October 9, 2014
May I Cut In?
Before I went into hibernation last spring, I had asked owners of the new SR Vipers to fill out a quick survey. It provided quite an interesting and valuable bit of data. But like all surveys, the magic is in the interpretation – data is data – what’s it telling you?
Case in point, the majority of our first round Viper owners were coming off of Yamaha snowmobiles. Of all the attributes that we had ranked (performance, suspension, handling etc), the one thing most agreed upon as being ‘excellent’ was the seating position / relationship of bars to butt to boots. This told me something and led me to have some additional foam packed into an Apex seat raising my butt a couple of inches, reducing the bend at my knees and consequently moving me forward a tch. Big difference! Comfort improved, transition to standing became easier and mobility (ease of movement) was better, hmmmm… to be continued.
Another interesting result. We asked; ‘when making the initial purchase decision, did you consider how well the sled would start?’ (ranked by importance) – Not surprisingly it wasn’t important at all to most people. Why? Because one assumes any modern vehicle will start with the turn of the key, or in the case of the much less sophisticated 2-smokes – a pull or three on the string. Well guess what? When we asked a ‘satisfaction’ question set and a ‘future purchase’ question set based on riding a Viper, it became rather clear we had a bit of a problem. The sleds had some inconsistencies when it came to starting, even with a warmed up engine. Now all of a sudden, ‘starting’ became a major consideration. It was the biggest complaint we had! But the data said, starting wasn’t important to the purchase decision. It was that ‘interpretation’ thing again.
We presented our interpretation of the data, along with related feedback we had received from our dealers and service reps early last spring and it was acted upon almost immediately by the folks in TRF. Turns out the ECU ‘map’ (the program that runs all of the on-board electronics) had a few ones and zeros that didn’t quite get along. We were informed that an updated program would be written and the affected ECU’s could be ‘re-programmed’ with a new map, thus eliminating the need to stand on ones head, count to five and turn the key using the left hand only, to get it to fire.
Seems simple enough but, as you might guess, the background steps required to get the ‘fix’ to market would take time. A lot of time. This has bugged me all summer knowing the biggest issue we faced on our new sleds could be resolved – no not could – would be resolved and we didn’t tell anybody. I wonder how many Viper owners were heard to say ‘it’s a great sled, I love the power, handling and ergonomics BUT… it’s a real B to start sometimes’ – Okay Yellowknife, I know what you’re thinking. STOP IT! To say you are special would be an understatement! 😎
So here’s the skinny; first I’ll ask you not to run down to your local shop this instant as the info is just now being communicated to our dealers and staff. We will be taking care of our customers and will re-flash the ECU’s on any 2014 SRV that exhibits the need with the latest 2015 model program. I’m not going to get into the details of how this will be carried out as its rather complicated. We will be communicating the info officially this fall, well in advance of the riding season.
While I’m on the topic of updates, there are a couple of other items I can mention with regards to the 2015 models I know some of you are looking at. There have been a couple of ‘running’ changes made to production since we released the new sleds last February. The X-TX models (141 cross-overs) will get a new seat. It was decided in testing that the mountain seat with its rounder profile and additional height would make for a better cross-over riding experience and so it has replaced the standard trail seat on these models. Also our new M-TX mountain sleds will get a different windscreen than was used on the early builds last spring. They have been modified to reduce the width of the ‘ears’ which were susceptible to breakage if the snowmobile somehow ends up on it’s side, (not that you thin air sucking boon-dockers would ever do that). Note the pic is a proto example. The stockers will be colour matched the same as the originals.
There are some more changes but I’ve probably said too much already. End of the day, there are a bunch of folks here at Yamaha and in Minnesota, intent on making these snowmobiles the best they can be. I find it refreshing that we are able to move faster to address market issues and react to input we get from you. Hey, it wasn’t all that long ago, it took us three years to warm up the grips a little. Not any more and for me, that’s a good thing. I hope you all agree!
BTW, thanks for the positive comments and encouragement on my last post, you guys are awesome! For my fellow Canadians, have a great Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Y”all down south, hang in there, your Turkey is on the way (along with the snow). So, without further adieu… lets dance.
Posted @ 5:33 pm in Yamaha Insights
October 7, 2014
Time flies – here it is October and I haven’t written a thing since early spring. Why? I’m really not sure. I have struggled, knowing SledTalk has a small group of hard-core followers who have shown appreciation for (most of) the content here and who wait patiently for some new sled fodder. I have always taken pride in remaining transparent while walking the tight-rope of ‘political correctness’. Frankly, this has caused me great frustration at times, not being able to share my thoughts and experience completely, especially regarding issues that are veiled with confusion or speculation. It was easier to navigate the quick-sand when I was only representing Yamaha within my ramblings.
Now a days, I am working very closely with the team at Arctic Cat. I have taken on more of a role in specification planning and communications and spend much of my time dwelling in the near future (aka Minnesota). It is this deep involvement with the SRV project (shared responsibility vehicle that has tempered my blogging and I believe; has caused me to subconsciously shut down over the summer. I have received many questions about our business agreements and future direction, some of which I tried to answer discreetly, with great sensitivity to both companies involved. All that did was raise more speculation. I have even read comments where I am accused of being a liar and purveyor of misleading information. Not a pleasant bit of feedback but everyone is entitled to their opinion and if that is the message I have sent, I accept accountability for it. I am simply not a good ‘dancer.’
So what can I say after six months of silence. hmmmm – Life is good! The snowmobile business is good! And our new snowmobiles are good! For the first time since 2003 I am not going to be on board a 4 cylinder powered sled. I have decided to sacrifice what I still believe is the coolest engine – ever – in a snowmobile and ride a new Viper. I have many reasons for making this choice, not the least of which is the fact, I am working so closely on the project. I owe it to everyone involved, especially myself, to focus my saddle time on the snake.
I have gotten some emails and comments lately from some of you guys, telling me to ‘wake up’ and write something or at least bury Sled Talk in the grave so you can purge it from your favorites (good one T). Thanks – I needed that!
Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to write when I started this post. I had it in mind to be an epitaph, now I’m not so sure. I’ll see how many of you are left out there and decide if I want to risk going forward and being a dancing fool
March 21, 2014
I can’t say that I am all caught up after my first full week back in the office in what seems like months but I have gulped some air between waves. That’s not a bad little segue into my next mission – I’m taking the family south to sit on the beach for a week and get reacquainted. There will be some business involved as I have the privilege of joining in a special 5-Star dealer recognition trip to the islands of the Caribbean. Imagine hanging out at the pool in +30 degree sunshine talking about snowmobiles while the trails melt away at home.
Tom over on TY helped me post a survey link last week targeting SR Viper owners. We had a pretty good initial response which helped me confirm their level of satisfaction scored against what was most important to them at the time of purchase. It has also added clarity to where we need to focus to make the sled even better. There was one thing that really jumped out at me which I’ll share with you simply because it is quite interesting. What do you think was ranked as the most important item (out of 32 choices) that Viper purchasers were expecting from there new sled. Think about the categories… power? suspension? handling? comfort? performance? Do you have an idea? OK let me say that on the satisfaction ratings of the same 32 points – the item that owners selected as the thing they were very satisfied with was the same thing that was most important. It’s the ergonomics / riding position. Over 300 owners responded and the vast majority ranked the ergonomics as not just really important but also really good. I knew I liked the seating position, the transition to standing is as natural as it gets and riding seated is ideal for me but… wow.
Any way, if you are one of the ones who took the time to complete the survey – THANK YOU. I will return from the tropics next Saturday, swap out the laundry and depart for Japan on Sunday where I’ll be staying for another two weeks. There is still lots of snow in Hokaido and it was minus 9C there yesterday. My helmet and bibs await, along with the promise of some skunk work projects and fresh engineering to sample. I have heard your many comments and will relay as best I can within the formal arena and just as importantly – the ‘nemawashi’ or back-door discussions over dinner and a pint. I have coined the term ‘Pure Yamaha’ into a strategic topic echoing your collective voice. Wish me luck!
Posted @ 12:26 pm in Yamaha Insights
March 12, 2014
Helmet for Sale – Cheap
Dang, here I am, back in the office and overdue for an update. I don’t even want to think of any technical topics or industry tid-bits today so instead I will give you the high hard ones on what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. I’ll get back to the more controversial stuff once I get through the triage stage and decompression after being on the road.
I spent last week locked down at a ski resort in central Ontario (Blue Mountain) with our key people from CSG / customer support group, service and accessories. I had the privilege to lead out the guys for a good ride on Wednesday with stellar conditions, racking up close to 250km. Might not seem like a lot for many of you but considering the technical nature of some of the trails along with numerous road crossings and the fact, for some, it was their first ride of the year and I’d say the boys did good! We did have a couple of ‘incidents’, one of which resulted in a short day for two people and the other will go down as a pit racing story for the ages. I won’t elaborate but the circumstances involved a new modular helmet with a tricky face shield release, sudden onset motion sickness, resulting in an abrupt loss of visibility. I am glad I was up front…
Jon spent the last few days in Wisconsin attending some Viper customer survey / focus groups which afforded him the chance to get out and ride with some high miler folks. And I just returned from a quick trip down to Thief River Falls to have some informal discussion on our direction going forward with Arctic Cat. I don’t mind saying, it has been an incredibly busy six weeks but somehow I have managed to make it home most weekends and have been able to rack up some significant miles aboard my Apex along with numerous other cool sleds, thanks in part to an awesome winter.
During our media introduction, pre-embargo, I had planned to attend the vintage snowmobile rally at Waconia MN but had to change my plans when our meetings were cut short. In hindsight, I really wish I could have made it. My old friend and former associate, Greg Marier did attend and sent me this re-cap which I want to share with those of you who have deep roots with Yamaha. Thanks Greg! This is really, really cool!!!
(Be patient, it may take a minute to load and use the back arrow to return here when you are done)
Yamaha Waconia Vintage SNowmobile show
It looks right now, that I will be home the rest of this week and all of next before hitting the road for another three week ‘globe trot’. The snow is still falling here in abundance even as I write this and the weekend is only two days out. I have a Performance Damper equipped Apex with a modified (taller and reshaped) seat that really needs to have some big miles added to the odometer before this white stuff goes away. Notwithstanding my sacrifices, I still need to produce an owners survey for the SR Viper and start building our product plan into a more formal presentation for Japan end of the month. That said, I need to get back to doing the stuff I get paid for. TTYL!
Posted @ 12:10 pm in Yamaha Insights
February 25, 2014
It Sucks – _ _ _!
It’s been over a week since I last posted here. Looking back over the past few days and the many comments I received on the 15’s I would have to say this has been the most constructive and informative feedback on a new model launch ever, on Sled Talk. Thank you all who took the time to weigh in!
I returned from Valemount with just enough time to pass my laundry to my wife, pet my kid and kiss the dogs then it was off to our Wisconsin R&D facility for the week. The annual ‘joint test’ was one of the best in my recollection, primarily due to the exceptional snow conditions in and around Minocqua. The ‘meat’ of the test was to ride and evaluate the final MY15 model specifications for sea level. There were representatives from all the main markets including Allen from Europe and Victor from Russia. Our North American team was there in force with planning, sales and service all at the table. In the back seats we had around twenty guys from Japan along with several more associates from our design agency. Leading the charge there were a couple of VP’s from Canada and the US, a senior managing director from Japan and the infamous, legendary and sometimes crazy Saito, our guru and host.
At one point I looked around a sparsely treed meadow where we were ‘playing’ and noticed at least 5 guys stuck and in various stages of cardiac arrest. The powder was really deep, granular and had no base at all which was evidenced by the roosts of ‘snirt’ that were laid down in final throes of futility whenever a line was mistaken or momentum given up to a tree. It was awesome! Overall the evaluations of suspension settings and calibrations confirmed our targets have been achieved and the sleds are ready for production.
Once we got through the 15’s it was time to address MY16. We discussed the direction and strategy of the next round of colors and graphics then had a chance to view ‘mock-up’ models with the new ideas applied. It’s always interesting to hear the comments from the different markets and I find myself reflecting and what I read here and on Totallyamaha regarding our current CG. The new LE’s are good example with the bright orange and blue colors. I concluded for the group that what I see in the market is a ‘love or hate’ initial reaction coupled with applause to the fact that Yamaha has broken the traditional conservative norm and tried something wild and aggressive for a change. This is one area that working with Arctic Cat provides us a lot more flexibility to paint components and play with more plastic real estate with graphic treatments. I like it.
After all the work was completed I had a chance to try some advanced ‘mules’ which are not officially projects, just ideas in the making along with some competitive products, one of which I have been really curious about. One of the guys had taken a YZ450 motocrosser and installed a Timbersled track conversion to it. I have been following some of this in the mountains, thinking it would not really apply to the flat lands but with this years snow conditions, it was a blast to go boon docking with it. I was absolutely amazed at how much powder it would wade through with surprising stability and confidence. Up front it is not a snowmobile and in my opinion will never replace a snowmobile but what a cool toy to add to the man cave collection (money not being an option).
I am going to stay in town the rest of this week even though I should probably be going back to West Yellowstone where all the media guys are congregating to ride and photograph the new offerings from all four manufacturers. My intention, given a bit of time, is to revisit the comments to my last post and try to respond and answer as many of your replies as I can. You might want to take a look back at them shortly, especially if you are the author of one and are interested in reading my thoughts.
One of our key guys who works out of our Kennesaw office in Atlanta had a very cool experience I’d like to share. Georgia experienced a nasty snow storm recently, which never happens there. Robert being a good ole western boy, grew up sleddin in the mountains. He took the opportunity to jump on board a development Viper and is probably one of – if not the only – guy to ever go sledding in Atlanta. Being a good lad, he checked with the local constabulary to ask if it was ok to ride a snowmobile around town and they said no problem. Probably because they didn’t even know what the heck a snowmobile was. He spent the day giving neighbor kids rides, posing for curious cameras and even attracted some media attention for the evening news. Too cool!
Next week, we are hosting yet another meeting, to focus on the high level issues facing our service and accessory development teams. We call this the ‘in-season’ CSG (customer support group) where we get together away from our daily distractions to meet. One of the most important parts of this is making sure all attendees get a chance to get out and ride our new sleds for a day. To that end I have to arrange a bunch of machines and head out in advance to do a little scouting for a two to three hundred km loop… Yes it sucks – to be me! cheers cr
Posted @ 11:50 am in Yamaha Insights
February 11, 2014
Time to Pin It
I’m writing this post from Valemount BC, smack dab in the middle of the mountains between Edmonton and Prince George. This morning we lifted the embargo on the new sleds and I just finished reading the thread on Totallyamaha along with a bunch of magazine reviews. As usual the comments are all over the map, from good to bad to worse. Thought I would take a minute to offer my take on the 2015’s.
Mountain sleds – yes – If there was one area we have been suffering, it is in the mountains and deep powder back-country riding areas. We watched our market share decrease in the mountains going back before the recession and it was with trepidation that we launched the Viper last year without an M-TX version for our dealers. Mountain models make up over 30% of total sales and we were not in the game. The Nytro mountain made for a good platform to modify and in the hands of a good rider, performed some magic but for the average guy who wasn’t looking for a 300 hp assault weapon – there were better choices.
When we looked at the Viper platform for mountain it was pretty clear that we needed to do more than simply add a long track and narrow it up. The Pro Climb frame brought some good features into the mix with dedicated mountain tunnel and steering layouts but is was still designed around a 2 stroke engine. We took the extra year in development for chassis modifications focused on the targets of agility, balance and manoeuvrability akin to the lighter competition.
Our engineers collaborated with the mountain specialists at Arctic Cat and Fox to figure out the best ways to manage the additional weight of the 4-stroke in terms of balance and handling. We also brought in some of the best riding talent on snow to help in the evaluation and testing, Guys like Randy, Chris Brown, Chad and TJ have had significant input on the sleds. The cherry on top was the addition of boost that was achieved working closely with MPI, our official supplier.
We now have a line up of mountain machines that have narrowed the gap dramatically to the 2-stroke world both in terms of weight and handling, add to that the availability of consistent high horsepower at altitude and we are back in the game, big time. Lots of stuff we didn’t talk about like special ECU program and clutch calibration for response; analysis and consequent weight reduction in many small areas like fasteners and materials, all add to the equation. I am heading out this afternoon for a ride with Randy and Chris to see how it’s all worked out first hand.
The LE models are another departure for us. Traditionally we would only have used BNG and paint to create an LE. Not this time. Each LE has a spec change along with the brilliant ( love it or hate it) color scheme . The L-TX gets a 1.75 track in a more trail able package, the X-TX gets the mountain chassis with a 2.25 lug and wide trail stance as a pure cross over. The R-TX gets a whole lot of Tucker influenced suspension and a choice of tracks, while the M-TX gets a premium FOX front shock package.
The coil over, gassers have been coined DX models as having the heated seat, tall windshield and additional storage makes them ‘ deluxe’ compared to the SE line.
The S-TX is a groomed trail cross-over with an optional 2-up seat and storage system (think cross – tour).
This leaves the pure Yamaha models built in Japan virtually unchanged and I know this comes as a great disappointment to many. To those who have called it a sign of Yamaha becoming only an engine supplier to AC and the demise of the brand. I am saying sorry but you are wrong. MY 2014 was very successful for us and we have completed the line with the addition of mountain and crossover for 2015. We are having a great winter in the Midwest and eastern provinces which bodes well for next fall. We have done what we needed to do and are are back in black, making some profit in snowmobile. All these things will factor highly in how much the mother ship is willing to invest and how quickly, in future R and D towards more pure Yamaha product, along with the engine supply to AC.
We are looking forward, up the trail as we exit the second corner and get on the gas.
February 7, 2014
Minus 40+ and Counting
Holy Jumpin, we awoke to minus 46F in West Yellowstone yesterday. It wasn’t just vehicles complaining about having to start and run, a lot of our staff were nursing their own woes in the morning, but what good fun we had! I am back in the office for a few hours today making sure everything is still on for our web-launch this Tuesday. Behind the scenes we had our key North American managers pre-record various bits of information and have spent a lot of time editing it to include product shots, action video, charts, graphs, titles and sub-titles (French) to deliver as an ‘on-line’ dealer ‘webinar’ come Tuesday. Another version will be made available shortly afterward for public consumption without the wholesale business component.
While all that was going on, our production team has been busy designing our new North American brochure which is all done in house here at YMCA. Additional support materials, all with a Feb 11 deadline, having been keeping the marketing crew on the pin. Point of sale, program ads, web-site content are just a few of the projects underway. What makes this all very difficult is the fact we don’t have the PVB or pre-production units for photography until early winter and this year several key models didn’t get built until after Christmas. To make matters worse, we haven’t received final specifications for some models as they are still in development and testing.
Put all these factors together and you get one stressed out bunch of people doing the best they can do using limited resources. The cool thing about all this, is we always seem to hit the deadlines and make everything look seamless and methodical. Last week was a great example of a fragmented plan coming together at the eleventh hour in a frantic scramble to produce a professional event which came across as smooth as a fine Scotch chased with some dark chocolate- or perhaps more realistically, some shots of Buffalo shine and chicken wings – I do work with some amazing people.
A quick update on another front. You may recall, I asked if anyone owning a Vector L-TX would like to test some bits for us. Well I had some great comments and volunteers from the Sled Talk ranks and the difficult task of selecting three of you to receive prototype Performance Damper kits to evaluate. I sent out two of the three kits last week, the last one went out today and I have already got the first report on how they worked. I will wait until the other guys respond then publish all three reports at the same time so as not to ‘taint anyone of them by reading what the other had to say. This should be interesting to see how much they are the same (or differ).
I am heading to the airport again Monday for a special event connected to the Feb 11 embargo release and will update as I go. I hope its a bit warmer for this go round and maybe, just maybe my gear bag will arrive with me for a change!
Posted @ 2:14 pm in Yamaha Insights
February 5, 2014
Minus 30 and Counting
Day 2 in West Yellowstone. Minus 30C with stunning clear blue skies. We took our staff and divided them into two groups. One group spent the day in product seminars and meetings while the other group spent all day playing in the snow. Today we have rotated the staff so yesterdays riders are stiffening up in the conference room while the other guys make snow angels. Our senior staff also made a point of getting out as can be seen in these pics of our North American snowmobile team leader Pete SM2 and Yamaha marketing icon ‘Super Starrman’.
The riding groups were split in 2 so one group could ride backcountry while the other group stuck to the trails. both groups returned to base for lunch then traded machines and terrain for the afternoon. As I mentioned we have 50 new machines on the ground that represent everything we will have available for next season. I had to make a presentation in the morning but was able to jump into a group ride in the afternoon.
There was a lot of effort preceding this event to prepare the sleds, most of which are pre production many of which were also delayed in production. Our guys had to really scramble to get them built and calibrated then transported for our enjoyment. Think about building and PDI, 50 sleds in two weeks. We didn’t have a single mechanical failure that wasn’t human induced (so far) which is strong testament to the talent we have in our field support team.
I am back in the boardroom today and looking forward to a special evening that is planned to have our whole team together tonight in a casual, fun soirée !
Posted @ 12:19 pm in Yamaha Insights
February 4, 2014
Minus 10 and counting
Woke up in West Yellowstone this morning. Typical of most connecting winter flights, my gear bag didn’t make it (along with several of my associates ) and while sorting that out an over zealous airport cop tried to stick me with a parking violation, bitter little man that he was. Eventually we set out north into a heavy snow storm. As I said…. Typical.
We have pretty much taken over the town with approximately 100 Yamaha employees, 50 shiny new sleds and several mountain ranges beckoning . We are one week out from releasing our 2015 model line. It was suggested that we should convene as a complete North American sled team to educate everyone on the product and go for a ride together. This ought to prove interesting!
Last night was a treat, as we rented a local movie theatre and after a casual reception watched some very cool sledding videos on the silver screen with full theatre sound cranked. Kind of got everyone in the mood. Now I’m heading out to help with the new product seminars before pulling on my gear, which showed up in the wee hours, to ride with the guys.
Thinking I will make a series of posts leading up to the launch to give you a behind the scenes look at what transpires before, during and right after a new product release. Bare with me. Cheers cr
Posted @ 9:15 am in Yamaha Insights
January 20, 2014
Waitin’ for the Bus
Last week on the heels of the now infamous Polar Vortex we suffered through the more traditional ‘January melt-down’. I spent the weekend at the cottage watching the water dripping off the roof, the lake completely un-ridable (apparently that is not a word) with the mercury slowly climbing towards +8C. Thankfully it was short lived and temps dropped back below zero creating an incredible hard base as it began to snow.
I have to fly out tomorrow to MSP to meet with the magazine guys. Par for the course, the weatherman is messing with my plans, announcing another big change in the forecast. Get this, a second Polar Vortex is rising up from the Arctic set on paralyzing air traffic. That’s two in a row! They say this Vortex is not going to be as brutal as the last so those of us over 12 might wish to refer to it as a ‘cold snap’. I know the ground crews for Air Canada will all be huddling around the airport Tim Horton’s, refusing to work because its cold outside and not ‘safe’. I just know I’m going to get screwed on this deal!
We had a board of directors meeting here last week and it afforded a great opportunity to get our chief corporate guys out on the snow. Rumor has it some serious miles were racked up by the crew, running out of Quebec City. Somehow they neglected to bring along the most senior of senior snowmobilers on the payroll, but that said I think they had plenty of fun without me.
I am wondering if anyone reading this blog, rides a Vector LTX and likes to ride it hard on less than perfect trails? If you are that person and are interested to help Yamaha test out some new bits, drop me a comment and tell my why you da guy!
Sorry I am going to cut my ramblings short today as I’m being pulled in three directions and have a lot of prep to complete before heading to the ‘bus’ depot.
Posted @ 3:49 pm in Yamaha Insights