Design Engineering

Off the beaten path

Lindsay Luminoso   


ARGO’s amphibious XTV vehicles venture beyond the point where traditional ATV flounder.

Since 1967, ARGO has been producing some of the world’s toughest amphibious Xtreme Terrain Vehicles (XTV). Throughout its history, the New Hamburg, ON-based manufacturer has prided itself on enabling users to “go anywhere” they are willing to take the vehicle.

In essence, the company’s range of vehicles haven’t changed dramatically – in shape or design logic – over the last 50 years. The key element behind ARGO’s design is its ability to be fully amphibious. According to ARGO’s VP of Engineering, Douglas Braswell, there are only a few ways that this can be approached in an effective and economical way – by designing a tub that displaces water to keep it afloat.

An ARGO XTV is built using two high-density polyethylene frames that are combined to make the tub-like shell. The belly of the machine, the bottom of the tub, is used for floatation, but it’s really the tires that make this vehicle unique.

“The secret behind the ARGO is the way that the power is delivered to the ground through the tires,” explains Braswell. “If we work back to the power source and everything in between, the tires make up what an ARGO is today. It’s based on the floatation, transmission and the way the engine is delivered to the transmission. From a design standpoint, it’s very simplistic but, from an execution standpoint, it’s highly complex.”


ARGO offers two different tire configurations – 6 or 8 wheels – depending on the payload and carrying capacity required to allow for floatation and buoyancy in aquatic situations. The 6-wheel vehicles are the more affordable option and tend to be nimbler and easier to transport, fitting in the back of a flatbed truck.

“The 8-wheel vehicle will provide a larger load capacity and you are able to float more,” Braswell says. “It’s a bigger vehicle and it demanded that we have the extra set of wheels, not only to accommodate for the load for terrain but also for the floatation, especially with a bigger engine.”

The tires themselves are designed with a chevron tread to enable them to paddle through water and act as the propulsion system of the vehicle. The ARGO is all about getting from point A to point B; depending on the model, it can reach speeds of approximately 25 mph on land and 3 mph in the water.

When driving on difficult land terrain, the tires act as part of suspension of the vehicle. For the most part, the tires are inflated to approximately 5 psi, but the engineers at ARGO have designed a new feature, the beadlock system. This system enables the tires to reach an ultra low pressure, approximately 1.5 psi, to allow the vehicle to crawl over obstacles while providing the necessary suspension to get through challenging terrain.

The tires can also drive safely and efficiently through approximately a foot and a half of snow. But for customers looking to drive through deep snow and icy conditions, ARGOs can be outfitted with tracks and ice cleats. The tracks work well in deep snow and certain types of mud but are not as effective in water conditions, the company says.

“It’s a much smaller tread versus the paddle tires,” explains Matt Chandler, ARGO’s Media Relations Specialist. “So you will float and spin the wheels, but with the tires, you will move much quicker.”

Chandler adds that the tracks are one of ARGO’s top selling accessories and the vehicles are very popular in Northern Ontario; yet the company’s best dealer is located in Alaska.

“There is always a condition that you are going to find that is a compromise to the ability to go to where you want to,” adds Braswell. “Where we believe that ARGO shines is with the continuous variable transmission (CVT) – similar to what is used on snowmobiles. The driver never has to worry about being in the wrong gear. Instead, The operator is able to apply power much more consistently and much more calculated than if he or she is using a machine with a gear system like that found on an ATV.”

The vehicle uses a chain drive system for the power transmission back through the 6- or 8-wheel configuration. The ARGO is outfitted with a skid steer type of transmission. There are two options, one that is a true skid steer, while the other option is a power diversion type of transmission with a triple differential in it so the wheels don’t lock; instead, one side is slowed while the other side advances the machine through the turn.

“It makes for a wider turning radius,” says Braswell. “However, it’s a much smoother interaction between the operator and the machine.”

ARGO XTVs are driven by a Kohler four-stroke industrial engine, with a liquid or air cooled option. The engines range from 19-30 hp depending on the vehicle model.

Engine placement – directly in front of the operator’s station – adds to the vehicles efficiency on two fronts, Braswell says. In the cooler months, the heat from the engine warms the driver while in the summer months, the heat can be dispersed from the vehicle, helping make the ARGO a true four-season vehicle.

“Having the engine where it is aids in a very capable machine in different conditions because the weight is up front,” Braswell says. “Imagine being concerned about being able to make it through a specific area or terrain. Most of the time, if you find yourself stuck going forward you are able to back out.”

“Instead of biasing all the weight to the rear so that you get stuck, having the weight split and weight biasing like we do, we believe, helps balance the machine in a way that will allow you to travel in these soft underfoot conditions,” he adds.

The company produces about 2,000 units per year in a range colours and configurations. Their customer base is largely made up of hunters, making camouflage a popular vehicle pattern. The vehicles are globally distributed with 30% of sales in Canada, 30% in the United States and 40% internationally.

The company believes its success is due in part to the unique design of the vehicle and partly because there is really no other amphibious vehicle in the recreational consumer market. According to Braswell, there are other amphibious equipment manufacturers out there but the machines tend to be six to 10 times more expensive.

“One of the reasons why we believe that no one has gotten into this market is because of the uniqueness and desire of the customer base that are attracted to an all-terrain amphibious XTV,” he explains. “Not only do you have the ability to go into water and areas that a side-by-side or an ATV can’t travel, we are also able to protect the operator better and safely without being exposed to water and mud. Once you are in, it is very dry. That’s the attraction.”

“From a design point of view, the ARGO is a really unique vehicle,” adds Chandler. “In terms of other ATVs on the market, the moment any of those vehicles come to a lake or a stream, they have to turn around. That’s where our vehicles really start, when they get to the rough terrain.”


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