For most, the name Reid Wilson doesn’t bring up the kind of instantaneous recognition that other industry names might, including those we’ve chatted with lately like Troy Lee. Reid, for those who don’t know, is the current Vice President and General Manager of Polaris RZR, so – more than most of us – he has both the knowledge and, more importantly, the influence on the latest tech, toys, and collaborations in powersports.
Taking on his role in 2021, after leading Indian Motorcycle as Vice President, Wilson has been in the seat for some of the company’s newest models and ventures, if not the catalyst for such as the Troy Lee editions of both the Pro R and 200. At the launch, we caught up with Reid Wilson to hear the details on what made the brands rekindle this partnership and make it a reality. And, of course, what it means for Polaris (a huge name of its own) to be working with a name like Troy Lee Designs whose legend dominates multiple disciplines.
UTV Sports: What are we seeing for the first time at this Troy Lee Designs (TLD) launch? What are some highlights of these cars for you?
Reid Wilson: We’re releasing both the 2023 RZR Pro R Troy Lee Designs Edition and the RZR 200 Troy Lee Designs Edition. It’s been in the works for a long time. We’ve been working with Troy for a number of years, and we’re excited to bring his style and sensibility to the Pro R platform, as well as our RZR 200.
What you’re going to see on a Pro R is beadlock wheels, Rigid lights, Rockford Fosgate audio – really key accessories that we know our customers love. Along with the paint and color scheme which can only be done by Troy, so it’s a very unique vehicle; it’s numbered. This edition is going to sell out very quickly.
We pitched it to our sales team last week, and they’re stoked. No doubt our dealers are going to be stoked. We’re just really happy to be working with Troy on it, and honestly, we were in this office about a year ago just talking, and one of us goes: why don’t we do a RZR 200 too? So, he said we should do a RZR 200 because it has been an absolute hit for us, and it’s going to be a cool addition for the folks that also want their kids in a really cool, stylish, one of a kind vehicle.
USM: We saw Polaris and TLD team up back in 2019 for the race inspired apparel, and then we saw the General in 2021, now these cars in ‘23, each bringing serious cool factor. How do you guys decide on what comes next?
RW: It’s a lot working with Troy and understanding what he’s interested in, considering how his aesthetic is going to work. Dave Elia who is our director of product who you might have seen in the walk around has a really great relationship with Troy, and as I said, they’re talking all hours of the day about ideas. They come up with something they think is a fit for the TLD brand and good for us as well.
That’s how this came to life. Dave was actually focused on the General product line originally. That was his baby. So, his relationship with Troy drove the creation of the [aforementioned] General. Then, as Dave took over RZR, this was the natural extension. We’re a big company, and it’s easy to say we’re always planning and calculated with out, but a lot of this is just born out of the relationship with Troy and the ideas that come up when we’re hanging out and talking. Just like the RZR 200 was one.
USM: What’s it like to work alongside a creative legend like Troy? Do you guys ever have to reign in that creativity?
RW: It’s a joy. I’ve been able to work with a number of folks like Troy, but he is an icon. He’s somebody who’s really set a trend and done a lot for the industry whether it be in UTV’s, the two-wheel industry and racing. Anytime we can get outside of our company and talk to people who know our customers as well as we do, who know style, we learn from it.
He helps us understand what’s setting trends and how he goes about designing. I think it’s been a very awesome partnership. Now in terms of restraining him, there has to be some element of it because we would love to do a lot, but a lot more technical things take time, so that’s the real part of the restraint.
From a design standpoint, we’re not holding him back. We want him to put his imprint on the vehicle. We’re not sitting there second guessing his design, that would be very foolish of us I think. It’s more from a technical standpoint of what we can do.
USM: Do you find that working with such a creative person inspires your team’s product development & design development on future projects?
RW: Totally. The more the team can learn outside of our office and talk to not only customers, but people who are in the industry setting trends and have a vision, the more we can learn. We have a vision too. We know where we want to go. But, you also have to be humble enough to talk to people who have a track-record of breaking new ground.
Troy is one of those people, and it energizes everybody on the team. I mean how can you not be energized talking to him? Dave, especially, has built a really strong relationship with him and the team here. That has not only helped us design other vehicles, how we think about design, how we think about approaching our customers, but it results in vehicles like this.
USM: RZR has really been a generic trademark term for the sport UTV world (like the Kleenex of facial tissue and Chapstick of lip balm). What does that mean to you as the VP of that brand, and what do you believe that means to Polaris as a whole?
RW: Along with snowmobiles, RZR’s the heart and soul of Polaris. We are a performance company, and we believe in the power of our engineering and design teams to deliver the highest performance vehicles. And when we unleashed those, folks were really happy with the results.
I’ve been in this business almost two years now, and I was seeing Craig Scanlan around there. I’m very humbled by the fact that I’ve inherited a lot of work from other people, all the way back to the original RZR. We can’t rest on that. We have to earn that respect and reputation continually, and continue to push boundaries in the industry, just like the first RZR pushed boundaries.
My goal is to make sure the team realizes the work that happened before us. But we also need to continue to push and drive the industry forward. That’s the urgency we have as a team because being Number One, if we start to become complacent, doesn’t last long. So, we are not going to be complacent, instead, we intend to be very assertive and unleash the power of our engineering and design teams to go to a wider range of customers.
USM: These limited editions are obvious proof that personalization and customization is a recognizable habit of UTV owners. What are some of the recent trends and styles which have really stood out to you or your design team? Does it have an impact on how you move the product forward?
RW: It completely does. We were just talking about Camp RZR, and I was in a meeting with some of our senior leaders yesterday who said everyone knew we were Polaris employees because we were driving the stock RZR. These are canvases for putting your own personality on them. So, we try to reflect what our customers want from a style and design standpoint as well as from a performance standpoint. And then, let the aftermarket take it to places we’re not going to go from a technical standpoint or various engineering standards.
Not that we aren’t listening as much as we can to trends and popular design features, but we’re also paying attention to what consumers want from a performance standpoint. Like I said, it’s just like talking to Troy, putting ourselves out in the market. The customer’s leading us and they’re pushing boundaries we need to listen to from a style and performance standpoint.
USM: How much impact do you believe personal relationships have on product development moving forward? Do you empower your team to be able to utilize information from how you intend to advance the product lines for the next generations?
RW: Yeah completely. Especially from the product development side, you have to go use the product. You have to understand what our customers are using, what challenges they have, the use cases, and then the problems they have. We are very focused on sending our teams out to meet the enthusiasts. So, our director of engineering: he’s a rock crawler, that’s his thing. So he spends his free time driving to Moab with his whole family and does rock crawling in Moab on his vacations. Dave is more of a desert guy, and he raced for a while, so he’s looking at wide open desert, but we have folks who go down east and ride trails all over, as well as in Minnesota.
We ride as much as possible and there’s the instinct you develop by using the product, being around customers, and spending time around people in the industry. You need that instinct; that’s kind of the art. Then, of course, you have the science of market research and making sure your assumptions are correct. The balance of art and science needs to be there, but it can’t all be science, and it can’t all be art because sometimes your assumptions are wrong.
You need balance, but there’s no one on our product team who doesn’t ride the product, does not go to events. One of our product managers actually lives in Utah, and she moved there because she wanted to ride more. She wants to ride in Utah rather than Minnesota, a different kind of ride, we said: go for it. We really encourage that, not only product management engineering, but from the marketing side as well.
USM: Do you believe balance has shifted over the years from what it was 10 years ago, as far as the use application? Do you feel that Polaris has a stronger touch now than they did years ago?
RW: I wouldn’t say it’s stronger now. Ten years ago, I would say it was more instinctual. We were a much smaller company. I think we have a better balance between art and science than we did previously, but the diversity of opinions and thoughts and the talent we have is much different than it was. My job is to figure out how to cultivate the best ideas out of all these really smart, passionate people. That’s what we’re trying to do now, at least, because there’s a heck of a lot more of them than there was ten years ago…
They’re all really talented; they’re all passionate; and they all want their idea or their project to go forward. You have to analyze all proposals and consider what’s going to have the biggest impact. We were out in the Southwest because of racing, and you can very much become a bit tilted towards the Southwest. There’s a massive amount of RZR’s we sell in there, in the Northeast, and where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.
There’s actually a large part of the market outside of the Southwest. We believe we’re going to sell a ton of Pro R’s, but the Naturally Aspirated XP1000s are our core vehicle. And we’re careful not to lose sight of that customer, rather than someone who’s going to Glamis. They all like the same thing. They all like going out, having fun with their friends and family, and having a good ride. They all just do it in their own ways.
With all these insights, it’s not hard to see how Polaris and Troy Lee made such a powerful pairing for a collaboration, and what went into making the idea a reality. You can learn more on the Polaris website: https://www.polaris.com/en-us/off-road/rzr/models/rzr-pro-r-troy-lee-designs-edition-electric-blue/specs/