer cars on the road. In many economic sectors, the assumption was that closing everything down would lead to people not spending as much money.
But as it turns out, for those of us in the off-road industry, those assumptions were wrong. From what we can see, many Americans actually used this extra time at home to venture into the off-roading world.
With most public spaces and attractions in the United States closed down indefinitely, quarantined people all over the country were left with two choices. They could either stay inside or find new ways to fill their time (while still avoiding person-to-person interaction). While some were content to stay at home and spend time with family or roommates, others took this opportunity to get outside and hit the trails.
In an April 2020 interview with CNBC TV, Polaris Industries CEO Scott Wine acknowledged that off-roading turned out to be a great way to get out of the house while still following state social distancing guidelines.
“People do want to get outside,” Wine said. “[Off-roading] is a way to be out with your families and those that you social distance with. We believe we’re offering an opportunity for people to recreate in this environment where there aren’t many other options.”
And we agree. What better way to distance yourself from the general public than to explore the great outdoors in your four wheeler or side-by-side?
It’s not only seasoned off-road enthusiasts keeping the industry afloat during these times. Polaris has noticed that it’s mainly brand-new customers who have been buying machines during the pandemic.
In another interview with CNBC, this time from May 2020, Wine notes that Polaris saw “solid single-digit growth with [their] core customers” while the country was on lockdown.
“It’s new customers and new families coming in,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot of new customers and we like that, because we believe that as we bring in new customers, they’ll bring in their friends and it expands the sport. As the number one leader in powersports, it’s really our obligation to expand the market.”
And shouldn’t that be a goal for all of us—to introduce others to our favorite hobby?
Quads and side-by-sides aren’t the only vehicles that have seen a sales boost over the past few months. Recreational activities of all kinds have observed sales spikes over the past few months, when consumer demand was expected to be at an all-time low.
In a phenomenon that many analysts are referring to as the “pandemic paradox,” powersports leaders across the board are reporting better-than-expected sales. From motorcycles to boats, they bought it all.
Industry leaders became aware of this trend in early June. The Motorcycle Industry Council reported that year-to-date powersports sales were not only up, but were better than they had been in the past three years.
According to MIC President and CEO Erik Pritchard regarding the first quarter of 2020, “It’s the second-best performance only to 2016—in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of really high unemployment. So if you feel like your company’s been having a good, sort of surprising, first four months, you’re not alone.”
Pritchard’s observations were confirmed by Honda’s Colin Miller, who also reported that off-road sales have been consistently up since the start of the pandemic, particularly in the month of May. Last month, both ATVs and off-road motorcycles experienced sales increases well above 2019 numbers.
Our team here at SuperATV noticed a similar trend during the first few months of the pandemic. While sales were lower than normal in March, they came back strong in subsequent months. Initially, SuperATV was able to react quickly and fulfill all customer orders. But as sales continued rolling in, there were times when stock levels were sparse.
“As the unprecedented sales continued to defy expectations, we experienced intermittent stock outs as demand surpassed anything we could have anticipated,” said Jackie Gross, Supplier Development Manager. “We are reacting to these daily to make sure we have orders on their way as soon as possible.”
So that’s what the SuperATV team is up to for now. We’re working hard to meet demand and fill your orders as quickly as possible, in a time when the industry is booming.
“We are happy to see the riding community and the overall industry grow so dramatically as people get their families out of quarantine and into the great outdoors,” said Gross.
Despite the surprising economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the off-road industry, many companies still hesitate to get too comfortable in the current economic climate.
“We’re encouraged by the early signs of demand in April but we’re not confident that it’s going to continue,” Polaris’ Wine said. “But certainly there’s more consumer strength and demand for the opportunity to get outside than we had anticipated. We’re prepared for the worst and we’ll be ready for the best.”
In unprecedented times like these, that’s just about the only thing any of us can do. And in the meantime, continue heading outdoors and seeking adventure behind the wheel of your favorite ride. Your friends in the off-road industry aren’t going anywhere.
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