It’s been two decades since the RANGER® 6×6 vehicle was introduced and revolutionised the side-by-side category in 1998.
Mitchell Johnson is the son of David Johnson (one of the founders of Polaris in the 1950s) and relates how the RANGER® came to market: “We had talked from time-to-time about making a side by side ATV for a driver and passenger. One day, Edgar Hetteen [one of our founders] came to my office and said we should make a 6×6 in a side-by-side configuration, he loved the machine but wanted to ride beside his wife Hannah.”
Major decisions about the new model were all made as ‘gut calls’.
“Edgar mocked up side-by-side seating on a 6×6 in his workshop, we spent an hour or so sitting in it to see what it was like – should it have handlebars or a steering wheel? Should it be ride-on or ride-in? With new products like the RANGER®, you never know if you’re going to hit the bullseye with customers – the customers themselves don’t envision how the product will or can be used.”
The key in developing the RANGER® was to keep the team and investment small: “I worked with Edgar, Chuck Baxter (VP of engineering) and James Bergman at BEAMCO in Alvardo, MN, to see if he would do the initial concept work. The idea was to keep investment small, so that if we didn’t hit the bulls eye, we could adjust the sights easily to get closer to the target centre.”
During early conversations, the main characteristics were clear: “Good speed, great ride and handling with excellent off-road capability, plus a greater payload than any of the utility haulers on the market were all attributes we wanted the vehicle to have. The initial prototype was received well by management. And the first production made a small profit in the first year. We also achieved ‘off-road’ status for the vehicle, which was essential.”
RANGER went from initial development to production line in just two years, and is a testament to the Polaris culture – innovation and development, moving with the times and trusting staff to make decisions. Even the name of the new model was helped decided by employees.
“One of the early Polaris products was a RANGER® snowmobile. When the model was discontinued, so was the name, which I always thought was a shame and I wanted to bring it back. We went out to the employees to ask them to think of a name and said we’d give $100 if their name was chosen. Mike Trihey and Donny Whiteman submitted RANGER® name and were given $100 each. The RANGER® name represents the category – it’s fun to ride and that’s one of the most important elements for us. The RANGER® was a team effort. This stuff doesn’t happen without the people on the team.”
Polaris celebrated rolling the one-millionth RANGER® machine off the production line in 2017.