Future of Travel

Drivers can hit the trails—and charge up for free—in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Electric off-road vehicles “actually outperform combustion-engine vehicles on some of those tasks that they’re used for in work applications,” a Polaris exec told Tech Brew.
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Polaris

3 min read

The sound of silence is now easier to find in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

That’s thanks to the introduction of all-electric off-road vehicles that, among other perks, promise a quiet, exhaust-free ride through 100 miles of trails in the famously scenic setting.

Minneapolis-based powersports company Polaris recently teamed up with the State of Michigan to establish an EV charging network across trails that traverse four communities in the UP’s Ontonagon County—a project that they’re billing as the first of its kind.

Andrew Chasse, VP of strategy and partnerships at Polaris, told Tech Brew that the manufacturer has been testing electric versions of much of its product portfolio in the last several years.

“We’ve been on a pretty intense journey to learn about what electrification brings to powersports,” he said. “One of the things that we latched onto really early in that process was, our customers had very little interest in electrification just for electrification.”

But Polaris has found that its customers are interested in electrification’s benefits—no exhaust fumes or emissions, fewer maintenance needs, faster acceleration, and a quieter riding experience.

Just over a year ago, Polaris introduced the Ranger XP Kinetic, an electric off-road vehicle designed for customers who use vehicles like this for work—think farmers, ranchers, and hunters.

“These are very, very capable vehicles and actually outperform combustion-engine vehicles on some of those tasks that they’re used for in work applications,” Chasse said.

But for those who want to ride their vehicles further distances, they need somewhere to charge. Enter the partnership with the State of Michigan.

Last June, Polaris announced it had received a $700,000 grant, through the Michigan Office of Future Mobility & Electrification, to build an off-road charging network in the UP. At the same time, Polaris teamed up with an outdoors store in Ontonagon, Michigan, called Hamilton’s North Coast Adventure, to offer rentals of the Ranger XP Kinetic for recreational purposes (a full-day rental costs $299).

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Polaris, working with renewable energy storage company Yotta Energy, installed four charging stations, each with four charge points, so multiple vehicles can charge at once. The stations can power off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, and “other trails-approved electric options,” according to a press release. Riders can charge up for free.

Yotta’s charging stations have solar production capability and can be used either on or off the grid, according to the press release. They can store up to 120 kWh of energy.

The charging sites were selected because they’re near attractions that riders might stop at anyway, like a restaurant or a scenic point on the trail, Chasse said.

Overall, Chasse said he doesn’t expect EVs to make up a huge percentage of Polaris’s sales, at least not yet, but he thinks the numbers will grow in the years to come. Polaris is using the UP charging network as a learning opportunity and will evaluate whether it makes sense to expand this type of service.

“These aren’t cheap things to put in place,” he said, “so this really helps us build out the business case for, what’s the next spot that we might go with infrastructure and how would we approach that?”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.