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Q&A Part II with John Collins, VP of Textron Specialized Vehicles


(9/18/2017)

Arctic Cat's Roger Skime (L) talks with John Collins of Textron Off Road. Photo by ArcticInsider.

Four months ago, John Collins, vice president of the consumer business for Textron Specialized Vehicles, talked with us here about Textron's purchase of Arctic Cat.

The interview occurred just six weeks after the sale of Arctic Cat to Textron was finalized. In terms of what Arctic Cat would look like under Textron ownership, that first interview offered only a few broad-brush strokes, and less specific detail.

Now that we’re nearly six months into the new Arctic Cat and Textron Off Road, Collins (above right, shown talking with Arctic Cat legend Roger Skime) offers new insight into the integration; what they’ve learned about Arctic Cat and its loyal customers; the just-released model line of ATVs and side-by-sides; and more.

 

AI: Thanks again for taking time to talk John. Like many Arctic Cat fans, I care deeply about the brand and am curious about how the last six months have gone. In general, how’s it been for both Textron and Arctic Cat?

Collins: It’s been great. We completed the acquisition in early March. Most individuals expect that on the first day, all systems, employees, products and process will fall into order. It’s natural to think that, but it doesn’t happen. Less integration happens before the acquisition is final than what people expect. This is the first public acquisition that I’ve personally been a part of, and the same is true for most of us at Textron Off Road and Arctic Cat but that’s no excuse, we’ve implemented a lot of great things in a short amount of time.

In terms of personnel, we’ve consolidated the sales team, because we wanted a unified approach to dealers for the various product lines we offer. We also consolidated the marketing teams to ensure that we have and deliver a consistent message.

We made decisions to invest where to build product, including moving the Stampede line from Augusta, Ga., to Thief River Falls, as well as moving production of the Textron Motors 850 engine to St. Cloud, Minn. Those were great, correct decisions, but of course it’s meant a lot of work.

We’ve consolidated engineering teams on the dirt product. We hired Craig Kennedy to run the snowmobile division as Vice President, Snow. Craig has had a longstanding, successful career at Arctic Cat with broad knowledge of engineering, sales and marketing.

We hosted eight dealer meetings throughout North America, with more than 500 dealers opting to invest and carry product that they didn’t have before, whether that is E-Z-GO, Stampede or Arctic Cat.

Really, it’s been fast and furious. We’ve made great progress, but there’s still more to be done.

 

AI: What specifically are you thinking of when you say that?

Collins: Both us, and our dealers, want to see the integration of Arctic Cat and Textron Off Road happen faster, especially the communication system. Kevin Holleran [President and CEO of Textron Specialized Vehicles] says we need to be easier to do business with, which I agree with. We’re focused on improving these systems.

New products are the other area: We talked about Wildcat XX and Havoc, our two soon-to-come performance models. As we told our dealers, Havoc will be released this fall and the Wildcat XX will be coming in the spring of 2018

 

AI: I’m going to come back to specific product in a moment, but first I want to hear what have you and other Textron leadership learned about Arctic Cat the company, as well as dealers and customers that maybe you didn’t know back in early spring?

Collins: We knew that people were passionate about brand. That’s been reaffirmed many times over in recent months!

We’ve learned that Textron Off Road and Arctic Cat are full of hard working, passionate and smart employees who are capable of so much, in Thief River Falls, St. Cloud and Augusta.

Our dealers’ passion has also been great. They’ve embraced Stampede, which has been gratifying to see. Retail of Stampede is going very well, but we’re not feeding inventory to our dealers fast enough. We had hoped to be able to ramp up production faster than we’ve been able to, in order to match demand.

 

John Collins, Vice President, Consumer, Textron Specialized Vehicles. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

AI: Textron Off Road just released its 2018 model line of ATVs and side-by-sides. To be honest, there wasn’t much new in the just-released line. Why is that? 

Collins: As I mentioned earlier, from an outside view, like you, I think consumers expected an entirely new product line with an acquisition like this one. Again, we’re only at the 6-month marker and new product development cycles take 2-3 years (sometimes longer). For this first wave of 2018 Textron Off Road units, we needed production-ready machines to go down the line which consisted mostly of the legacy Arctic Cat products like Wildcat and Alterra. And although its technically not new, we introduced, the fresh-to-market from last year, Stampede, to the 2018 Textron Off Road line-up. We know everyone expects more new product, and they’re going to get it. We’re not done introducing machines for 2018.

 

Textron Off Road Havoc, photo taken by ArcticInsider.com

AI: That’s great to hear. Tell us about Havoc. What can you say about this machine, and when do you expect it will be released?

Collins: It will be a performance crossover UTV built for the enthusiast that wants the best attributes of a Stampede and Wildcat. Engine performance, suspension and styling will be class leading.

 

AI: Production of Stampede side-by-sides now takes place in Thief River Falls, and production of the 80-hp 850 twin used in those machines will soon be moved from Germany to St. Cloud, Minn. How has that transition gone for the company?

Collins: Stampede is being produced every day now in TRF. That’s been excellent.

We’re going to fill up the factory in TRF with production.

Production of the 850 Stampede engine and 957cc twins for the Havoc is being moved to St. Cloud, to leverage that state-of-the-art engine manufacturing facility as well as the excellence and proximity of that work force by year end

We’re also producing Arctic Cat snowmobiles in Thief River Falls and E-Z-GO product will continue to be built in Augusta, Ga.

 

AI: When the 2018 dirt model line was introduced recently, several former Arctic Cat models were noticeably absent, such as most full-sized Alterra ATVs, the youth models, Prowlers and HDX. Are these models gone for good?

Collins: Some no, some yes. To make those decisions, we studied the 2017 and earlier models that dealers had in inventory, as well as general sales numbers for everything. We didn’t want to introduce a 2018 version that had a large inventory of non-current models. That type of plan doesn’t help our dealers.

Some of those models will return, some won’t. You can expect another announcement on model year 2018. We will continue to introduce new product and expand our model line-ups.

 

AI: Has Textron made other improvements to either the Thief River Falls or St. Cloud facilities?

Collins: Yes: all side-by-sides are being assembled on a new line that features auto-guided component delivery vehicles. There are no chain-on-ground or overhead conveyor delivery methods for this line. This translates into more efficient production.

We’ve also made a substantial investment in new welding robots in Thief River Falls. The new paint line was completed last year and is working excellently, which was central to a $27 Million plant upgrade.

The St. Cloud facility will see more investment as we bring in more engines for production.

 

AI: Textron is closing down the former Arctic Cat corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. When will that be complete and where are the remaining employees based?

Collins: That’s a great facility, but was built to support a corporate overhead structure that no longer exists, because we have it in our facilities in Augusta or Providence, Rhode Island. Many of the people who work in Minneapolis are relocating to St. Cloud.

The snowmobile business will primarily be run out of Thief River Falls, with the dirt business primarily running out of St. Cloud.

 

AI: Where are you working and living?

Collins: I’m now a resident of Minnesota, with my family, and my office is in St. Cloud!

 

John Collins, VP Consumer, Textron Specialized Vehicles. At Hay Days. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

AI: Awesome, that’s good to hear! How long will it take for this entire integration process to be complete, and the company – both Textron Off Road dirt products and Arctic Cat snowmobiles – to fully operate on their core business of designing, building and selling machines?

Collins: From a brand standpoint, we’re done. We are Arctic Cat snowmobiles and Textron Off Road dirt products. That transition has taken place, although we will continue to invest in building the brands.

From an engineering standpoint, of integrating all the great people from Stampede and Cat, we’re 75 percent complete.

On the sales side, we’re done. People know their roles and are operational.

From a dealership acquisition standpoint, we’re 50 percent done. There are still dealers who are waiting for product.

From an ease of doing business standpoint, including the operational tools, portals and communications aspects, we’re probably only 25 percent complete. That’s because Textron Specialized Vehicles and Arctic Cat were each standalone companies for more than six decades. It takes a lot of work to integrate the various systems into one coherent method of working with our dealers. This is the longest part of it all, and we’re getting more efficient every day, but it will probably take 18-24 months.

 

AI: How do you decide which business system to use, or whether to create an all-new one?

Collins: We’re incorporating the best elements of all the brands. There are examples where the way that Arctic Cat did business was better than how we’ve done it at Textron Specialized Vehicles, and vice versa. We’re recasting ourselves using the best practices.

We are now one company that needs to do business the right way. We’re getting there. There will be some fine-tuning along the way.

 

AI: How has Textron ownership affected the snowmobile division so far? Are there aspects of the division that now reflect new ownership?

Collins: We need to remember that in the earliest days of integration, we did a lot to sell aged inventory and give customers a reason to engage in our brand. The No Brainer event for dirt was wildly successful. A lot of customers got new machines for amazing prices.

We now just started doing that with new, non-current snowmobiles. We’re also calling it the “No Brainer Sales Event.” It will help our customers get incredible machines at fantastic prices, while also helping our dealers to sell inventory. We put Craig Kennedy in charge of the snowmobile division. He’s a great leader. I have some view into what snow Engineering is working on, and it’s outstanding.

 

AI: We all want new and innovative product, good dealerships and strong customer service. It’s what most snowmobilers have always wanted.

Collins: Yes, and we’re committed to delivering exactly that.

 

AI: Thanks for the update, John. I’d like to follow up with you again, perhaps after Arctic Cat announces the 2019 snowmobile line in February.

Collins: Your welcome, and I look forward to it. We want everyone in the Arctic Cat and Textron Off Road family of riders, dealers and fans to be aware of the steps we’re taking to be the best powersports company in the business.

John Collins, Vice President, Consumer, Textron Specialized Vehicles. Photo by ArcticInsider.com



Comments (17):

Tom Rowland says:
9/18/2017 8:27:00 PM

Great interview John (Sandberg), welcome to Minnesota John (Collins)! More and more things in this massive puzzle are starting to make sense as the weeks pass. On a side note...our first new Textron Off Road Wildcat 1000 X Limited rolled off the truck here today and let me tell you it feels like happy days are here again when that big V-twin powered machine rumbled into the back of our service department for final assembly!
fastf800 says:
9/19/2017 4:46:00 PM

i dont care about faster or big suspension side by side. i want quiet.
Tom says:
9/19/2017 6:27:00 PM

Dealers are blowing out inventory at garage sale pricing, and inventory on sleds are still stacked up --outside of the Hay Days Market.
Any insight on 2018 deliveries-- I think the big three are reporting lackluster results for snow market again ?
Mike F says:
9/19/2017 8:17:00 PM

Trying to build a "brand" like Textron Off road is silly, when you had a perfectly good brand that you paid for, cheaply. It just needed exposure as AC could not afford it. The brand has passion, and name recognition, and a 50+year old history. Textron sounds like a cheap Chinese import. Sounds like typical hedge fund manager hubris decision from Providence, Rhode Island.
Chris says:
9/20/2017 10:18:00 PM

I agree, still don't know what they went with Textron name on the dirt side when all Textron had in it's lineup was the god awful looking stampede. I have a 15' Prowler HDX that's been a great machine. Was looking to upgrade in a year or so and really like the changes they made to the newer Prowler which will no longer be available, but it looks like it's going to be a Ranger next. Also, why did the Alterra wheelers move back to the 12 year old body style? The new ones were sharp looking and getting great reviews, just needed a refresh on the motor offerings. Sorry for the rant, but I've been a die hard cat fan my whole life and feel like we've been kicked to the curb. I have some hope left on the sled side for now. Time will tell I guess.
Shawn Hopkins - 563 Motorsports says:
9/20/2017 11:52:00 PM

Thank you John and John (Mr. Collins), Great interview. Thank you for the info on how Textron is combining the companies and keeping the Arctic Cat Sled brand alive and not taking it apart and selling it off. Cat people are very passionate like Harley people. I would have liked to see the Arctic Cat brand name stay alive in the ATV line but at least they are keeping the Model names. Bottom line it is now Textron's Company and they can do with it as they see fit.
Stix says:
9/21/2017 6:44:00 AM

I have to admit my enthusiasm for the Cat brand has taken a big hit. IMO dumping the Cat name on the dirt side for a name brand no one knows of shows the commitment to Cat passion or should I say lack of. It's crystal clear why Texteon made this purchase, the engine plant in SC is number one and the mfg facility in TRF. I believe big changes are coming in the snow line as the bad winters and sled prices are making that a tough bus. I just don't see any commitment to Cat in this corp takeover. None.
Bulldog says:
9/21/2017 8:17:00 AM

I think the improvements Textron is making to the manufacturing line is only going to make our sleds better and more reliable. Robotic welders and improved parts carries sound like a big step in the right direction. I am excited to see what the new merger will bring to the dirt and snow side. I am in need of a new wheeler or side by side and want something other then a Polaris Ranger. Those things are like *******s... everyone has one!
Snopro says:
9/21/2017 9:44:00 AM

This stampede thing just doesn't work for me. This will be a interesting winter to see how long Textron keeps in the snowmobile business. Just look at that headlight on the new race sled. The cost cutting has only just begun.
JimR says:
9/21/2017 10:08:00 AM

It is a racer Snopro! They really dont need headlights as the track is already lit up anyway. Not cost cutting what so ever. I have a Cat Wheeler and if it said Textron off road, it would not bother me one bit. Get over it on the name thing. They are still building them in TRF!
Bulldog says:
9/21/2017 2:25:00 PM

I agree JimR. I hope Textron gives them the buying power they need to put better components on the machines. I hate the squeaky breaks and A-Arms on my machines because of cheap Chinese parts Cat had to use to keep costs down. With Textron's buying power I hope that changes for the better. As long as the Sleds Stay Arctic Cat and they continue to put money and innovation into them I don't care what they call the Dirt Side.
Snopro says:
9/21/2017 4:56:00 PM

Should we really even have articles on Non Arctic cats? This is Arctic insider. Let the huge stampede following talk up their machine. They must have a multi generation, die hard, hard core, wear nothing but, buy nothing but stampede group somewhere? Right? We leave the Yamaha guys alone.
Oldcrow says:
9/22/2017 4:50:00 PM

Remember back in 92 when the Super bowl was in MN.
During the halftime show there were 2 Ski Doo snowmobiles running around on the field.

With 2 power sport manufacturers in the state I hope we see one of them at this years bowl.

Step up Textron!!
webster says:
9/23/2017 6:08:00 PM

u wont see Textron at the super bowl POLARIS is the perfered product of us bank stadium and the minn vikings they paid for that a few year ago AC didnt have the $
Branded says:
10/3/2017 10:05:00 PM

Companies that lead learn from mistakes quickly. Killing Arctic Cat dirt brand wasn’t necessarily a mistake, going to Textron Off Road was. Agreed, AC doesn’t have the same luster/loyalty on a national level as it does in the Midwest but at least it was recognized. If they didn’t want the baggage of the brand they should have gone to another name that has positive brand equity, the one that sticks with me is THUNDERCAT. I think AC people would have gotten behind that as the dirt brand and i think it would be easier to attract people to that brand over Textron. “Let me tell you about my Thundercat Sampede!”
Dan Larson says:
10/16/2017 11:02:00 PM

My 2 bits: Every coin has 2 sides. As indicated in the Q&A and other articles regarding the name change I have this to say. Their results indicated that the Arctic Cat name was not as well known outside of the snow belt, which may be true, however I never heard of their Stampede product until this merger went public and I started paying attention to them. So it goes both ways. And I am old enough to know of Textron from back in the early years when they owned Polaris and have a few Homelite chainsaws that were also part of Textron. But again, Stampede?? Never heard of it until the merger announcement. My Arctic roots run deep as my grandfather was selling new Panthers in the 60's at his farm before the whole dealership concept really took hold. Still have 2 of those 68's in my barn along with many, many others that people who know me have seen the 175+ I have accumulated. Yes, I'm addicted and not searching for a cure. I've owned Arctic Cat sleds and only Arctic Cat sleds my entire life, mostly bought used but bought several new ones too. I will always own them and have been preparing to buy some ATV's or a Prowler too but they will be Arctic Cats, not Textron Off-Road, so 2017 or older is what it will be for me and my family. Glad that Arctic Cat is not gone, but sad that the ATV's have been renamed especially considering Textron has so many other products that were not renamed within their organization. Also, in my career I've been thru 3 merger/acquisitions so I'm not a rookie in that area either. Sadly, none of them went too well for many people with one company completely destroyed and gone. I wish the best for the Arctic Cat family that I have come to know and respect for the past 40+ years.
Jeff says:
10/18/2017 12:04:00 PM

I as well have been a huge arctic cat fan of snowmobiles and atvs and currently atv only.

Lots of pride in arctic cat and the name as much of my clothing reflects.

Huge mistake to kill the Arctic Cat name from dirt products and complete lack of respect for the loyal customers. Could easily incorporate both names.

I'm very happy with what I currently have and at 6'2 why would I buy a sxs (including the new stampede) where I hit my knees in the cab?

I will look at all Mfg when it is time to replace what I have and maybe Textron will wake up by then.

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