Diesel do nicely to take on expertise from Japan
Few British companies would consider taking
on the Japanese in the ATV sector. But GHL
Products has done just that with its own style of
diesel-powered ATVs. Geoff Ashcroft reports
MANUFACTURE of skid-steer loaders and off-road buggies led GHL Products into the ATV market about five years ago. Since then the firm that is based in Hankelow, Crewe, Cheshire, has refined and expanded its ATV range to produce about 600 ATVs a year.
"It was easy to visualise an ATV when we looked at our other products," says GHLs Andrew Langley. "We already used compact diesel engines in our skid-steers, so we thought wed give the ATV market a try."
By Mr Langleys own admission, the firms first ATV was an ugly one. "But we gave farmers what they wanted – a galvanised chassis, no frills and an economical diesel engine."
"We soon realised that customers wanted something prettier to look at and when we introduced a restyled machine with a black chassis and smoother, curvier body lines, our sales improved considerably," he says.
That was five years ago and GHL has come a long way since producing that first ugly duckling – its ATVs have matured into Swans and are now called the Scorpion and Diablo – both are diesel powered.
But the firm is still fighting the misconception that a diesel ATV is noisy, slow, smelly and no fun to ride, and is perhaps why 70% of GHLs ATVs are exported.
"Were trying to make the bikes even more fun to ride as well as being exceptionally economical," he says.
The recent switch from Lombardini diesel engines to lightweight Perkins motors has put even more step into the pace of the diesel ATVs. As a result, the former single cylinder 436cc Scorpion is now a twin-cylinder 451cc bike, while the larger Diablo is now powered by a three-cylinder 676cc engine – up from two cylinders and 611cc.
"Using lightweight, high performance Perkins diesel engines with plenty of low down torque has made our ATVs much like todays diesel cars – a blend of refinement, performance and economy," he says. "And in the wake of the recent fuel crisis, it would seem to make sense running an ATV on diesel."
Production costs have dictated that a four-wheel drive bike, particularly in the more competitive 450cc sector, is prohibitive. And Mr Langley reckons its largely unnecessary.
"We didnt start with a motorbike and then decide to add a couple of extra wheels," he says. "Our ATVs were clean-sheet designs, which allowed us to put the engine where we wanted, to achieve optimum balance and traction."
"Japanese ATVs tend to have a nose heavy stance which means theres not enough weight on the rear wheels unless a trailer is being towed, so four-wheel drive in such a design is very effective. Our ATVs have more weight towards the rear of the bike, so getting enough traction is never an issue," he says. "As a result, we have no requirement for four-wheel drive – its more weight, more moving parts and it seriously restricts the bikes manoeuvrability."
Scorpion is GHLs best seller. The smaller of the two, it retails at £3999 – considerably cheaper than the larger, more powerful Diablo. But with the firms ATV sales in the UK running at about 3.5 per cent of the total annual ATV market, the firm sees its future in developing overseas market.
"We have a licensed manufacturing facility in South Africa which takes care of the Middle East markets, which means UK-produced ATVs can go to the US," he says.
As a means of diversification, the firm has made many specials from its Diablo and Scorpion models to suit the armed forces, police and other emergency services. And the firms latest product is the Stalker. Described by Mr Langley as an alternative to Kawasakis Mule and John Deeres Gator, the Stalker should find favour with amenity and utility markets.
"We also offer petrol powered machines for export and 6×4 versions of the Diablo and Scorpion. Beyond agriculture, there are many markets that want heavily engineered products that can work harder for longer, and with the minimum of maintenance," he says.
"Our simple, automatic transmission system, for example, uses a belt driven variator pulley to alter the input speed into the main gearbox which carries high and low ranges, plus reverse – the only limiting factor is the top speed. And 40mph across a field – even on a diesel-powered ATV – must surely be fast enough for anybody." *
Engine Perkins Perkins 3-cyl 2-cyl 676cc 451 cc
Transmission Auto with Auto with variator variator
Suspension Indpendt Indpendt
Brakes Disc (f&r) Drum (f) Band (r)
Ground 17cm 22cmclearance
Rack 30kg (f) 40kg (f)capacity 75kg (r) 70kg (r)
Top: GHLs Diablo now comes with lively 676cc Perkins three cylinder diesel engine.
Inset: Andrew Langley of GHL with the firms latest development, the Stalker.