State of the Market: UTVs - Spring 2021
Stepping on up from the humble but practical ATV/quad/4-wheeler (or whatever you prefer to call them), we have the UTV, also referred to as a side-by-side (SxS) in some circles. The term side-by-side is a little more all-encompassing as it includes non-utility focused 2-seaters and 4-seaters like the strictly recreational speed machines from Polaris and Can-Am - the Rzr and the Maverick. Because my wife and I have a small farm and plenty of wooded trails to maintain, I tend to gravitate toward the side-by-sides with cargo beds and some towing capacity - or the UTV portion of the segment.
There is absolutely no shortage of gas and diesel powered UTVs. In fact, the market is white hot, and competition is stiff. There are dozens of dependable and quite capable offerings; and even though I believe most of them to be dramatically over-priced, there’s a wide variety good machines out there nonetheless.
If for some reason you’d prefer to have your UTV propelled by electricity instead of gas or diesel, then unfortunately your options are severely limited, especially in the USA. And I mean like seriously limited. In fact, you can count those options on one hand.
There’s the old stalwart, the Polaris Ranger EV, which is largely unchanged since it was first introduced in 2010. Though it offered lithium batteries for a time, the option priced the machine out of budget for most people. While it’s now well into its second generation, today it’s still chugging along with lead acid batteries - probably the machine’s biggest shortcoming. Lead acid batteries just don’t hold a candle to lithium batteries in any of the metrics that matter - energy density, charge times, life span, etc. The batteries in the Ranger EV also require relatively frequent (though simple) maintenance. It really just entails making sure that they’re topped off with distilled water, but the batteries aren’t very easy to access or refill. While we have to applaud Polaris for having produced the Ranger EV at all, we’re more than a little disappointed that it’s been neglected as much as it has. That said, it has brighter days ahead. Polaris has made a big commitment to electrifying its line-up over the coming years, and I think the Ranger EV will be a headliner once it finally gets the attention it deserves.
If you’re feeling dangerous and are willing to gamble a bit at the chance to save a few bucks, then there is also the Hisun Sector E1. Hisun is based out of China with American headquarters and an assembly facility in Texas. Chinese quality control in general tends to lean a little loose; and while I haven’t had any personal experience with Hisun products, I have read a few damning reviews regarding the quality of the gasoline engines in their UTVs. Hisun’s electric Sector E1, however, could be a different story. It’s also a bit of a bargain in some respects, especially where it comes to standard equipment. The Sector E1 comes standard with a composite roof, full windshield, a winch, and even electric power steering. All of that costs you extra with the Polaris Ranger EV, and I don’t believe EPS is even an option on the Ranger. Couple the high level of standard equipment on the Hisun with a price tag that’s already $600 cheaper than the lowliest Ranger EV with none of the aforementioned options, and you may begin to feel the temptation - the temptation to try the Chinese on for size.
Speaking of the Chinese, I’d like to introduce you to (if you’re not already acquainted with) ... the Pickman. I gotta tell ya. I love this little guy. I’ve always been a fan of the Japanese miniature work trucks with hydraulic dump beds and such. The Pickman may not have a dump bed or Japanese heritage, but it does combine my fetish for minuscule pickup trucks with my longing for electric propulsion. It also has a fully enclosed cab, and bedsides that fold down just like the tailgate to transform into a flat bed. The Pickman Classic 2-door hits a sweet spot for me. It has perfect proportions, low bed height for easy loading and unloading, darn decent payload and towing capacities, and gobs of swag. Oh, and it has a fully-boxed ladder frame just like the big boys. It's even somewhat reasonably priced at $10,000, which includes a fair bit of standard equipment and features you simply can't find on some of its potential competitors. If only it had 4-wheel drive and some more power at the same price, this little rig would find its way to my farm in a hurry. I wouldn’t even hesitate over questions about build quality. I’d just go for it. Immediately. There is actually 4x4 version coming later this year called the Pickman XR. I’m sure it will tickle my proverbial and metaphorical pickle, but I’m not thrilled with the price of entry, which comes in at just a buck under $16,000.
A relative new-comer to the ATV manufacturing business, a company out of Arkansas by the name of Intimidator has developed a full line-up of off-road utility vehicles including one unimaginatively named UTV called the Intimidator Classic EV. It looks the business and seats three with a spec sheet otherwise not dissimilar from the Polaris Ranger EV. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s more expensive by several thousand dollars with the unaccessorized base model starting at a whopping $14,299. I mean just... woof. These are high-dollar machines, and Intimidator doesn’t exactly have the brand recognition that Polaris does. It kind of seems like a hard sell to me - just on paper. But I guess we’ll see how they stack up when we do our big comparo later this year.
Compared with the other UTVs on the list here, the Tracker Off Road EV iS is a different beast altogether. Don’t let its form factor fool you. It may look like a golf-cart on steroids, but by some measures this hog out-performs all of the other contenders mentioned here. For starters it has a 72-volt AC motor with 38 horsepower. You want ground clearance? This thing has it. Want to seat four people? You can. Don’t need to tote around three passengers? Fold the rear-facing back seat down, and you have an 840-lb capacity cargo bed. It even has a 2-inch hitch receiver with which you can tow up to 1,000 pounds. So the cargo and towing capacities are less than the competition for sure. There’s no question there. But at least it makes up for that deficit with a little more versatility. There’s something to appreciate in that.
Long story short, if you want an electric UTV from a major manufacturer with a proven track record, a good dealer network, and dependable customer support, whelp.... you’re probably in the market for a Polaris Ranger EV. As of early 2021, there really are no other available options that meet those criteria. It’s a sad state of affairs to be truthful.
BUT! There is hope on the horizon. Back in September of 2020, Polaris and Zero Motorcycles announced a 10-year partnership to bring a full line-up of electric off-roaders to market. The plan as it stands is to combine Zero’s excellent drivetrains and software with Polaris Industry’s off-road platforms and absolutely gargantuan market presence and extensive dealer network. The agreement is a good sign of things to come for the electric off-roading community, and Polaris has already given us a peek at what’s coming down the pipeline first. Just a few weeks ago, they unveiled the full-size electric Ranger and said that it’s coming in December this year. Hopefully, the products that come from the Polaris-Zero deal will encourage other major brands like Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Can-Am, and John Deere to get serious about going electric.
Also of note regarding the future of electric UTVs is the up and coming Volcon. They have developed and are soon to be shipping a fantastic-looking little electric off-road motorcycle called the Grunt, as well as a pint-size version called the Runt for little tykes. We hope to get our hands on the Grunt soon to run it through its paces, but farther down the pipeline Volcon is planning to introduce two new electric side-by-sides: the Beast and the Stag - one for work and one for pleasure. An intriguing selling point that they often advertise is that their powertrains are supposedly completely waterproof - to the point where the machines could theoretically operate underwater without issue. While I’m hopeful they’ll be able to pull it off, I’ll remain skeptical until I can buy one for myself and actually sit behind the wheel. I’m also slightly concerned that Volcon might be crushed into oblivion - or maybe just bought out - once the Polaris-Zero agreement becomes fruitful. We’re hoping to sit down one day soon with the bright minds at Volcon to answer all your (and our) burning questions. Volcon, you guys know how to reach us.
The moral of the story is this: the state of the market, as it now sits for electric UTVs, sucks. It’s not quite as bad as the state of the market for electric quads, but it’s still pretty dismal. The future does, however, offer a glimmer of hope, so stay tuned because we have an inkling that things are going to start moving quickly in this space very soon. We’ll keep you posted.