ASV, Inc.

views updated May 23 2018

ASV, Inc.

840 Lily Lane
P.O. Box 5160
Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744
Telephone: (218) 327-3434
Fax: (218) 327-9122
Web site:

Public Company
Incorporated: 1983 as All Seasons Vehicles, Inc.
Employees: 110
Sales: $36.2 million (1999)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: ASVI
NAIC: 33312 Construction Machinery Manufacturing

ASV, Inc. designs, builds, and markets the Posi-Track, an all-season, rubber-tracked, work vehicle notable for its versatility. The crawler, which exerts a low level of ground pressure, is marketed primarily to the construction, agriculture, and landscaping industries and performs the functions of skid-steer loaders, small dozers, and small tractors. Rapidly growing demand led to a 1998 agreement with Caterpillar, Inc., which gave ASV access to vast financial resources and a worldwide distribution network.

Off the Beaten Trail: 1950s-80s

Sparsely populated northern Minnesota provided the perfect proving ground for off-road vehicle industries beginning in the 1950s. Edgar Hetteen founded two of the snowmobile industrys largest companies, first Polaris Industries Inc. and later Arctic Enterprises. Gary D. Lemke, in turn, built one of the countrys largest Arctic Cat dealerships, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. But a shortage of snow, high interest rates, and foreign competition sideswiped the seasonal industry in the early 1980s. Arctic Cat filed for chapter 11 reorganization, and Lemkes dealership went under.

Hetteen and Lemke, who were friends as well as fellow veterans of the highs and lows of the snowmobile industry, decided to use their combined expertise to build a year-round work vehicle using snowmobile-like track technology. Lemke had begun selling a winter-only, Swedish-built vehicle sporting a full-length metal track, but found customers wanted something that would give them a wider range of use, something that did less damage to ground and paved surfaces.

Since neither of the men could fund the endeavor, Lemke asked his friends and neighbors on North Star Lake in Marcell, Minnesota, to back the concept, which was still in design form. Lemke and Hetteens salesmanship raised $70,000 from seven local investors. Included among them was Twin Cities real estate magnate Philip Smaby, who owned a cabin in the area and had purchased one of Lemkes first snowmobiles. Many of the other investors had retired to the area, which was blessed with hundreds of lakes.

In 1983, Lemke and Hetteen established All Seasons Vehicles, Inc. (ASV) in Marceli. The village was located about 200 miles north of the Twin Cities or around 30 miles from Grand Rapids, on the edge of Minnesotas iron mining region. The only evidence ASV even existed was its one tin building stuck in the sand by the only road through Marceli. When it rained, the parking lot was a muddy stew; when it froze, a jagged, rutted mess. To make it all work under those conditions, Hetteen told Corporate Report Minnesota in 1999,You have to be a little naive.

The local investors stopped by regularly to check on the progress. When the first unit rolled out for a test drive, one of them went along for the ride. Seventeen additional investors signed on once the prototype was completed. All Season Vehicles sold the second unit off the line to the State of Minnesotas Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for cross-country ski trail grooming.

The Track Truck, more versatile than full-length metal track vehicles, could maneuver through snow, sand, brush, swamps, and bogs. The patented steering system allowed the driver to separately control the dual rubber tracks located under the rear three-quarters of the small truck. The front end could be equipped with either wheels or skis. By October 1985, the company employed 15 people and was selling Track Trucks to companies, government agencies, and individuals for search and rescue missions and worker transport, as well as for farm and recreation purposes. Nine U.S. distributors carried the $16,000 vehicle.

A couple years later, Lemke and Hetteen discovered customers had been adapting the Track Truck for unintended purposes, like bolting on attachments to create a snowblower or plow. Plcking up the cue, the men began working on a second vehicle, one with more flexibility than the Track Truck.

On Track with a New Product: Late 1980s to Early 1990s

In 1988, ASV presented a prototype to trade shows. The vehicles undercarriage support system stood out from tractors, dozers, and skid-steers and quickly garnered interest. ASV s new product weighed in at 5,800 pounds but exerted ground pressure of just 1.5 pounds per square foot, about the same as a child.

A lengthy research and development stage was out of the questionjust meeting weekly payroll had been known to cause some tense moments. Lemke and Hetteen decided to sell the fully tracked machine to a hand-picked group of customers who would be willing to test the product on the job. (The field testing would ultimately lead to the development of ASV's patent-pending Maximum Traction and Support System undercarriage.)

ASV s new offering, the Posi-Track, produced sales of $223,000 in 1991. The companys first product, the Track Truck, brought in $750,000 that year and served primarily as a utility vehicle and trail groomer. The Posi-Track, on the other hand, was built to carry a wide range of attachments and targeted the landscaping, construction, and agricultural industries. Looking much like a small front-end loader on rubber tracks, the Posi-Track could traverse wet, steep, fragile, or rough terrain.

By 1993, the Posi-Track had nearly overtaken the Track Truck in sales, and its strong showing encouraged Lemke and Hetteen to take the 30-employee company public. ASV netted $3.4 million in the August 1994 initial public offering (IPO) of 1.2 million shares at $3.25 per share. ASV planned to use part of the money raised for debt retirement and part for working capital. Two Iron Range economic development organizations funded the construction of a 42,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Grand Rapids. The new facility, opened in 1995, tripled the companys available production space and allowed ASV to bring some processes, previously outsourced, in-house.

The $34,000 Posi-Tracks closest competitor, the well-known Bobcat skid-steer, held 50 percent of its market. JI Case followed behind with a 20 percent market share. The multipurpose Posi-Track, however, was unique. Theyre kind of out there with a totally new product and normally those things dont sell in large numbers overnight. But I think [ASV] has the potential to do that, said Tom Niemiec in a 1995 Corporate Report Minnesota article. Niemiec was vice-president of corporate finance for Minneapolis-based Summit Investment Company, the underwriter for ASV s IPO.

Negotiating New Terrain: Mid-to-Late 1990s

ASV s overall sales had grown by 50 percent annually since Posi-Tracks introduction in 1991, reaching $8.2 million in 1995. The Minnesota company exceeded Wall Street estimates in the first half of 1996. Sales jumped 44 percent, and earnings more than doubled.

For the first decade of business, early investors such as Hazel Harris saw no returns from ASV but kept faith in the companys future. Harris served on the board from 1983 to 1996 and knew each employee by name up until the time the operation moved to Grand Rapids. Another early board member, ad executive Leland T. Lynch of Minneapolis-based Car-michael Lynch, had come on as a director in 1987, serving without a fee for many years. Lynchs agency had worked with both Polaris and Arctic Cat.

The board makeup began to shift as the companys fortunes headed upward. James H. Dahl, Florida investment firm head and junk bond pioneer, saw a Posi-Track at a Florida Caterpillar dealership in the mid-1990s. Impressed, he went to Minnesota to find out more and became an investor and board member in 1996. Dahl would bring in R.E. (Teddy) Turner IV, son of Turner Communications Ted Turner. From January to September 1996 ASV stock climbed from $6.25 to $18.50.

Demand also continued to climb, but ASV s limited manufacturing capacity forced the company to turn away potential Posi-Track dealers. To alleviate the problem, ASV made a $5 million private placement of convertible debentures, during fourth quarter 1996, to enlarge the Grand Rapids manufacturing plant, purchase equipment, and infuse working capital. An additional $1.8 million from the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board helped fund the 60,000-square-foot expansion.

Net sales for 1996 were $12.3 million with earnings nearing the $1 million mark. In February 1997, the company moved from a NASDAQ small cap listing to the NASDAQ national market.

Company Perspectives:

ASV leads all rubber-tracked, all-purpose crawlers in technology and innovation. ASV is dedicated to quality, reliability and total customer satisfaction.

ASV ramped up product development as well as production during 1997 as customers continued to find new ways to use the vehicle. A range of attachments allowed the Posi-Track to work, for example, as a loader, backhoe, planer, auger, mover, or snowplow, but because the vehicle exerted such low ground pressure the Posi-Track had been seen leveling grain inside cargo ships, laying out large rolls of sod, and moving between rows of grapevines. The military had used a remote-controlled unit to clear surface munitions from a Nevada test and training range, and ASV was developing an attachment for antiterrorist operations.

Mark Rupe, a John Kinnard analyst, predicted continued rapid growth for the company during 1998 but also saw some potential pitfalls, according to a December 1997 St. Paul Pioneer Press article by Dave Beai. Rupe ticks off a list of adversities that could rise to smite the company: less acceptance of its products; a relatively illiquid stock; trouble in expanding its dealer network; and inability to manage fast growth; too much dependence on key suppliers; competition from big-hitter companies such as John Deere, Caterpillar, Case, Inger-soll-Rand.

According to Investors Business Daily, Melroe Co., the Ingersoll-Rand Co. subsidiary that built Bobcat skid-steer loaders and excavators, sold 40,000 units through 900 dealers in 75 countries during 1997. ASV expected to sell about 850 vehicles through its 116 dealers in 37 states in 1998.

Its the versatility that sells the machine, said Kevin Robbins, vice-president of the Posi-Tracks largest U.S. dealer, in a June 1998 Duluth News-Tribune article. Since the concept was unfamiliar, June Brissett reported, potential customers needed to see the Posi-Track in action. ASV vastly improved its visibility quotient in October 1908, when it struck a deal with Caterpillar, Inc.

Big Deal for Small Company: For 1999 and Beyond

The worlds largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment agreed to buy one million shares of ASV stock at $18 per share, 8.8 percent of the company, and received warrants to buy up to 51 percent of ASV at $21 per share. ASV eventually would gain access to Caterpillars worldwide distribution network1,400 dealers in more than 200 countries. Conversely, Caterpillar, which had sales of $18.93 billion in 1997, gained a foothold in the small equipment market and access to ASV s low pressure technology.

Caterpillar Vice-President Dick Benson, quoted in a Duluth News-Tribune article, said, By combining ASV s suspension system technology with Caterpillars legendary track know-how, ASV will be ideally positioned to develop new business and new products around the world.

ASV President Lemke said in a company news release, Weve known for 10 years that were building, pound-for-pound, the best work vehicle in the world. With Caterpillar behind us, we expect to push our companys momentum years ahead of schedule.

Via the agreement, ASV would receive management, financial, and engineering support, and two Caterpillar members would join the board of directors. For the meantime, ASV would retain its independent status, and yet be in a stronger position to compete with big companies such as John Deere should they enter the low-pressure niche.

On the heels of the announcement, ASV debuted at number 14 on the Forbes list of the 200 Best Small Companies based on factors such as profitability, growth, sales, net income, and market value. Earlier in the year, ASV found a spot on Individual Investor magazines 100 fastest-growing companies list. On Investor Business Dailys top issues list, ASV ranked 11th, outperforming high-profile issues such as Starbucks Corporation and Yahoo! Inc. ASV stock price climbed by more than 1,000 percent from August 1994 to 1998, and the company racked up a string of 15 quarters of record sales as of October 1998.

ASV shareholders ratified the Caterpillar deal by an overwhelming margin in January 1999. The $18 million raised was earmarked for capital equipment, research and development, and working capital.

ASV s transition to the Caterpillar distribution network hurt performance from fourth quarter 1998 into third quarter 1999. Some existing dealers dropped the line following the announcement of ASV s deal with Caterpillar, resulting in canceled orders and product returns. New Caterpillar dealers, in line for product training, held off on placing substantial orders.

Another glitch occurred when a Florida Caterpillar dealer, one that served seven southern states and produced 21 percent of ASV s 1998 sales, pulled out of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and North and South Carolina, leaving Caterpillar dealers in those states to plck up Posi-Track distribution. (About 40 percent of ASV s total sales had already been coming by way of Caterpillar dealers prior to the stock agreement.) Analysts generally agreed that the downturn was temporary and, by year end, revenue, earnings, and stock price would again turn upward.

Caterpillar, meanwhile, reassigned one of its project managers to. assist ASV with the dealership system changes. Furthermore, during the period, ASV had its first chance to show off its products for dealers and customers at Caterpillars Arizona testing ground. The two companies also began planning their first joint project, a rubber-tracked tractor for agricultural use. Finally, the Posi-Track MD2800 Series had been receiving recognition from construction trade journals as one of the top products of 1998.

The Posi-Track produced virtually all of ASV s sales, and the company worked to deliver new models for ever broadening applications. The Posi-Track 4810, the first ASV vehicle to carry a Caterpillar engine, had start-up delays during 1999, which contributed to lower third quarter earnings but helped boost sales in the fourth quarter.

Key Dates:

All Seasons Vehicles, Inc. founded to develop rubber-tracked work vehicle.
More versatile product, named Posi-Track, is introduced.
Growing sales prompt public stock offering.
Caterpillar, Inc. acquires an interest in ASV, and ASV gains access to Caterpillars marketing strength and financial resources.

For the year overall numbers dropped. The slower-than-expected dealership overhaul, R&D costs, and sales commissions to Caterpillar resulted in lower net income: $1.4 million in 1999 versus $3.4 million in 1998. Net sales for 1999 were $36.2 million, down from $39 million in 1998.

Despite the ups and downs of the transition period following ASV and Caterpillars agreement, the Posi-Track line appeared poised for a bright future, based on its solid technology and access to an international market.

Principal Competitors

Ingersoll-Rand Co. (Bobcat).

Further Reading

ASV Does Placement, St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 8, 1996, p. 2D.

ASV, Inc., Corporate Report Fact Book 2000, p. 136.

A.S.V. in New Facility, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 22,1995, p. 2E.

Beai, Dave, A.S.V. and Tower Automotive Are Going Public, St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 12, 1994, p. 2E.

, ASV Inc. Founders on the Right Track, St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 15, 1997, p. IF.

Benjamin, Matthew, Deal with Equipment Giant to Power ASV s Tractor Sales, Investors Business Daily, October 29, 1998, p. 4A.

Briefly..., St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 2, 1996, p. 2E.

Brissett, Jane E., Analysts See Better Days Ahead for ASV, Duluth News-Tribune, June 4, 1999, p. IF.

, Caterpillar Buying Part of ASV, Duluth News-Tribune, October 15, 1998, pp. IF, 3F.

, Tiny Company Going Gangbusters, Duluth News-Tribune, June 19, 1998, p. IF.

Brissett, Jane E., and Jill P. Burcum, Developing a Growth Vehicle, Corporate Report Minnesota, February 1995, p. 16.

Earnings in 1999 Down for ASV Inc. of Grand Rapids, Duluth News-Tribune, March 2, 2000, p. IE.

Expansion Money Okd, St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 10, 1996, p. 2C.

Forster, Julie, Marcelis Millionaires, Corporate Report Minnesota, September 1999, pp. 22-28.

Fredrickson, Tom, ASV Expansion Rumored, Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, July 19, 1996, p. 5.

, ASV s Sales Are Riding a Strong Growth Track, Minneapolis/ St. Paul CityBusiness, October 6, 1995, p. 7.

, ASV Stays on Track, Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, March 7, 1997, p. 7.

Kratz, Vikki, Red Flag, Corporate Report Minnesota, January 1997, p. 9.

Largest IPOs, Corporate Report Minnesota, March 1995, pp. 58, 60.

Meyer, Harvey, On the Right Tracks, Minnesota Business Journal, October 1985, p. 83.

St. Anthony, Neal, ASV Rose from Ashes of Lean Period for Snowmobiles, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), November 10, 1998, pp. ID, 2D.

, Caterpillar to Acquire Stake in ASV, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), October 15, 1998, pp. ID, 2D.

Steinfeldt, Laurie, Done Deals: ASV, Inc., Minnesota Ventures, November/December 1994, pp. 40-41.

200 Best Small Companies, Forbes, November 2, 1998, p. 250.

Weintraub, Adam, ASV Hits Bumpy Stretch, Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, August 27, 1999, p. 1.

Youngblood, Dick, Hetteens Back in the Drivers Seat, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), October 7, 1996, p. 2D.

Kathleen Peippo

ASV, Inc.

views updated Jun 08 2018

ASV, Inc.

840 Lily Lane
Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744
Telephone: (218) 327-3434
Toll Free: (800) 346-5954
Fax: (218) 327-9122
Web site:

Public Company
Incorporated: 1983
Employees: 151
Sales: $96.38 million (2003)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: ASVI
NAIC: 333120 Construction Machinery Manufacturing

ASV, Inc., is a designer and manufacturer of track-driven vehicles renowned for their ability to traverse a variety of surface conditions while exerting minimal pressure on the ground. All of the company's vehicles use a rubber track suspension system that provides traction on soft, wet, slippery, rough, or hilly terrain. ASV's product lines comprise the R-Series Posi-Track group of vehicles and the Multi-Terrain Loader undercarriage systems it produces through a partnership with Caterpillar Inc. The company conducts its manufacturing activities at a 100,000-square-foot facility in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The vehicles are sold through Caterpillar's distribution network, which includes dealerships in more than 200 countries. Caterpillar Inc. owns 24.9 percent of ASV.


Two years of little snowfall forced ASV's founders, Edgar Hetteen and Gary Lemke, to find new occupations. Their livelihoods depended on snowfall: Hetteen, often referred to as the "grandfather of snowmobiles," had founded two companies that pioneered snowmobiles, Arctic Cat and Polaris Industries; Lemke, starting with a small shop in 1968, built one of the largest Arctic Cat dealerships in the country. When high interest rates in the early 1980s exacerbated the financial damage of two winters with only a trace of snow, the pair found themselves insolvent. Lemke's snowmobile dealership in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, foundered, declaring bankruptcy and leaving its owner in debt. Arctic Cat, meanwhile, was in Chapter 11 proceedings. The company would recover, but its collapse in the early 1980s stripped Hetteen of his personal fortune.

Hetteen and Lemke were without money, but they had an idea, one that offered to free them from the caprice of winter weather. Hetteen's feats as a mechanic were legendary to those involved in winter recreation, expressed in the founding of Polaris Industries in 1945 and Arctic Cat in 1961. Lemke, too, was well versed in mechanics, having opened a small shop in 1980 called Marcell Manufacturing that built snow-grooming equipment and an assortment of other small machines used in the construction and snow industries. When his dealership went under at the beginning of the 1980s, Lemke was working on an innovative piece of machinery that both he and Hetteen believed had broad commercial potential. Lemke's sketches of his invention revealed a unique all-season vehicle whose design represented a cross between a snowmobile and a tractor. The vehicle, dubbed the Track Truck, was the size of a small pick-up with rubber tracks that distributed the machine's weight extremely well, enabling the nearly 6,000-pound vehicle to move across a variety of surfaces leaving less of an impression than a human foot. Designed as such, the Track Truck's rubber track system, using rubber wheels and tracks, offered the traction, stability, and low ground pressure needed to operate on soft, wet, muddy, rough, boggy, slippery, snowy, or hilly terrain. Unlike traditional steel tracks, the rubber track system did not cause damage to the surface it operated on, making it particularly useful for groomed, landscaped, and paved surfaces.

Armed with the idea of the Track Truck, but no money to finance its construction, Lemke and Hetteen turned to their friends and neighbors in Marcell, Minnesota, 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. The pair made a presentation to a group of invited guests and, within a short time, succeeded in raising $70,000 from 10 investors. With the start-up capital, Hetteen and Lemke set up shop in a long and narrow tin building in Marcell and began building their first Track Truck. ASV, an acronym for All Season Vehicle, was incorporated in July 1983.

The Track Truck offered several advantages over other track-driven vehicles on the market. ASV's vehicle was smaller and more maneuverable than its competition and it was less expensive, selling for roughly $50,000 rather than the more than $80,000 charged by manufacturers of similar track-driven vehicles. The Track Truck also featured front wheels, which stabilized it on steep grades, and it came equipped with a steering wheel rather than the levers employed by all other track-driven vehicles. Financially, the company was aided greatly by receiving a $100,000 low-interest, economic-development loan from the state of Minnesota, which buoyed manufacturing activity in ASV's tin building, but its principal problem during the 1980s was the Track Truck itself. The vehicle performed admirably, but it suffered from exposure to a limited market. The product only found a receptive audience among those involved in grooming snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails, still leaving Lemke and Hetteen confined to the world of winter recreation. The founders listened to their customers who asked for a more versatile machine and responded with a new product. Although money was scarce, with their research and development coffers empty, Lemke and Hetteen came up with a new product in the late 1980s. The new ASV vehicle, the Posi-Track, was introduced in 1990 and quickly became the driving force of the company, achieving everything the Track Truck had promised to achieve.

The Posi-Track Lends Stability in the 1990s

The Posi-Track Model MD-70 realized Lemke's vision of a multi-use vehicle that would revolutionize the equipment market. Equipped with a rubber track system, the Posi-Track, retailing for $34,000, performed the tasks of small steel-track bulldozers. Unlike the Track Truck, the Posi-Track featured a quick-attach mechanism and three-point hitch. By securing attachments to the hitch, the Posi-Track took on the capabilities of a number of different pieces of equipment, performing the tasks of a mower, a brush cutter, an augur, a backhoe, a snow remover, a plow, and more. The Posi-Track, once outfitted with a remote control unit, was used in the Middle East to disarm bomb-laden tracks. Because its ground pressure was only 1.5 pounds per square inch, the 5,800-pound Posi-Track was virtually weightless, allowing Cargill Inc. to use the machine on its ships to move up and over grain piles. E. & J. Gallo Winery and other California vineyards used the Posi-Track to work between rows of vines, choosing the vehicle because its weight distribution did not compact the soil or create ruts. The applications for the Posi-Track seemed endless, finding customers involved in a variety of markets, including construction, agricultural, landscaping, and wildlife management. "The world is basically our market potential," Hetteen exclaimed in a February 1995 interview with Corporate ReportMinnesota.

As the acceptance of the Posi-Track increased, so did the ambitions of ASV's leaders. A dealer network comprising independent construction and farm equipment retailers brought the company in contact with potential customers from California to Maine. By 1994, the company's annual sales reached $5 million, virtually all derived from the sale of Posi-Tracks. At this point, Lemke and Hetteen acted upon the need to expand their company. ASV had outgrown its long and narrow confines in Marcell. In August 1994, they completed the company's initial public offering (IPO) of stock, giving its 10 investors, all of whom would become millionaires, a chance to recoup their investments. The IPO gave ASV $3.3 million in net proceeds, enabling it to reduce its debt, purchase inventory and equipment, and relocate its operations to Grand Rapids. In May 1995, ASV moved into its new offices in Grand Rapids, where it quickly put to use 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Growth came quickly following the move to Grand Rapids, making ASV one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States. After only a year at its new manufacturing facility, the company needed substantially more space. The approval for a financing package for the expansion was received in late 1996, enabling the company to increase the size of its manufacturing facility from 40,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet. The expansion was completed in September 1997. Shortly before occupying its much larger quarters, ASV introduced the Posi-Track HD 4500 series, which was larger and equipped with more features than the MD-70 model. In October 1997, four months after the introduction of the HD 4500, the company introduced the HD 125 (later renamed the DX 4530), the largest of all Posi-Track models produced.

ASV's abilities to offer new models, new technologies, and new features had greatly increased by the late 1990s. Research and development capital, which had been once only a dream, was available to the company in increasing abundance, a product of its success that allowed it to expand and improve its product line. In 1994, ASV spent $30,000 on research and development. By 1997, the company's research and development budget had increased to more than $200,000, enabling it to introduce the HD 4500 and the DX 4530 and, of great significance, to introduce the Maximum Traction and Support System undercarriage in 1997. The new technology, which received a patent in 2001, offered improved traction, power, and reliability and further lessened ground pressure, but most important to ASV's future, the undercarriage system attracted the attention of Caterpillar Inc., the largest manufacturer of construction equipment in the world.

Company Perspectives:

ASV's patented rubber track undercarriage technology is unique and leads a rapidly growing industry of rubber track loaders. Rubber track loaders are widely used within industries such as construction, utility, landscaping, agriculture and the military. ASV's undercarriage technology gives users a unique combination of benefits. It offers mobility superior to traditional rubber tire vehicles, plus flotation and traction surpassing that of steel track machines. The result is a highly versatile work platform that can effectively operate in virtually any environment.

ASV and Caterpillar Form an Alliance in 1998

The interest of officials at Caterpillar in the Maximum Traction and Support System led to an alliance of considerable benefit to ASV. In October 1998, the details of the agreement were revealed. ASV sold 8.7 percent of its stock to Caterpillar for $18 million and gave it the option to purchase a controlling interest in the company within the ensuing decade. Caterpillar, at the time of the announcement, had recently diversified into lighter machinery, making the investment in ASV a good strategic fit for further expansion into the market segment. ASV, for its part, saw its dealer network expand exponentially. In exchange for Caterpillar's stake in the company, ASV gained access to Caterpillar's vast, global dealer network, which comprised 195 dealers in roughly 200 countries. In the United States alone, Caterpillar had 64 dealers, representing 400 separate locations. "It's just an immediate access to all the things that Caterpillar has," Lemke remarked in an October 15, 1998, interview in Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

ASV and Caterpillar officially began what promised to be a lasting relationship at the end of January 1999, when the alliance was approved by ASV's shareholders. Caterpillar increased its ownership of ASV to approximately 15 percent in October 2000, a transaction that involved the two companies increasing their commitments to each other. Under the terms of the agreement, the companies agreed to jointly develop and manufacture a new product line of Caterpillar rubber track skid steer loaders called Multi-Terrain Loaders, or MTLs. The product offering, which was expected to included five new models, incorporated Caterpillar's patented skid steer loader technology and ASV's soon-to-be patented Maximum Traction and Support System undercarriage. ASV began manufacturing the undercarriage for two MTL models in mid-2001. The beginning of the new decade also saw ASV introduce its own new product line, the R-Series, which debuted with the RC-30 All Surface Loader in the summer of 2000. The RC-30, a compact, ATV-sized vehicle, allowed users to dig, haul, and lift on a scale eclipsing that of larger tractors and skid-steers.

As ASV neared its 20th anniversary, its innovative work was bearing fruit from every branch. Annual sales increased from $43.8 million in 2000 to $96.3 million in 2003. The company's net earnings swelled from $1.4 million in 2000 to $8.7 million. The company's business, which had depended on the Posi-track for 98 percent of its sales in the late 1990s, had diversified, with the introduction of MTLs and the R-Series reducing its reliance on a single product line. The family of R-Series vehicles grew during the early years of the decade, springing from research and development spending that reached $2.6 million in 2003. In early 2003, the company introduced three new models, the RC-30 Turf Edition and the RC-50 Turf Edition, both designed to have minimal impact on grass, and the RC-100, the largest model in the product line. In January 2004, the RC-60 and RC-85 were introduced, adding two new models that ranged in between the 2,935-pound RC-30 and the 9,200-pound RC-100.

As ASV moved passed its 20th anniversary, the company exuded admirable strength. Its commitment to research and development promised to deliver additional innovative vehicles to markets that had come to realize the benefits of rubber track suspension systems. Lemke's pioneering work in the 1980s, coupled with the technological advances achieved by ASV engineers in later years, created what many believed was a superior type of all-season, all-terrain vehicle. The company's electric growth during the late 1990s and early 21st century, which saw annual sales increase from $12 million in 1996 to $96 million in 2003, provided encouragement that ASV's future would bring robust growth. To prepare for the expected surge in demand for its products, the company purchased a vacant manufacturing facility in early 2004. Located in Cohasset, Minnesota, six miles from its existing production facility, the 108,000-square-foot complex was expected to be put use by the end of 2004.

Principal Subsidiaries

ASV Distribution, Inc.

Principal Competitors

Ingersoll-Rand Company Ltd.; Komatsu Ltd.; CNH Global N.V.; Deere & Company.

Key Dates:

ASV is founded and begins development of the Track Truck.
ASV introduces the Posi-Track.
ASV completes its initial public offering of stock.
ASV moves into a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Caterpillar Inc., intrigued by ASV's Maximum Traction and Support System, forms an alliance with ASV.
ASV introduces its R-Series product line.
Caterpillar increases its stake in ASV to 24.9 percent.

Further Reading

Brissett, Jane, "Caterpillar to Buy Grand Rapids, Minn.-Based Maker of Work Vehicles," Knight Ridder/Tribunes Business News, October 15, 1998.

, "Grand Rapids, Minn.-Based Vehicle Maker Stumbles after Caterpillar Deal," Knight Ridder/Tribunes Business News, June 3, 1999.

Forster, Julie, "Marcell's Millionaires," Corporate Report-Minnesota, September 1999, p. 22.

"Grand Rapids, Minn. Tracked Vehicle Maker Gets Patent for Under-carriage System," Knight Ridder/Tribunes Business News, December 4, 2001.

Jeffrey L. Covell