January 22, 2015
ET Go Home
Sitting in the ANA lounge in Hanaeda on my way home. I have been in the office only three days in the last 2 months and I am ready for a little break! Upon our return from Russia, I was in Thief River Falls then at our R&D facility in Wisconsin. Christmas break then back to TRF, again to WI and direct to Japan. In the process of all this I was afforded the chance to ride some cool sleds some of which were simple experiments designed to answer the ‘what if’s’ of stick this engine in that or put that suspension in this… Really cool stuff that will never be justifiable for production but dam cool nonetheless.
And then there were the meetings. Technical briefings on some new- less than earth shattering but significant – features we are working on. Planning updates with our engineers, then more planning updates with Arctic Cat engineers and lots of what the Japanese refer to as ‘nemawashi’ more commonly referred to as ‘spit-balling’ in our culture.
I am getting to know the Cat team better and really enjoying the time we get to spend together. At one point a couple of weeks ago, we jumped on a mix of sleds and took the long route to Muskie Jacks for a trail burger. Just riding. It was good.
Our meeting in Japan this week held a couple of surprises for us and I’m still contemplating the opportunities that lay on the horizon. One thing is for certain in life and that is; things change.
But now I’m really in need of that little break, a lot of exercise and low calorie food. Time to do laundry, hug my girls and put some miles on the Viper (not necessarily in that order). I hope the conditions are good where you live and your dog doesn’t bark at you when you arrive home… it’s saddle time.
Waldo is in the house 😉 Cheers cr
Posted @ 3:04 am in Yamaha Insights
December 22, 2014
Merry Christmas and Happy Snowmobiling!
This is the last loose end on my plate before I pull the pin for the holidays and I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy holiday!
I am still digesting my recent trip to Russia. the most familiar experience I had while there, was snowmobiling. The culture, the people and the cuisine were unique and pleasantly wonderful, not at all what I was expecting. It’s too bad the economy there is taking such a hit due to falling price of oil. Clearly they have been making some huge strides in the transition from being state controlled towards free enterprise. Our dealers that I met are justifiably concerned but one cannot help but sense their determination and commitment. This passionate tenacity seems to run deep in the Russian people and is fundamental in the success of the new federation. The potential there remains immense for the motor sports industry and, IMO, will play an influential role in the general future of snowmobile.
I no sooner returned from Moscow, then had to fly down to our R&D facility in Minocqua. actually to be correct, I flew as far as Minneapolis only to have my final flight cancelled due to fog and ended up driving the 5+ hours to get there. I was given the daunting task of presenting the background and technology behind the Yamaha Performance Damper system to four of Arctic Cats top engineers. To make matters more challenging, it had warmed up and rained the day before our meeting which also entailed test riding some Vipers and a special guest model, equipped with PD for them to sample.
The test ride itself was not at all favorable to evaluate a snowmobiles handling potential but everyone was able to feel ‘something’ which was a nice appetizer if nothing else. We need to provide them some sample that they can test on their own. You may be wondering why and your assumption that we would like to introduce the PD to the Viper line would be correct. I am hoping to get it on some limited 2016 models and will be going back down the first week after the holidays to discuss the potential along with a few other items in product planning.
I made it home ok with no more travel duress and finished last week with a visit to the legendary Supertrax / Snowtrax lair where I did an interview with Mark on the PD to air sometime in the new year. Unfortunately the timing and conditions didn’t lend to a ride but after a lengthy lunch spent getting caught up, it was decided I need to get back up there for a follow-up, on-trail session at the first opportunity.
The 2016 model pre-production or PVB (as Arctic refers to them) units are due to roll off the line in early January. These will be used to check final specifications, perform durability tests and then cover various marketing activities. Jon and I plan to be there to follow them through assembly with a couple more sets of critical eye-balls to help insure we have no surprises come production. Right after that we have another test scheduled in MQRD for some advanced projects, then its off to Japan for our product planning kick-off. I’m beginning to think I might be getting too old for all this…
With that peaceful thought – my mind turns to the cabin where my snowmobiles await. I look forward to being disconnected over the holidays and hitting the trails with my kid who has just received her official operators permit that allows her to ride the OFSC trail system this winter. There truly is nothing more important in this life than our loved ones (and that includes your sled). I hope you get to enjoy the holidays with your family and appreciate everything that is good in your life. All the very best to you and yours from all of us here at Yamaha.
Posted @ 3:27 pm in Yamaha Insights
December 5, 2014
From Russia with Love
Returning home from a ten day visit to Russia. I can’t find the words to describe the experience with any justice but I will say my perceptions of this country prior to being here were far off from the reality of the Russia I now appreciate. This same comment applies to the snowmobiling. Our first day riding saw minus 35c and marginal snow conditions. There are no trails here save for those you leave behind and there are no rules and regulations to abide save those of common sense and survival. We beat the crap out of our sleds yesterday to gain access to some elevation but was well worth the price of admission with a tremendous 360
view of the Urals.
Our hosts made sure we experienced what our Russian customers like to do with their sleds. And we in turn, made the point of the great potential here in the new Russian federation for organized snowmobiling based on establishing a trail system and supporting infrastructure.
Ill organize my pictures and post some more background to this story when I get home and caught up, if you like. Until then… Do Svidaniya
November 21, 2014
I’m sure you all well aware of the early lake effect snow we have been receiving in the east. What a way to kick off winter, especially following the season we had last year. Snowmobile sales in general are up over last year at this time, for the whole industry. Our numbers are particularly good, some of that is due to late production of our SRV models last fall but interest in the Viper remains strong. The early snowfall in the mid west is also a blessing for our development team. The Minocqua crew have been packing their test course and have got an early start on durability and validation. Considering the amount of work they have ahead of them this year, it is a real bonus.
MQRD not only is responsible for the model testing, they also play a major role in our accessories development. Everything from Tuner skis to Dupont hy-fax have gone through their rigorous development programs. Brings me to another point I’d like to drop in here and yes, it is a bit of a solicitation but sometimes I feel our marketing guys really need the help
The Dupont Hyfax, even though its a little pricey, has proven itself to be an extremely good product with a lot of value. Not only does it improve the lifespan of normal UHMW hyfax dramatically, especially in adverse conditions, it also increases top speed and fuel economy by reducing friction. I am confident to write this having seen so many positive results and comments coming back from the riders who are using the product now for multiple seasons. We have received quite a few requests from our dealers for more application options of the slippery stix and decided to cut some for Skidoo and Polaris rails. Currently we have two versions available, both are cut to 49 inches length and will fit most late model short tracks of MXz / Rev / GSX and IQ / Rush / Indy skid frames. the same T-cut applies to many of the older rails as well. Thinking about it, you probably don’t want to give your competitive brand buddies a good tip to gain more performance but on the other hand, Christmas is coming and its the season to give…
I am packing my bags for an overseas trip departure next week for what I thought would be my first sled ride of the season. Now it looks like this weekend at the cottage is going to require a bunch of trail breaking (and shoveling) with rumors of 18 inches to 2 feet of white stuff on the ground. A bunch of us have to make our way to a club maintained bridge to install a span which is removed during the summer for boating. Generally we would use ATV’s but this year it will be snowmobiles. What a great problem to have! Our club president is planning to host a shore lunch afterwards, featuring buffalo chicken sandwiches. For the record, they are really just regular chicken sandwiches, only with 9 feet of snow on them…
Posted @ 11:47 am in Yamaha Insights
November 14, 2014
Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin On!
It has been a very busy week with our North American Snowmobile Team Yamaha (aka NASTY) assembled here in Toronto for two full days of meetings and discussion. Our agenda covered a wide variety of topics as each group leader reviewed the issues and progress of their respected projects. This team is comprised of 6 working groups, essentially responsible for service, accessories (sales, marketing and development), product planning, testing and development (R&D), unit sales (dealer development and distibution), unit marketing and communication. Each group is led by a manger selected from the pooled resources of both YMCA and YMUS. Sprinkle in some Japanese ATP’s (assistant to the president) and some VP’s, engineers and YMC guys. This ‘collective’ which also includes some of the key players from each group, is quite unique within the whole Yamaha organization. We definitely are not; ‘business as usual’.
We have been pushing the boundaries of the more traditional processes and common practice of the Yamaha culture to improve our snowmobile business. At the same time, removing the borders between Canada and the USA has proven effective in reducing many redundancies saving us time and money as we become more efficient. The synergy of the group improves with every one of these meetings as we continue to gain traction moving towards our targets. Of course much of our discussion revolves around the work and responsibilities on the Arctic Cat relationship. I spent a lot of time reviewing our development process in detail and communications with my counter-parts in TRF, highlighting the advances made over the past year as we approach the introduction of the MY16 snowmobiles.
On a more personal note, something I find really too coincidental if not altogether ‘freaky’ has emerged between myself and my counterpart in TRF. Mike has been assigned the ‘point person’ for Yamaha at Arctic Cat, he has worked at AC for close to 30 years. He knows the manufacturing side extremely well. I was brought in to work along side our point person from factory (Tony) to assist in the model specifications and communication between the two companies.
The first time I had lunch with Mike, I discovered he was a ‘runner’ and had been competing for may years at a fairly high level (think the big marathons). Those that know me, know I have a great love for cycling and still train to compete in various mountain bike races – Well we clicked – The conversation shifted straight to training programs, heart rate max, threshold and lactic testing, age cats and other miscellaneous parallels between the two disciplines. The other guys at the table were shaking their heads as the two ‘old guys’ went off on a tangent. By the end of the conversation we discovered our ages were within two years (me being the younger for a change) and we even shared the same birthday!
They say as you age, your heart-rate drops a beat per year. Mike has a VO Max HR of 170 bpm, mine is 172. Our lactate balance points are pretty much identical along with our endurance. Basically, all the BS and science aside, we are both in pretty good shape for a couple of 60 something, old farts. Well on my last trip to TRF, Mike was walking me out past the assembly line. I don’t know how we got on the topic, but he informed me he was a musician and had played professionally for 30 years having started way back in the early 70’s. I stopped, looked him in the eye and said ‘drummer’?, he answered ‘yes’, bewildered. I then went on to say I also have a long history in music and had played professionally during the 70’s and 80’s right up until I took the job with Yamaha and my travel schedules prevented me from committing to a band. And what did I play? Yep, drums! Mike spun me around. ‘Come with me!’ and back we went to look at some cool pictures of a much younger, long haired Mike sitting behind a huge Ludwig kit with Joey looking on, grinning and shaking his head at us.
I can’t wait to have a pint with Mike on my next visit and find out what other things I have in common with my ‘brother from another mother’. But think about it, here we are, two guys at the twilight of our careers, working for major sled companies, a result of our passion for the same, born on the same day, built with near identical engines, still competing in highly aerobic sports at a ripe age, sharing a near identical history as musicians, now functioning together as main links responsible for the details of the Yamaha / Cat shared agreement vehicles. I find myself shaking my head when thinking about it.
Posted @ 10:18 am in Yamaha Insights
November 7, 2014
Carry On or Checked?
Friday noon, looking out the window at the falling snow. The calm before the storm as my calendar is rapidly filling up towards Christmas. We have several tests planned starting end of November right up until the week before the holidays. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Viper chassis responds to the addition of Performance Dampers. I will also be joining in with some of the project guys from Cat early in December to sample some new sizzle and I have a ‘bucket lister’ journey to add another new country to my tally of weird and wonderful places to ride snowmobiles kicking off the season.
The only ball in the air is how to divide and conquer a conflicting date and whether or not I’ll need (or can arrange) to fly to Japan for a couple of days mid December.
Something occurred to me while discussing this meetings agenda with our engineers. Most people, regardless of their brand blindness, will agree that Yamaha engines rank amongst the very best in the world. This is especially true regarding durability and reliability and if you consider the QDR relative to the performance, one could argue Yamaha is the best in mass production motosports power – marine, motorcycle, off-road, snow… My epiphany was – we have never tried to explain what we do differently, what steps are taken in engine development, to deliver the balance of performance and reliability that the Yamaha QDR reputation is founded upon. We’ve spoken to it in marketing over the years but the engineering detail has never been really been exposed. I sense an opportunity and an intriguing project at hand.
Case in point is the all new R1 and R1M MotoGP inspired bikes. @200hp / liter of normally aspirated power packing a full warranty along with the duty cycle of a flippin Corolla. The on-board electronics controlling this engine and consequent power delivery is incredible. I have mixed feelings about having a computer control how I ride but considering the performance levels being achieved and so few Valentino Rossi’s buying road legal sport bikes, I get it.
We are seeing more sophisticated electronics being applied to our snowmobiles as well and I see this only increasing as we move forward. Having learned from my past ramblings allow me to say this ‘just for the record’ – I did not say that the new R1 engine will be available in a snowmobile next year, an ATV maybe – but not a sled!
October 23, 2014
No Edsel’s Here
I flew out early Monday from YYZ to Winnipeg, hopped in a rental car and was sitting in an Arctic Cat boardroom just prior the one o’clock meeting which was the purpose of this visit. I’ve come to appreciate the road to Thief River Falls. Cellular service, along with the population, diminishes rapidly south of Winnipeg. It takes less than an hour and I’m no longer connected, no email, no phone, no internet, no distractions – time to think. Time you cross the border on 57 its so flat you could watch your dog run away from home for days.
I always drive in the back road of the Cat plant, just to see whats in the yard. Well this time, there was a lot to see. The sleds were piled up in endless rows and trucks loaded with toys, rolling out the gate continuously. I couldn’t help but think – 10K,10K,10K,10K,10K… Wow!
This meeting was all about BOM’s, spare parts books and production timing, none of which fall into my field of expertise. Take the BOM’s for example. I’ve never really thought that deeply about how all the bits come together to become a finished product. Well the BOM (bill of material), in the case of Arctic Cat snowmobiles, is the ‘recipe’ that contains every piece of the sled broken down into each component of each part, procured and combined into the sub assemblies and assemblies that run down the manufacturing line getting ‘baked’ into the final product. Take the warning labels that insist the operator uses common sense in using the product; The BOM breaks it down into a piece of sticky vinyl, a ribbon of ink (for each color used), a drawing to give it’s dimensions and a layout indicating what it will say and look like. Each item has a part number assigned and if you change the language to French then x2 the whole deal. By whole deal I mean the complete BOM. We have well over 50 BOM’s representing our current model line of Vipers to cover Canada, US, Europe and Russia, each one with hundreds of part numbers. They all have to be condensed into meaningful assemblies for service parts, (replacement parts for maintenance and repair) and transferred from the AC system to the Yamaha system… manually. Yep. There is no magic program or software that makes this happen. Someone at AC has to go through these things line by line with a good understanding of both engineering and service requirements, develop exploded view diagrams of the assemblies part by part, assign new numbers, then, after they get everything tidied up, our guys have to take and reinvent the listings into the Yamaha format with our own order, drawings and part numbers. Our job was to try and make this more efficient.
I really longed for a cold beer by the end of this one. So it was off to the ‘Black Cat’ to reflect on the day. In the comments to last weeks blog, I was asked why did the well proven Nytro engine mapping not apply to the Viper. Fair question. The original agreement would have Yamaha supply the engine as a ‘short block’ if you will. The exhaust system and ECU were up to Arctic Cat to develop as part of the adaptation to the requirements of the ProCross chassis. Where it get a little more complicated, Yamaha and AC use different third party companies working with our engineers to develop and produce the electronics, who in turn license their technologies back to us. The software and programming used by these companies is proprietary and protected so they were not part of the deal. Development time was really tight on this project and ECU mapping is very complex so it was not as simple as one might think. Ultimately, we did share some responsibility in getting things done and have learned a lot from the experience to the benefit of our current projects
To address another comment, the 2014’s performed remarkably well and the few glitches we encountered have been addressed (and quite quickly so in my experience). I certainly wouldn’t be concerned about the performance of the new ones.
Tomorrow marks the opening of the fall motorsports show here in Toronto which used to be exclusively snowmobiles but now features everything an off-road motor-head could desire. I hope to sneak in before the doors open so I can have a look around, then hang out in our booth as long as my old back and brain (not to mention vocal chords) can hold out, which I should add, isn’t what it used to be!
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