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February 4, 2016

Depends

Low Slung asked an interesting (and timely) question: The sled industry is pretty unique in that the press gets to ride the sleds before its release to the public (Not the norm in the car industry,too many spy pics before hand). Does it worry you guys that someone may get a snapshot of the new iron before its released to the world?

I thought I would share my response on the subject of spy-shots and leaked information prior to a new product release.

First, the media must sign ‘non-disclosure’ agreements and abide by our embargo timing when we give them advanced information on new models. They need extra time to prepare their publications and web-sites to coincide with print schedules and embargo dates. They would be open to law-suits if there was an intentional leak (note: we have never had to exercise this option to the best of my recollection).

We have had to deal with ‘spy’ shots getting leaked from inside sources and there have been cases where people have lost their jobs over this depending on circumstances. When it does happen there are generally two internal camps that quickly form. One side will be all freaked out, in damage control mode, wanting to recall, blame and punish (possibly justifying their own position). The only thing more damaging than having something published  to the internet you want kept secret, is trying to chase it down and remove it – doesn’t work so good!

I tend to sit on the other side where, if I see no harm done (based on timing and details) it is fun to observe and embrace the ton of excitement (not to mention the free advertising) that’s created as the pics go viral in the ‘hunger for info’ enthusiast sphere. The social aspect of the internet along with camera phones and portables really have had a profound impact on all of this.

Leaked pic that didn't hurt too much

Leaked pic that didn’t hurt too much

YXspy

And one that did!

Outside of the company lays a conspiracy group that rises up if there is any indication or conjecture the ‘leak’ was fabricated by a manufacturer to gain attention. We are not very good at that game-not at all. There are far to many politically correct people and processes inside of Yamaha for us to ever get consensus on breaking a rule. Instead we’ll hire an agency to produce a polished ‘teaser’ video ‘Hollywood style’ and proudly brand it Yamaha ‘revs your heart’, to get things buzzing. These clips are carefully designed not to ‘tip the wagon’ then approved by kings and council. I still chuckle when I see what some guys actually make of them – ‘I freeze framed the whole thing and found one millisecond of footage where, when I zoomed in 50x and applied an enhancing software program downloaded from a Russian hacker site, I was able to confirm by the heat signature it has three cylinders and the chase vehicle in the dusty distance was in fact a Gillette 1000…’ truly fascinating forensics.

The other source of leaks is far more nebulous. The old forum thread ‘I have a trusted friend in the industry and he told me…’ More often than not it’s bogus but there have been times when I read things containing details clearly originating from an ‘insider’. The best part of these ones is sitting back and watching the on-line banter as the ‘leak’ gets called ‘bull spit’ by other ‘seers’ or the comment gets hi-jacked then buried in a sheer flood of opinion. I watched one of these unfold over on TY, I was almost believing the guy was legit before he tripped. I have learned not to react too quickly to this type of leak but there are times when the message needs to be heard. I delivered a little sermon at our last field staff meeting after reading something which I was able to determine came from one of our staff. Didn’t single anyone out, instead reminded all that their closest friend who they completely trust and confide in also has a closest friend who they completely trust and that person ain’t you!. My old pal Greg Marier once said something to me in Japan years ago. ‘Chris – two of us can keep a secret – if one of us is dead!’ Fortunately we are both still kickin’ and Greg san, your secret is still safe with me 😉

Stay tuned, I feel a ‘leak’ coming on! (maybe it’s that damned old age thing) – ‘Depends’ 😉 cheers cr

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Posted @ 2:28 pm in Yamaha Insights   

February 2, 2016

if a tree falls in the forest

I am not sure I know why today is the day any more than I know why it took this long. But its high time I came back to Sled Talk to reflect a bit on the past few months.’

First off I want to apologize for not posting an update at least acknowledging my sabbatical from blogging. Truth is, it was never really intentional. I have just been so caught up in my new world of organizational reform and change that Sled Talk has almost become part of a former life. Tim K dropped into my office this morning with an invoice for the web hosting of Sled Talk asking me if it was still alive. I did not know how to respond. After a little chat and show of support, he left me to ponder the fate.

A few visitors still come to the blog to read some of the old development stories and ramblings but the fact is: ‘content is king’ and as many of you have pointed out, I haven’t posted diddly squat in some time. It was never my intention to ignore things this long, it just happened, a product of my ever evolving environment.

So, yes I am good and still here. On the other hand, the snowmobile

Feb1 20% of normal

Feb1 20% of normal

industry is not so fortunate. The lack of snow in the key central markets, the warming effects of El Nino and the grinding halt to sales after Christmas is not what any of us needed this year. I am embarrassed to say I have not stuck my trail permit on my sled yet. Thinking it may well end up a sad reminder of the season that wasn’t, by adorning my beer fridge.

What makes things worse is the fact we, as an industry, are coming off a great year past and as a company are working hard on some new products for model year 2017 that I am positive will turn some heads. BUT all that said, it is not over yet and it wouldn’t take but a few cold days and some snow to get us back in the game.

Kind of like me, all it took was the timely threat from Tim to pull the pin on Sled Talk accompanied by a good hug to get me back on the key board. There are some things I would really like to share and speak to here in the near future. March 1 is our next embargo and there are sure to be some questions, so here’s my commitment to finish up this season with some regular posts and we’ll see where that goes.

 

think snow!!! cheers cr

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Posted @ 9:01 pm in Yamaha Insights   

November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

And I’m beat. Was down in Atlanta this week with our whole snowmobile team. We had some really good meetings smothered in fine southern hospitality. Didn’t get home until late last night and faded fast into a funk this afternoon  which lead me to my browser and the sled forums. It’s always a good reality check to read what some of our customers are thinking. And its a bit disconcerting to think that I’m not the only one, I know a lot of you folks on here are reading the same threads. I’m not going to confirm or deny how big 17 (or 18) are going to be but I can say we are going through some tremendous changes internally that are sure to be reflected in our products and how we will do business going forward.

Not at liberty to go into any detail but there are a lot of balls in the air right now and I’m genuinely excited by the anticipation of them being caught, (hopefully in the end zone). Jon and Tanaka are headed overseas in a couple of weeks to tighten up some plans. Then we are getting together early in December to ride on the newest of the MY 17 proto-type products. The dates are set for some in-season market research with visiting engineers and our marketing team are working hard to tighten up the go-to plan for end of February.

As if that’s not enough, we are going through some major change to our business administration and IT systems here in Canada to offer greater communication and support for our dealers and customers.

So when I read comments about BNG and ho-hum product launches, I  take a deep breath and look around.

And I don’t see anyone here snoozing ;))

cheer cr

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Posted @ 4:38 pm in Yamaha Insights   

October 13, 2015

Bounce in your Sled?

I was out of the loop last week as we just hosted a national dealer conference at Deerhurst Resort with a focus on marine, motorcycle and SxS vehicles. I spent my days track side attending to the Camso track kit equipped Wolverine and Grizzly and supporting the YXZ demo rides. It was really interesting (and fun) to watch the anticipation and reactions of the dealers who had the chance to  strap into the new YXZ. The demo track  was short and sweet starting with a long straight leading into a 30 foot jump followed by a multiple three foot, ‘whoops’ section. Upon clearing the bumps – hard on the brakes, cross over the abandoned airstrip, then back home on another long straight. This section had some off-camber bends, another high speed kicker into a dogleg and a short, hard braking finish. We had three test engineers from the US driving the vehicles. These guys had countless hours of saddle time in off-road buggies and were able to really demonstrate the  potential of the vehicle.

Once the dust settled they had completed over 500 laps, WFO. Passengers were treated to a moderate ‘slow’ lap to get a good look at the terrain. On lap two, things got exciting as the driver  dumped the clutch with the engine on the red-line,  power shifting through to 4th gear, hitting the jump to land into the whoops at 100+ kph, lock it up, cross the track and hammer it back up to speed, lurching sideways full throttle into the final brake bumps and back down to idle within scant feet of the ‘Parc Ferme’. Not once in +500 laps did they make a mistake or get out of shape (much) – amazing. They pounded the two pre-pros which never missed a beat. We did have one slow leak in a rear tire which we plugged and one sub assembly loosen up which the engineers knew enough to monitor and re-torque based on previous testing experience. All told we didn’t loose 15 minutes in the two days. Here’s a link from the YMUS meeting on a similar track to give you an idea

There was a bit of speculation on the new YXZ 998 cc triple and whether it could cross into other products. Short answer – of course it could – but not in a 10500 rpm / 112hp version. There is one advantage to a 998 and that is realized in cost as imported engines over 999 cc are assigned an excise tax. The divorced transmission leaves the door wide open for other applications. The only thing missing is the tuning to meet the application, be it water, pavement or snow.

2016_YZ450FX_blue_CAN_2The new YZ450FX was released with many references to snow bikes. The new YZ-FX has the ‘magic button’ to make the engine start with a quick stab of the pinky. A most welcome addition for anyone thinking about installing a track and ski. We didn’t really do any snowmobile business at this show per se, but there certainly was a lot of conversation on the subject.

On a personal note, I pulled two of my sleds out of storage this weekend to fire up and was pleasantly surprised, no critters had decided to take up residence in either one. I had kept them out doors on a trailer (well protected from the elements) in cottage country – red squirrels, mice, chipmunks etc.- not so much as an acorn, which I attribute to the ample use of Bounce dryer sheets. In years past, even with moth balls scattered about, I always had a least one visitor make a mess, but this year, nothing. I’m just hoping I found all the fabric swatches because having a sled burn down may change my tune on the virtues of the smelly little napkins. It was a bonus to have nice weather to get everything cleaned up, greased and adjusted, that said another session is required to align the steering in the Vector which appears to include a bit of open heart surgery. Yes, I really need a toy-box /  garage / man-cave up north!

We are a couple of weeks out from the Toronto Power Sports Show and flurries are in the forecast…

cheers cr

 

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Posted @ 3:21 pm in Industry News,Travel and Events,Yamaha Insights   

September 23, 2015

First Day of Fall

I shouldn’t be surprised by the requests to spill the beans on the seventeens but really guys? It’s a bit premature! We have barely started shipping the 2016 models and already you want a hint of whats in store next March. Oh well, here you go.

SWTI have been working diligently along with Jon and Mr. T to finalize the model selection, specifications and appearance of the 17’s and things are looking really good.

We have a new ‘rule’ which has more  to do with administration than anything but it makes life a bit difficult for us. We have to hit a large minimum quantity before we can produce a model in a second color. This has always been a big deal with Japan built product and we were elated when we found out Arctic Cat was willing to build to almost a onesy twosy schedule. That is, until we started adding in the various specs for the different countries. I cant remember the exact math on this years TRF product but for the 20 something models we created, there were over 60 BOM’s required. These BOM’s (bill of material) are the vehicle recipes that determine the manufacturing parts requirements. Each model variant requires its own BOM and each country the units are sold in has its own requirements both in specific performance specs (think tracks, skis, shock /  clutch calibration etc.) and in compliance requirements, (warning labels, language, reflectors, mirrors etc.). These BOM’s contain a lot more than the list of finished parts. For example a warning label would require the paper stock, artwork and ink to all be listed separately so the total lines involved in 1 BOM are huge.

Long story short, we are on version 18 of the model mix trying to hit our minimums so we don’t have too many BOM’s with small volumes, yet still retain a good selection of flavors in the mix. A couple of the proposed models won’t even be confirmed until certain components are validated ‘on snow’ by our quality assurance team early in the new year. This comes as a result of some development issues and lack of snow in the mountains last spring. All in all we’ve been really busy chasing our tails!

Our engineers have been working hard to resolve a couple of lingering issues and pending some early on snow testing, we should be all good to go as the trails open up.

The industry, as a whole, appears quite healthy going into the season. The unusual anomaly of having no snow in the mountains for most of last winter will take its toll this fall as many riders didn’t get to use their sleds much last season and I expect, will hang onto them for another year. A second R1 SBanomaly may start having an impact on mountain sled sales as well with the rising popularity of snow bikes. With Polaris’ acquisition of Timbersled kits, Arctics announcement of their pending SVX 450, the new lightweight YETI kit going into production and Skidoo putting track kits on the Spyder for the geriatric set, its appears to be going main stream. Too bad Yamaha doesn’t have much experience with dirt bikes. Oh, wait a minute….. I  believe we do.

Inside of YMCA, we are working on our upcoming national dealer conference where we will be hosting several hundred dealers and staff for a few days at Deerhurst Resort in central Ontario. We wont be presenting a lot of new snowmobile product at this one. There is lots going on with the propellers, squirt guns and wheeled product. I plan to keep myself busy with our tracked ATV and ORV vehicle display and demos where I know the conversation will certainly turn to snow… Until next week, cheers.

cr

 

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Posted @ 2:13 pm in Industry News   

September 14, 2015

Hey Hey Hay

Well I’m back. Hope you had a great summer, I sure did! I spent the latter part of August at the cottage dragging kids (old and young) around the lake, dropped into the office only long enough to print a plane ticket and depart for Minneapolis – meetings and Hay Days. The highlight of the latter was seeing so many old friends from the industry. Some wearing new hats, some retired, some still plugging away… but all smiling.

I’m sorry I missed the Totallyamaha ‘meet and greet’ but did run into Tom for a chat and was happy to introduce him to Mark Lester from SnowTrax TV / Supertrax mag. Our friends at Camso (aka Camoplast) were set up just behind the Yamaha booth with lots of interesting track systems on display. A very special old friend of mine Jim Kedinger, is managing their ATV ROV track kit field marketing and it was exciting to see Yamaha USA announce the distribution of the Camso 4S track systems through their dealer network. This is not a plug so much as a triumph for me. I have been a big believer in these kits over the years and quietly lobbied approval to distribute for our products anytime I could find someone to listen to me.

The new YXZ’s were front and center in the Yamaha booth creating a lot of buzz and Mac over at MPI had another unit close by with his new turbo kit installed, ready to rip the wheels off anything our competition cares to throw at us.

Our friends at Cat were having fun, with Troy showing a teaser snow-bike (briefly) on the roof off their semi and Brian pulling the sheets off the new green race sled. There was no shortage of corporate brass in attendance in the manufactures row but not a neck tie in sight, thankfully. On the way in I spotted something very special in the parking lot, pointing it out to Pete. ‘Look over there. Way down that last row of vehicles, see it?? It’s a car!!’ Never seen so may pickups in one place – ever.

Other highlights? Too many to mention. The constant braaap of mod sleds in the background. The lawn chairs and cooler under the OSM tent come to mind. Kevin Bielke from Snowtech in his game warden outfit. Editor at large, Jerry Basset’s words of encouragement. Luke Lester departing full aero on a used Craftsman lawn tractor. Getting smoked out by a ‘Wankel’ powered Panther. The dude with the SRX, gutted and converted into a pull trailer, hauling away his swag. Greg Marier now retired with his big poop eating grin. Big Doug B from Cat sporting dark Yamaha sunglasses. The ever witty Pat Bourgeois’ insight on Coors brewing expertise. The seemingly endless miles of used parts, sleds, junk and their colorful purveyors (nice tooth there bubba!) And last but not least all the better halves… America’s truly got talent!!

So now that I have warmed up the keys, I’ll try to put something more product / business related together over the next while, lighting up Sled Talk as the days continue to get shorter. And for those of you who reminded me last weekend that some people actual read and enjoy this blog – Thanks!!!

Think snow!

cheers cr

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Posted @ 3:40 pm in Industry News,Travel and Events   

April 28, 2015

Paint it Black

This week will see us finish up testing unless something drastic happens with the weather. We are doing some validation work on the 2016 mountain sleds as well as some prototype evaluation on the 17’s, somewhere out west. I am spending the week getting ready for meetings down at our Atlanta facilities (Kennesaw GA). It’s our annual season end wind up meeting with snowmobile service, sales, planning and accessories development people. I will need to review the direction for MY17 and out, then take a look in the rear view to see how successful our spring ‘Power Surge’ and the limited ‘LE’ models ended up.

At the same time, our designers are meeting in California to examine the latest sketches for the MY 17 line and critique some new styling cues in the form of a one ton clay snowmobile – this is where you bite your tongue and refrain from any references to the RX1 ;). Jon will be heading out to represent the North American team and I suspect our new design leader from YMC may be in attendence.

Dezi-NagayaI had the chance to meet Dezi Nagaya on my last visit to Japan where he presented us with his background, highlighting some of his accomplishments and sharing his vision for Yamaha going forward. It will be interesting to watch as our new products now in development, undergo styling and design influences under his leadership. It appears to be quite a big deal as the new design group has kiethtaken over the main floor of the Yamaha corporate center and Yamaha president Yanagi has clearly vested authority for the project in Mr Nagaya.

To give you a better idea here is a short article on the man. I found another article that made reference to Kieth Richards, stating Dezi’s wardrobe and swagger had an uncanny resemblance.

Dezi Nagaya article

Cheers cr

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Posted @ 1:02 pm in Yamaha Insights   

April 22, 2015

Fly by Wire

A funny thing happened to me last week on my way down to visit the boys in TRF. I prefer to fly from YYZ to Winnipeg then drive down across the line opposed to playing pinball through two US cities only to end up driving the same distance from Grand Forks. Anyway, I’m standing at the National car rental desk listening to the gentleman in front of me as he happily accepted the offered upgrade to a new Dodge Charger. My turn, after initialing the 27 ‘X’s declining all the up-charges… ‘and what kind of vehicles do you have today?’

‘Well sir we have a wee Fiat whatever, a cute little Chevy something or other and a new Ford Festival’. ‘Hmmm, would you have anything in men’s? Maybe a Dodge Charger or the like?’ ‘No sir, this is all we have left.’ crap!

I should have realized when I plugged the MP3 player in and was given  fifty options to click before it would make any noise, that the Ford Festivity- powered by Microsoft – was the wrong choice. Once out of the parking lot I tried to turn up the tunes and I got a message on the screen that my ‘One Key’ volume limit had been reached. Huh? With ZZ Top barely audible in the back ground, I cruised onto the Perimeter Highway. Now maybe its just me, coming from TO and all, but I find driving in Winnipeg really frustrating. Folks there are apparently entitled to whatever lane they like with no regard to speed or flow and no one seems to give a rats behind. So I try to do a little deke around a couple of dicing locals and the stupid car gives me a little Microsoft chime and informs me, ‘My Key’ maximum speed has been attained. I’m doing 105kph in a 100kph zone and it has signed off, that’s it, that’s all you get.

Pulled off into the nearest Tim’s, dug out the owners manual and conclude that someone has programmed this thing for a 16 year old and given me the dummy key that can’t over-ride the system. Microsoft had taken over control of my car. I called National to voice my extreme displeasure and was politely informed it was what it was, so I angrily abused that little POS as best I could for the rest of my trip and swore I would never rent a blue oval, Microsoft enabled vehicle again. Two hours of driving across prairie back road, not another vehicle in sight, so flat and straight I could watch my dog run away from home for two days… at 105 kph pinned. I’m still mad.

This brings me to this week snowmobile related story. We have just released some new technology that will let a computer run your sled! We call it YCCT with D-Mode and although it is not a first for snowmobile. It is the first to bring this level of sophistication. Now it does beg the questions of ‘whats in this for me’ and ‘why would I want it?’

I wrote the following excerpt for our communication platform at YMC’s request and even though I am an old school guy who prefers the world without traction control and computers overriding my commands, I did come to appreciate some of the benefits through this exercise.

YCCT Chip

Cheers cr

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Posted @ 12:25 pm in Yamaha Insights   

April 8, 2015

Engines Happen!

Still in triage at the office but want to share an article I have just received approval on from YMC. I was asked to sit with Sawabuchi San, one of our key engine guys and pick his brain. He had just completed an analysis of the ACE 900. We often do this just to compare what our competitors are doing to our own offerings but very seldom (re: never) do we go public with the information – until now 😉

The main purpose I had in mind when taking on this project was to develop an addendum to our ‘communication platform’ which is the bible of information we use to help educate our dealers and staff. It is a bit wordy but I thought maybe some of you would like to give it a read. The first paragraph is typical marketing cream cheese but it gets into some meat in short order…

It’s a large PDF and I wouldn’t recommend reading on a hand held device but then again, I’m old and half blind.

Engines Dont Just Happen

cheers cr

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Posted @ 3:34 pm in Yamaha Insights   

March 31, 2015

Life Goes On

Still feeling the lag from last weeks trip overseas. I had left on the 18th to travel to our test center in Shibetsu, Hokkaido. There was still abundant snow but with temps hovering above 0C the surface was mush and difficult to evaluate on. That said, engineering had prepared a number of interesting ideas for us to sample. I was taken aback by a couple of advanced suspension designs, one could be adapted to just about anything and the other requires a complete re-think of the sled. There were also some engine options that put a smile on my face but more on that later.

I have been coming to this magical facility for close to 30 years where I have seen many hand built prototypes born, with the majority having never made it to production. I have a hunch when you think about Yamaha, you envision advanced technical development centers with state-of-the-art  fabrication equipment. 3D printers, laser cutters, robotic welders and a bevvy of engineers n sterile white shop coats, toting around blinking lap-tops. The Shibetsu test center is nothing like this at all.

The shop area is small but well organized and ‘tidy’ for lack of a better word. It can get quite busy there during the peak seasons but for the most part the staff is limited to a handful of visiting engineers from the mother ship and a few local full time employees. Of those there are two guys who specialize in welding and fabricating. They have been there quietly doing there thing during every visit I have made and slowly over the years we have come to know each other as friends, even though they speak no English and my Japanese wont get me much more than a beer and some good sushi.

Cr HatHaruna-san and Hatori-san are the kind of old school craftsman who can sculpt things out of metal using basic hand tools and a sketch on a cocktail napkin. They have spent countless hours creating machines from simple drawings and ideas, born to give us a taste of what could be, prior to a full on engineering assault. I have seen the beginnings of several snowmobile platforms come from their skilled hands along with various ATV chassis including our side x side vehicles. Yes – they get a lot of direction from the engineering group but they have contributed so much to the DNA of our snowmobiles that I could not let their retirement go unrecognized – not on my watch.

Both men, who happen to be best friends have decided now, in their mid 60’s, to throw in the shop rags and IMG_0722return to their farming roots in retirement. We had a little party for them after our meetings and I was given the honor of saying a few words on behalf of all of us who have enjoyed Yamaha snowmobiles over the last 4 decades. It was a bit of an emotional moment for me as I reflected on how it must feel to say goodbye to 40 years of your life. At the same time I looked upon the room full of bright young engineers, happily enjoying their evening,  in celebration of the contributions and accomplishments of these two humble farmers. We are in good hands. Life goes on.

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Posted @ 8:42 am in Yamaha Insights