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As if the possibility of another winter of scanty snowfall wasn't enough bad news for snowmobile enthusiasts, now the vehicles themselves may cost more as stringent air pollution controls go into effect.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued first-time emission standards on snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles under the Clean Air Act. The new rules may cost manufacturers millions of dollars by sending retail prices higher, dealing a blow to future snowmobile sales,

The EPA has estimated what the additional costs will be for snowmobile makers to meet the new requirements: About $50 for a modified conventional two-stroke engine that releases a large amount of unburned fuel into the air, $300 for the cleaner direct-injection technology, and $1,200 for a four-stroke engine that burns the most fuel during combustion. These technologies reduce fuel consumption, which somewhat makes up for the higher costs for snowmobile owners.

But new emission standards mean substantially higher production costs, according to Ed Klim, president of the trade group International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, which represents the four major manufacturers -- Polaris Industries Inc., Arctic Cat Inc., Bombardier Inc. and Yamaha USA.

"The engines will need to have major technology and design changes," Klim said, "A considerable portion of it will be passed on to the consumers."

The snowmobile industry generates about 75,000 jobs through manufacturing, dealerships and tourism in North America, according to the ISMA. There are about 760,000 snowmobiles registered in Canada and 1.65 million registered in the United States, U.S. sales in 2001 totaled some 140,000.

Klim estimated an average $1,600 to $1,800 will be added to the cost of manufacturing each machine. He said the higher production costs stemmed from the small volume for some models, and the unique performance requirements for others.

Bill Manson, a cable contractor from Rockford, Michigan, and his wife own two snowmobiles.

"Snowmobilers want clean and (environmentally) friendly snowmobiles. I quit smoking 12 years ago, and I don't want to smell like (the vehicle's) exhaust," he said. "Certainly clean and quieter is something I am willing to pay for."

Manson, who usually gets a new snowmobile every two to three years, added that the additional cost is only a small portion of the total amount he paid for the whole package --snowmobiles, trailer, helmet and other accessories.

The EPA's standards will be introduced in two stages. By 2006, half of new snowmobiles produced will have to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions, and all snowmobiles must meet the tougher final standards by 2012.

Requiring new snowmobiles to meet emission standards will cause substantial reduction in vehicle sales, since snowmobiles are discretionary products, according to a preliminary study by consulting firm National Economic Research Associates. The study was funded by ISMA.

Polaris Industries Inc., the world's biggest snowmobile maker, said they are currently reviewing the EPA's rules and declined to comment.

At an analysts meeting in July, Minneapolis-based Polaris, which sells about 65 percent of its snowmobiles in the United States, said it will meet the standards by applying a mixture of cleaner technologies. The company also said the EPA rules could potentially bring in new customers, as the engines will be quieter and more environmentally friendly.

In any case, Wall Street analysts doubt higher retail prices will discourage consumers from buying snowmobiles.

"They are prepared for this and I don't think it's going to have a large material financial impact at all," A.G. Edwards & Sons analyst Tim Conder said.

Conder said the standards should have minimal effect because it is an average of all the engines produced, and they will phase in over several years toward the emission goals.

The industry has a very loyal customer base and production costs will decrease with better technology that "cranks up volume," he added.

"People who have the money burning a hole in their pocket, they are going to buy it anyway, if they want that vehicle," said Robert Toomey, an analyst with RBC Dain Rauscher.

The average snowmobile owner has a household income of $70,000, according to the ISMA.

On the other hand, environmentalists contend the EPA rules fall short of substantially reducing air pollution and protecting public health.

Snowmobiles produce disproportionate amounts of pollution -- an average conventional two-stroke engine can cause as much air pollution in one day as a modern car driven 100,000 miles.

This year, President George W. Bush allowed snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, the only national parks that control snowmobile use, reversing a Clinton administration ban.

"You have park rangers wearing respirators and you have a cloud of blue smoke hanging over a 30-mile area of America's first national park," Kristen Brengel, campaign manager at the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition said.

She added that the Yellowstone issue shows the current administration's lack of commitment to protect public health.
 
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