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Can Sherp summit the high-end ATV market? Ex-NH firefighter with exclusive dealership believes so

Union Leader Correspondent

August 13. 2018 9:15AM
Bob Montminy, owner of Sherp of New England, points out that it's the tires that make Sherp vehicles so special. The ultra-low pressure tires allow the Sherp to easily climb over obstacles and also make the vehicle buoyant in the water. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

Bob Montminy, owner of Sherp of New England, said the open design of a Sherp vehicle makes it not only easy to enter but readily customizable. JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT

LITTLETON — Although he’s only had it a short time, Bob Montminy has already driven his Sherp to the top of Mount Washington and in the Connecticut River to help salvage a crashed airplane.

A former career firefighter, Montminy, 36, is poised to take his Sherp to the top of what he believes is the large and growing market for specialized all-terrain vehicles. But the Sherp is no regular ATV, and with a base price of $119,000 it is about five times as expensive as a top-of-the-line side-by-side ATV.

The Sherp is essentially a 10-foot-long cube that is 8 feet tall and wide, the kind of vehicle that both starts and stops conversations. It has nearly 2 feet of ground clearance, can ascend a slope of 35 degrees, chug along at 25 miles per hour on land and 4 mph in the water, and overcome obstacles 3½ feet tall.

Propelled by a 44-horsepower Kubota diesel engine, the Sherp’s capabilities start with its ultra-low pressure, 63-inch diameter tires. Operating at a mere three-quarters of a pound of tire pressure — which can be increased by the operator for conditions — the Sherp envelopes obstacles before going over them.

Montminy, whose Sherp of New England is the sole dealership in the region, learned of the vehicles while searching for a better way for his company, B&B Towing and Recovery, to recover snowmobiles and motor vehicles that break through the ice.

B&B Towing has a facility in Littleton, as well as in Brownington and Lyndonville, Vt. Annually, B&B Towing recovers about six sleds and/or vehicles from beneath the surface of water bodies in the Upper Valley. In April, it righted three trailers and a tractor that were tipped over by strong winds in Franconia Notch.

The recovery effort can be both involved and dangerous, which is why Montminy was thrilled to learn about Sherp vehicles. And, in a moment of serendipity, while he was looking for a better way to do his job, the makers of Sherps were looking for a dealer.

Based in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sherp ATV also has locations in both Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and Kiev, Ukraine. Montminy concedes that once people get over the “awe” factor of seeing a Sherp in action, they are often curious about its origins. The vehicle is Russian, he said, but made in Kiev.

From Montminy’s perspective, the only thing a Sherp can’t do is fly. The vehicle can snugly accommodate up to eight passengers; sleep four; and its customization is limited only by the buyer’s imagination and checkbook.

While a few people may buy a Sherp for personal use, Montminy thinks the future of Sherp of New England is to sell them to customers who will use them commercially, be they farmers, surveyors, tree cutters, or a mining or energy company.

But it’s as an emergency-response vehicle for fire departments, EMS and search-and-rescue teams that Montminy thinks the Sherp will shine brightest. Toward that end, Sherp of New England is building a model to display at the EMS World Expo, which will be held from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2 in Nashville, Tenn.

Just about a month old, Sherp NE is in talks with two potential customers, said Montminy, a Franconia native who now lives in the Green Mountain State.

The sales of Sherps will be part of his company’s business model, but its bread-and-butter to be is the post-sale customization of them. Montminy envisions fabricating custom Sherp parts in Littleton that can then be shipped anywhere in the world.

As to employing Sherps for emergency responses, Montminy is certain it could be a game changer. On July 29, Montminy’s Sherp, at the behest of the New Hampshire State Police and others, went into the Connecticut River in the Haverhill area to recover a small plane that crashed a day earlier, eventually dragging the plane some 5 miles downstream where it could be lifted onto a flatbed trailer.

Because of that potential, “we got in on the ground floor,” he said. “We wanted to be the first and only.”

A Sherp is virtually unstoppable, Montminy said, and comes with a manufacturer’s warranty. Buyers also will receive a complimentary day of driver training and one day to learn basic maintenance.

For folks who can’t get to Sherp of New England, Sherp will be at the Kittery Trading Post in September, said Montminy, and also will be featured in an upcoming program on The Discovery Channel, about which Montminy was unable to share details.

Chris Gamache, who is head of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, said it is not legal to operate a Sherp on the state’s ATV trails because it is too wide, but he agreed that “It could make a good rescue vehicle in the future, potentially.”

Montminy is optimistic about Sherp of New England.

“Right now, we’re trying to crawl before we walk,” he said, “and some day we hope to run.”

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