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The Price is Right: Are Today's Snowmobiles Too Expensive?

Sticker shock and debunking modern sled pricing myths
No doubt, the most expensive sleds on the market have always been, and will always be … well, expensive. That fact just doesn’t give the full story when it comes to affordability and the actual buying process most consumers face with snowmobiles (or anything for that matter). The most expensive sled in any given season can eat up 20-30% of the median U.S. income, to be sure, but spending that much of your income on any purchase is ill advised.

We’re going to dive a bit deeper into a cost analysis of a few snowmobiles, comparing apples to apples as best we can. While we won’t go back 40-some years (before half of the snowmobiling-age consumers were even born), we will look at the technological advances and performance improvements that may justify price increases over the years. We’ll also consider inflation* and try to determine if current sled pricing is actually outpacing the general economy.

To cite an example from a recent article we read, a 2002 Arctic Cat Thundercat had an MSRP of $10,499. However, if you spring ordered that exact snowmobile in 2016, the MSRP jumps to $14,107 based on consumer purchasing power numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics. If you spring ordered the 2017 ZR 9000 Thundercat, you know that the actual MSRP of that sled was $16,899. Did Arctic Cat make $2,792 worth of improvements to that ’02 T-Cat over the last 15 model years? Those are the questions we’ll examine. Our findings may surprise you, and if we’re being up front about it, we’ll tell you that the cost of a snowmobile isn’t necessarily going up.

*Inflation calculated using information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

10-YEAR COMPARO: 2007 Polaris 600 H.O. RMK 144 vs. 2017 600 RMK 144

2007 600 H.O. RMK 144 Price: $7,999
Inflation adjusted 2007 price: $9,408
2017 600 RMK 144 Price: $10,699
Changes: A new RMK chassis that’s better designed for mountain riding compared to the 2007 version, and the 599cc Liberty engine now features SDI, electronic oil pump, bypass thermostat and lightweight integrated mounts. The front-end went from the IQ RMK to the AXYS RMK. The back-end went from the RMK suspension to the IGX 144 rear suspension. You now have LED lights, and the sled weighs 17 lbs. less than it did 10 years ago. That is quite a few improvements.
Bottom line: Would you argue all the above is worth the $1,300 price difference, or not?
Back in My Day!
Believe it or not, there was a time when you could buy a new sled for less than $1,000. That was in 1969, when a 1970 Boa-Ski Mark 1 retailed for $750. Calculate for inflation, however, and that equates to $4,846 in today’s dollars. Would you pay that much for an 18-hp vehicle that’s about as reliable as a teenager doing the dishes? Not unless it cuts your lawn, and it better do it for the next 15 years!

I’m not saying snowmobiles are cheap, but the numbers indicate OEMs are pricing their products fairly. The media, competition and consumer attention all keep manufacturers honest. There are sleds that cost $17K, but there are also sleds starting under $7K. There aren’t many vehicles clearing 0-60 mph in three seconds unless they’re named Lamborghini (price tag: $397,000). Snowmobiles can climb straight up mountains, comfortably take two people down super snowy trails for hundreds of miles, give reliable thrills, and even cross open water ... and ALWAYS bring a smile to your face … I’ll pay for that!
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