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Interview - Hydratrek Amphibious Vehicles
Craig Simonton representing Hydratrek contacted me a few months ago just to introduce himself and his company. I'm sure most of you have seen some posts here on the site about the hydraulically driven Hydratrek 6x6 and 8x8 amphibious vehicles. If not, here is a brief overview; All of their amphibious vehicles have over 16" of ground clearance and currently they all have a top ground speed of 15mph and water speeds up to 5mph thanks to the hydraulically driven dual prop system. They all are larger than your typical AATV and they each fit at least six people comfortably. The 6x6 vehicles come equipped with a 44 HP Kubota turbo-charged diesel. The 8x8's come with a Cummins 60 HP turbo-charged diesel. All of the vehicles can be controlled with one hand and in the water you can choose from using the tires only, the props only, or both for propulsion.
I asked Craig if he would be willing to participate in an interview for 6x6 World to give us a better understanding of Hydratrek and he kindly agreed. After months of waiting on me to get the interview together (Thank you for your patience Craig) he and the Hydratrek crew answered all of the questions and returned them to me within 48 hours. Craig had told me a little about Hydratrek before the interview was composed so let me explain briefly how the questions were written and addressed. The interview was broken down into two parts. Some of the questions were directed to the initial designer of Hydratrek, Louis Gaither. Louis is no longer involved with the day to day operations of the company but Craig was kind enough to reach out to him for some of the questions in the interview. Aside from asking Louis, Craig directly answered business related questions all while engaging the company president Kevin Gay throughout the process for additional input. Together they have created a very informative interview that allows us to have a great, in-depth look into Hydratrek. Let the interview begin:
Mike: What was your first experience with an amphibious vehicle?
Louis: I purchased an Argo to replace my conventional ATV. Its primary purpose was to get me to my duck blind.
Mike: Have you owned other amphibious vehicles in the past and do you currently own any other brands of AATVs? If so, what were/are they?
Louis: I owned an Argo for three years. It is no longer in existence.
Mike: What was your inspiration for creating the Hydratrek MPAV?
Louis: My Argo failed many times in the field. I got stuck often, had very little maneuverability in the water, and the drive system wasn’t reliable enough for heavy use in mud and water. The last draw was when I flipped the Argo on top of myself and my dog while riding on the side of a small levee. We barely survived.
Mike: Can you walk us through some of the design iterations that you went through before arriving at the Hydratrek that we see today? For example, what were some of the major design differences from your first prototype vehicle to the current one in production and what did you find during your testing phases that pushed you to make these changes?
Louis: The first Hydratrek prototypes were actually a 4 wheeler type machine. It still had its amphibious qualities, but operated as a 4x4. The ground pressure was too high, so this lead to the 6x6 design with the optional over-the-tire tracks system. Ascetically, the first generations our units were not very appealing. The instrument panel was very boring, there were no seat backs, and the drive system was belt driven. Going to a closed loop hydrostatic drive gave the Hydratrek much more power and reduced the margin for failure. Also, the hydraulic wheel motor shafts have been “beefed” up through the generations for added strength and durability. The props and prop housing has been redesigned twice to give up the best diameter to pitch ratio in regards to water speed and prop protection.
Mike: Why did you choose an aluminum tub instead of a plastic one?
Louis: Aluminum is much more durable and will outlast plastic on this type of vehicle.
Mike: Which features of Hydratrek are you most passionate about?
Louis: The seamless transition from land to water is something I really enjoy. Also, the water performance is excellent in regards to other AATVs.
Mike: Were there any features that you would have liked to have incorporated into Hydratrek but couldn't because of time, cost, or other business challenges?
Kevin: This is ongoing. We would like to have attachments for the Hydratrek (i.e. snow plow, excavator arm, hydraulic winches, bush hog, etc. Also, we would like to get our machines closer to 20 MPH on land and 8 MPH in water.
Mike: Hydratrek is visibly larger than a typical recreational amphibious ATV. What criteria dictated the size?
Kevin: A Hydratrek is larger than most AATVs for a couple of reasons. One, we need the room to house the diesel engines and hydraulic system. Two, the wider machines are much more stable in the water. Also, there is more room from a comfort perspective.
Mike: Have you considered designing a scaled down version of a Hydratrek strictly for recreational use to compete with the likes of Argo and Max and perhaps even more mainstream ATVs such as Rhinos and RZRs?
Kevin: We are thinking about a two-seater version of the Hydratrek. However, it will be some time down the road before we build any prototypes. Scaling our machine down may take away from some of our unique features like the towing and payload capabilities, beefy diesel engines, and stability.
Mike: What does the name Hydratrek stand for?
Craig: This doesn’t really stand for anything. We tried to use other names but had issues with trademarks, etc. Hydratrek worked at the time, and we are really proud of the name and growing brand recognition today.
Mike: Tell us a little about the facility where Hydratreks are manufactured.
-Where are you located?
Craig: Our plant is located in Covington, TN (40 miles N of Memphis). We share a 180,000 square foot facility with our sister company, Rose Machine & Tool.
-How many employees do you have?
Craig: Currently, we employ five people in the front office to oversee operations, sales and marketing, and production. There are eight full and part time employees that work in the shop with design and manufacturing for Hydratrek. We have one full time assistant, Kelly, who manages our paperwork, mailing, and billing.
-How long have you been in business?
Craig: The initial conception and design for Hydratrek began in late 2004. The first prototypes were built in 2005, and we launched onto the commercial market in the spring of 2008.
-How many units do you produce a year?
Craig: Throughout the company’s first two years on the market, there have been 30 units sold or leased into the field. Three-quarters of these units were 2009/10 business. If demand increases substantially, we have the facility and capabilities of producing 1-2 machines per week. The forecasted goal for 2010 is 42 units.
-What is your typical time frame for completing a MPAV from start to finish?
Craig: From start to finish (aluminum body construction to shipping), there is a 2 week lead time on the 6x6 units, and a 4 week lead time on the 8x8 units. However, we typically stock the aluminum bodies for each model, which are fabricated next door at Rose Machine & Tool. This can cut lead time down to 1 week on the 6x6 and 3 weeks on the 8x8. These times are based on minimum shop load.
Mike: Who is your target market?
Craig: We basically target the same markets as other AATV companies. However, because our machines are much more commercial duty than most, we don’t focus too heavily on the recreational market. Our machines are currently placed with Utility and Pipeline companies, Sheriff’s Offices, Search and Rescue teams, Army Corp of Engineers, Oil Industry Service groups, Air Force Bases, and big-time Duck Hunters. Other markets and uses include Geological Survey, Levee Management, Wetlands Assessment, Wildfire Suppression, Aquatic Vegetation Management, Resort Transportation, Aquatic Reptile Ratification, etc.
Mike: What ways do you actively market Hydratrek?
Craig: We have a growing internet presence. Our website, www.hydratrek.com is constantly being updated with new information and photos. We have a GSA schedule, contract # GS-03F-0081U, which provides some visibility in the Public Safety and Military markets. There are several videos posted on Youtube.com that have over 3,000 views. And our Facebook group, Hydratrek, Inc., has grown to nearly 300 members. Also, we have and will continue to attend trade shows and conferences in select markets. There is literature, quotes, and DVDs available to anyone who makes a request via our website or phone call.
Mike: Who do you see as your closest competition?
Craig: This is a good question. Because of our aluminum construction, vehicle design, commercial components, and unique features, we do not feel like we have any direct competition. However, indirectly, we do compete with Marsh Master, Argo, and Polaris. The machines manufactured by the companies, whether amphibious or not are sometimes used by the organizations or people we target. For the sake of this interview, I will say that Land Tamer may be our closest competition. Their machines are similar in looks, power, and capabilities, but we do have two 11” bronze propellers for water propulsion.
Mike: Do you sell directly to the public or are you developing a network of dealers to sell and service Hydratrek?
Craig: We are developing a network of dealers to help us grow and manage our business in select market areas. At current, we have one established dealer in Slave Lake, Alberta. However, we are very close to finalizing our business plans with companies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Ontario Canada. Other states with plenty of potential for Hydratrek business are Alaska, Oregon, California, North Dakota, Texas, Florida, and the New England area. We have and will always sell directly to the public from our home office.
Mike: Can you tell us a little about the growth that your company has experienced and what your forecast looks like?
Craig: Although the first prototypes were developed in 2005, it took almost three years of continuous R&D and refinements of the Hydratrek before we could comfortably emerge onto the market. From the spring of 2008 through the 2009 year, we sold or leased 24 different machines in the field. In terms of forecasting for 2010, we are projecting to place another 42 Hydratreks in operation. This number is based on our Q4 2009 feedback from trade shows, marketing programs, dealership prospects, internet inquiries, and the shows we plan to attend this year. Through the first quarter of 2010, we have sold 10 units and shipped 8 of them.
Mike: Where can customers go to get their Hydratrek serviced?
Craig: Because the number of machines on the market is still relatively small, we will provide any and all service or warranty work on our units in the United States. By the end of 2010, there will be a growing number of authorized Hydratrek Dealerships for sales and service work. In Alberta, customers can go to Slave Lake Communications for any required service needs.
Mike: On behalf of the members of 6x6 World I want to thank you all for taking the time to participate in this interview!
Before I wrote the interview questions I had asked Craig to just tell me a few things about Hydratrek. His description of the company was so good that I want to repost it here for everyone even though it may repeat a couple of points addressed in the interview. It gives you a good look at the history of the company:
Hydratrek, Inc. is part of a family of companies. The companies are owned and ran by the Rose Family (Coy, Paul, & Allan). Coy and his father started a black smith shop here in Covington, TN in 1953. Coy was about 12 years old at the time. His father passed in 1960, and Coy took over the business at age 18. It grew into the Rose Construction Company through the '60s and into the early '70s. Two of his four boys (Paul & Allan) joined the company in the '70s, and the business grew much larger. They created several other small businesses and LLCs throughout the '80s. One of which is Rose Machine and Tool, a special project fabrication company. They also do commercial land development, real estate development, process solution providers, and own several mini storage facilities.
About 2004, one of their seasoned engineers and project managers, R. Louis Gaither designed the initial concept of Hydratrek after several field failures and a near death accident with an Argo. He had an idea to create an amphibious machine that was more durable and stable than his Argo. It was originally going to be the ultimate hunting vehicle. He presented his ideas to the Rose Family, and they were instantly interested. It was spun-off from Rose Machine & Tool to help base load that division. They have been the primary financial backbone for Hydratrek, Inc. since day 1. The first prototype machine was built in early 2005, and it only had 4 wheels. It was a decent vehicle, but obviously had design and performance issues. That machine is still here at the plant, and it runs!
When Katrina hit in August of 2005, it opened their eyes to a new market with Hydratrek: Public Safety. Because the machines needed a better design and increased performance, additional capital was secured through the Rose Companies, Mr. Gaither, and one other private investor. It took roughly 2 full years of R&D and testing to create the 6 and 8 wheel vehicles that we have on the market today. The initial launch onto the commercial market was summer of 2008. There are almost 30 units in operation in the USA, Canada, and United Arab Emirates today.
Kevin Gay was hired as the company President in June of 2008. He has nearly 22 years of manufacturing experience with the Muller Industries, Inc. He served as a plant designer and manager the last 10 years with that company. R.Louis Gaither took on the Sales & Marketing position, and Coy has much to do with design changes and implementations. Allan has been pivotal in the promotion and marketing campaigns, and Paul is primarily an investor/mentor and oversees the other businesses.
2010 is being considered as year 1 in terms of sales forecasts and future benchmarks. This is due to the fact that sales team has been officially organized and goals are in place. Hydratrek is a commercial vehicle first, and recreational vehicle second. This is mostly due to the high-end components and durability of the machine, and because the opportunity is greater with governmental agencies and companies that need an amphibious work horse.
Last edited by Mike; 04-05-2010 at 10:48 PM.
Last edited by Mike; 04-05-2010 at 11:10 PM.