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Polaris Taps Zero Motorcycles to Electrify Its Off-Road Vehicles

Polaris Inc. plans to electrify its off-road vehicles and snowmobiles with powertrains purchased from Zero Motorcycles, a California maker of electric models.

Polaris is buying the technology needed to take the leap into electrification through a 10-year exclusive supplier agreement, while Zero, a closely held 14-year-old company that’s yet to turn a profit, will be able to lower costs by buying parts through Polaris’s supply chain, the companies said. Polaris plans to offer electric options across its off-road-vehicle and snowmobile lines by 2025, with the first electric model due at the end of 2021.

“I’ve been a vocal proponent of not pursuing electric in power sports until it made sense,” Scott Wine, chief executive officer of Medina, Minnesota-based Polaris, said in an interview. “What’s really happened over the last couple of years is, we’ve seen the battery prices come down.”

Companies from General Motors Co. to Harley-Davidson Inc. are embracing electrification, while so far only Tesla Inc. has demonstrated broad demand for electric vehicles in the U.S. Polaris, which counted on off-roaders and snowmobiles for 62% of its $6.8 billion in revenue last year, is betting customers will spring for electric versions with extended battery range and more power at a slight premium to its combustion-engine models.

The company is targeting 10% of off-road-vehicle and snowmobile sales to be electric by 2025, Wine said. He declined to specify which model Polaris will electrify first. Its Indian motorcycle brand isn’t included in the agreement because the CEO sees more demand and profit potential from electrifying Polaris’s off-road vehicles.

“We do expect to offer an electric powertrain at Indian at some point in the future, but it’s not our immediate target,” Wine said.

Polaris chose Zero as a supplier because it focuses exclusively on engineering electric powertrains for motorcycles, Wine said, adding that all-terrain vehicles such as Polaris’ RZR and Sportsman models need to extract more power from a smaller number of cells than an automobile.

“We have cost requirements, space requirements and weather and waterproofing requirements — that makes it a different set of variables,” Sam Paschel, chief executive officer of Scotts Valley, California-based Zero said in an interview.

Polaris already dipped its toe into electrification with battery-powered versions of its Ranger utility vehicle and electric mini-buses in France. Wine says the electric Ranger is “barely adequate” and “expensive” compared with what Polaris will make with Zero’s powertrains.

Still, he’s taking a cautious approach to EVs with the partnership agreement.

“For the first few years, it’s going to be a smaller percentage of our business,” he said. “If this becomes 80% of our business, of course we’ll want to have that in-house.”

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