The process of creating a new Honda model or a major redesign is a laborious task. There is no "magic formula;" literally thousands of decisions must be made to arrive at the final product.
In the case of the Honda Rancher ATVs, that process was especially challenging: How do you improve one of the most popular ATV designs? To find out, we queried the people responsible for this remarkable new design, the Honda Development Team at Honda R&D Americas, in Ohio.
Q: Where and how did the new design for the 2014 Ranchers begin to take shape?
A: The new Rancher was developed from concept to production by our U.S.-based Honda operations. The bold new styling was developed by our design team in Los Angeles, and every part on the new Rancher was designed, tested, and developed by our engineers in Ohio. The new Rancher is built at our facility in South Carolina. It is an ATV developed in the U.S. by a design and engineering team made up of Powersports enthusiasts who are passionate about the products they create.
Q: What were the overall goals for the new Rancher design?
A: Enhance utility, and reinvent recreation. Those were the key concepts. The Rancher is a multi-use vehicle for both utility and recreation. The previous-generation Rancher is very good for utility, but we felt that we could make big improvements in the recreation area: specifically, items related to handling and ride comfort. The development team's goal was to maintain functionality and utility while making improvements to handling and ride comfort. The team also ensured that all of the Honda requirements and standards were achieved to maintain our legendary durability, quality and reliability.
Q: How were these goals determined?
A: We used a combination of direct customer feedback coupled with our local development engineers' understanding of the ATV market.
Q: What kinds of feedback did you consider from Honda customers as well as other ATV customers?
A: When our development team visited Rancher customers, they were surprised to find that the overwhelming response to the question: "What would you change about your Rancher?" was: "Nothing." We also learned what was important to the Multi Purpose ATV customer and tried to implement as many of those needs into the design of the next generation Rancher models.
Of course, this was good news for everyone except for the team that had been assigned to develop the next generation Rancher—how do you go about making happy customers even happier without alienating them? So given this very positive feedback, the development team asked themselves a question: How do we improve a product that everyone already seems to love?
This is where the advantage of having a unique development team comprised of highly skilled engineers who are also Powersports enthusiasts pays off. The development team scrutinized every aspect of the current Rancher with a unique perspective, a view that combined the outlook of both customer and development engineer. The result is our best ever Rancher—these 2014 models are more comfortable and better handling ATVs that are fully functional, wrapped up in all-new, rugged styling.
Q: How and where did you gather this Honda customer feedback?
A: Our development team visited customers, rode with customers at a variety of ATV events and attended focus groups all around the country to better understand the customer's usage and preferences.
Q: Which demographic populations are important to Rancher sales?
A: The Rancher spans the entire range of off-road customer usage. The previous-generation Rancher already carried a strong reputation for its work usage and we have made no compromises to this functionality. With the improvements we have made to handling and ride comfort, we feel that more customers will expand their usage of the new Rancher for recreation and trail riding.
We also feel that the new aggressive styling will attract a wide range of customers. It's a more aggressive and bold style that makes the new Rancher stand out from the crowd.
Q: What key design elements were included in prototype Ranchers?
A: The key focus of the development activity was to refine the frame and chassis design to achieve the best comfort and ride handling. The development team also ensured that each part met the stringent Honda requirements to maintain our legendary reliability. The team thoroughly tested and refined every aspect of the vehicle until all targets and criteria were satisfied.
Q: How were these design elements evaluated in early development?
A: In the early stages of development, the team used advanced CAE (computer aided engineering) to design and analyze every part of the vehicle. This in-depth engineering analysis allowed the development team to confirm the design of every part before a prototype vehicle was ever built. After the prototype vehicle was built, the team confirmed the actual vehicle to the targets and requirements and refinements were made and reconfirmed to achieve the final product.
Q: Which new elements bring the largest increases in performance? How and why?
A: The first thing that customers will likely notice about the new Rancher is the great new styling. But it's what's underneath this new bodywork that will be most appreciated—the handling and comfort of the new Rancher. The development team started with the proven 420cc engine and re-engineered every part around it. The all-new frame and swingarm have been designed to optimize strength, rigidity and comfort. The front and rear suspension components have been completely redesigned and the suspension travel increased. The ride position has been optimized and the seat thickness increased to create a comfortable riding position for a wide range of riders. All of these changes work together to create the most comfortable and best-handling Rancher.
Q: What key advantages will customers enjoy with this new-generation Rancher?
A: With this new-generation Rancher riders will enjoy everything past Ranchers have been famous for, plus improved handling and ride comfort, bold new styling and the best value possible in the ATV market.