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.
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.
The 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!
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.
I 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 anomaly 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.
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!!!
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.
I 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 taken 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.
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.
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.
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.
Haruna-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 return 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.
I reviewed the comments that came in on the last post regarding the new sleds and see there are a lot of questions. I’m going to tackle them as best I can.
Mr T. – The new SingleShot skid frame, is very similar to the MonoShock with Mega Float as far as the ride characteristics go. It has better ‘anti-bottoming’ than the coil sprung versions and may be a bit more sensitive to tuning (air-pressure) than the MegaFloat based on the lesser air volume. All in – I think it is very comparable in performance (ride) and offers a significant weight savings both static and in-snow as it clears accumulated snow and ice better.
SnoGuzzler – I don’t have exact fuel data for the Vector with YCCT and fuel consumption is always very condition specific. That said if you select the E-mode there will definitely be a significant reduction in fuel consumption (30%+/-). I have drafted an article on the YCCT for dealer-ed which is currently in circulation for approval. I will post the whole thing here once it gets the green light for those interested in more detail.
Tyler – Short answer – will there be another track option for the M-TX 141 this year? – No. That said, I think you are really on to something. The 1.75 BackCountry is an exceptional track in both performance and durability. I have put over 2000km on one this year on an L-TX mostly on trail and its still perfect. I agree the 2.25 is more off-trail and you will have to consider that when you trail ride with one. I think there is a market for a 1.75BC in both the 141 and the 153 with a 40 inch stance and vertical steering post. This would do well in the east where the trend to true cross-over riding is on the increase.
Rsilk – The internal changes to the Vector motor do not yield any change in its performance or durability. My understanding is the reason for the new parts (crank, rods etc) was due to suppliers and assembly. The engine design has not changed but some components are procured from different sources causing the updates. No big deal. The significant update is realized in the electronic throttle control (YCCT) – D-mode selective mapping and the Trailing Control for smooth operation.
Justin – I do like the 129 R-TX LE. I rode one again last week only this time it had the MPI turbo installed. My own sled this year is the L-TX LE with the 1.75 BC track. I have a lot of carbide on it and it is really hooked up. Bump absorption is excellent and handling is surgical but the steering effort is high. The R-TX I rode had the rail pulled up a bit, even more carbide and less track with the 1.25 Ripsaw (no nails). That said it took the bumps as comfortably which it’s not supposed to do if you listen to all the marketing stuff – Tucker Hibbert I am not – and it handles even more predictably with less effort due to the ‘looser’ rear end, add in the extra horsepower and all it needs is a windshield to be a winner in my stable, (oh and a gas can rack 😉 horsepower comes at a price)
TK – The new VK10 is built in Iwata and is all Yamaha. I had the opportunity to ride this machine last fall in Russia. If you read my post about the trip, that is the real reason I was there. Our friends in Moscow had a lot of input on this sled and they did a great job. Their attention to detail and ability to communicate with our engineers was excellent and when riding the two machines (old and new) back to back there is very little comparison. It is the next generation of pure utility from Yamaha. Note the following example is for educational purposes – do not try this it home:
Anthony – the S-TX 146 has a second fuel tank, located behind the seat. It has 4USg / 15L capacity and is plumbed into the sealed main tank and vents to atmosphere. This causes the fuel to be pulled from the auxiliary tank first before drawing on the main fuel load. I was serious when I said the S-TX146 is a sleeper. The sled seems to do everything really well and only complains if you hammer it in the bumps where the softly sprung front end finds its limit. The guy who buys this sled is not likely going to complain when the trade off is great ride quality, easy steering effort and plush comfort.
Scott – What can I say. We need to sponsor you in next years Iron Dog aboard an 81 Indy Cross Country 340. It may be the only way to cure you of your obsession with Polaris snowmobiles 😉
I depart for Japan next Wednesday for a couple of weeks to talk more about our future. And, you know what? At this point in my career I would not do this to myself if I did not think it was well worth every jet lagged, deep veined thrombosis threatened minute. Guys – thanks for all your questions, comments and support! I appreciate it.
With the launch of the new 2016 models complete, I’ll focus this post on some of my personal findings and thoughts on the hardware side.
Thinking of the Viper line and what strikes me as notable (in no specific order)… The S-TX models – these two new models were spawned from last years 141 version. The 141, based on the X-TX cross-over had an uncoupled skid frame which favors off-trail, transfer character with some compromise to bump comfort and pitching. The positioning of the S-TX is more a hi-miler, long distance, performance touring ride. Last spring the AC Pantera 7000 came to light exhibiting some excellent features encased in a 2-up package. The Pro-tour chassis with coupled skid frame along with the longer track was adopted to create the new S-TX 146. What struck me immediately when riding this machine was the plush, planted ride at speed. It handles predictably and requires much less effort than one would think. Its a real ‘sleeper’ and I would consider this sled for my own if I had the time to ride the big miles where it would shine. The secondary gas tank increases fuel capacity significantly and the wind protection is excellent. All in, it is a better long distance weapon for the rider looking to put in the big miles.
The S-TX 137 strikes me as more of the ‘adventure bike’ approach, for more mature riders who like to really go the distance. Again the coupled skid but a bit shorter track and front Floats, giving it a bit sportier feel, it retains the same wind protection as the 146 and adds storage in the form of semi hard saddle bags and trunk. We also opted to run the 8-pocket rear bumper that accepts a bunch of good seating and storage options.
The M-TX sleds all got the new narrow stance and a new ski designed to maximize the evolved geometry. The objective was to make the sled more nimble and easier to throw into a carve, hold a side hill and fish-hook back uphill at will. The shape of the new spindles really help this by eliminating drag and controlling the ‘porpoising’ effect, keeping predictability high. The LE’s get the new 3 inch paddle track which I have heard a lot of good things about from our nose bleed crew. We thought it more logical to move last years X-TX LE with the 2.25 inch track to the M-TX family as it is based on the mountain chassis with vertical steering and unique 40 in stance. The M-TX 141 is a good choice for eastern boon dockers.
I quite like the performance and simplicity of the new Fox piggy back coil-over clicker shock. It has only three clicks of adjustment and is easy to turn the big knob with gloves on. The beauty is each click makes a significant change that I could clearly feel, so in application it will be really effective to dial-in to trail conditions without having to think or count clicks. Personally I still prefer a well set up coil spring over air up front for bump compliance, but that’s just me.
These shocks are used on the R-TX SE which brings me to another anomaly. I keep expecting the R-TX LE to rattle my fillings in the stutter bumps but thing is amazingly smooth and, I hesitate to say, comfortable. Jim explained to me that the 129in LE skid has low center shock tension so the bumps go through the front of the rail with the rear end taking most of the hit. Idea being to keep the sled more level in a cross country ‘ competition’ type environment, where riders are not ‘playing’ in the bumps. They need to carry speed and drive through the junk with as little pitching or kick back as possible. Whatever they have done, this sled is impressive. I also rode this model with the Performance Dampers installed and it was my pick of the litter for the day.
Tuner Ski – We have released a new version of the Tuner ski for the SE and LE trail sleds. It’s a bit lighter and shares a common axle, spacers and saddle rubber with the single keel green skis, our supplier can only produce a limited quantity for next season using the current tooling thus the application selection. Performance wise there is no difference between Gen2 and Gen3 models but one thing I have learned is carbide selection is key to any application. All our Tuners come with a basic carbide set. 2-inch inside and smooth bar outside. This combo gives the lightest steering feeling but has a tendency to ‘push’ or under-steer more in the corners. Aggressive riders should consider adding carbide. I have found the 6 inch square host on the inside and 4 inch round bar out is about perfect for my style. The steering requires a bit more effort and I get some lift when I set it hard but the sled carves well and holds the line much better on groomed. We call them ‘Tuners’ for good reason…
SingleShot – new mono shock rear skid-frames on Apex / Vector. This is a completely new rear suspension designed to drop weight and maintain track tension through its stroke. It uses the X-tra volume Fox air shock which is a bit smaller than the Mega-Float it replaces. My butt tells me the skid resists bottoming better than the old mono but may have a small compromise to small bump compliance. I think the air pressure is key and can dial the sled in to whatever you are looking for. The original mono had a tendency to extend in length near mid-stroke which added tension to the track. This energy is released near the end of the suspension stroke as the track tension actually pulled into the skid frame as it released through the tightest point causing a bit of a snap into the shock. The end result amplified the digressive nature of the suspension. I think this is one of the reasons the Mega Float worked so well to control bottoming, it ramps the spring rate up a lot towards the end of the stroke. The new skid addresses this quite nicely. Another limitation of the first mono design was track length, we could not exceed 136 inch but with the new layout we can go well over 144. Some have asked why no tipped rails on the long track mono? That is due to the fact the tipped rails would limit the stroke upon full compression. The straight rail allows maximum travel.
I’ll keep it to this for now as a first installment and see what questions may arise going forward. Our YCCT deserves some explanation as does the new VK10 Pro. Let me know what if you have anything specific to ask on what you see and I’ll do my best to answer.