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
January 7, 2014
Happy New Year Folks!
First off, I gotta say in my over 60 years of stomping around the north I have never, ever, heard of an Polar Vortex so you can imagine my surprise when the weatherman hit me with that one. Must be climate change or global warming creating this freak of nature – with freezing temperatures and snowfall accumulating daily – You know though, in the old days, before this age of sensational media, we used to refer to this phenomena differently. We called it winter.
I have been hanging out at my cottage since returning from our R&D center just before Christmas. We’ve had tons of snow (thanks to that nasty Vortex I presume) but the lakes weren’t safe and the groomers weren’t grooming so I left the Apex back and turned attention to my latest acquisition – a cherry little Enticer 300. Now the ET 300 is not the best powder sled, so I reserved much of the trail breaking duties for the more capable Bravo Transporter. What a hoot I had on both. Fur helmet, goggles, knee on the seat, cold hands and no fear of ripping the front suspension out of a multi-thousand dollar chassis. I had forgotten just how much fun could be had, going anywhere white, with 30hp at the thumb.
That all changed last weekend when I dragged the Apex out.
The dance card is rapidly filling up and I really don’t know where or what all I will be doing in the next few weeks. I need to visit Arctic Cats facility in Thief River to confirm a few things and there is a media ‘sneek peek’ planned this month for the 2015 lineup. Also Waconia will feature pure Yamaha and Yamaha powered vintage sleds this year during the Jan 25/26 ‘ride in’ which would be great to attend. Check out this cool, replica Bender Terminator built by Bill Code of Carleton Place Marine. I have to travel end of the month to West Yellowstone for a conference then out to BC for meetings in Valemount and Revelstoke (with some time on the slopes I hope). On top of that I will need to attend at least two testing / planning meetings in the US and Japan.
I have been checking various sources for information and feedback on the current models reputation and performance Generally I would say we are looking pretty darn good so far. This winter, fingers crossed, is going to see a lot of quality miles put on our snowmobiles. That said, we know there are a few gremlins showing up in some units and our guys are hard at work to get things resolved quickly as we move forward. The agreement we have with Arctic Cat is being put to the test as we learn more about each other. How we function within the market, how we react and communicate and most importantly, how we adjust to each others internal systems and procedures relative to parts and service.
Those of you that are tired of me writing about performance dampers need to click the back button now or open a new tab and be gone ’cause I am going to give a quick update on what I learned just before Christmas.
We had a test using nine sleds. 3 Apex, one without PD 2 with (XTX and shortie), 3 Vectors, one w/o PD 2 with (LTX and shortie) and 3 Ventures, one w/o PD and 2 with (TF and GT). We had nine evaluators with varying experience.
We rode each group of machines on the same course swapping every lap and rotating groups as we finished. We pushed the Apex hard at higher speeds, brought it down a couple of notches for the Vector and shifted to cruise on the Venture. Jon and I went back to the Vectors at the end of the test and rode them closer to the Apex speed, just because… and I am glad we did.
I won’t go into all the fine points but concluded: the harder you push your limits the more you will feel the benefit of the PD. The interesting thing here is we had some very ‘new’ riders whose limits or ‘comfort zones’ were quite different than mine. When I rode at their speed I didn’t feel much if any advantage, but they did. They rode all the snowmobiles without trying to ‘position’ them to a market segment, they just simply went for a ride.
I did rate the PD equipped Apex as a 4.5 out of 5 (where the baseline version is a 3) in rough corners. I am confident that anyone with basic sledding skills would get the same feeling. Probably a 10 to 15% improvement in handling at the upper range of your comfort level. It would cost a lot of time and money to get that kind of improvement by playing around with shocks, geometry and frames. I am thinking racing levels here. What I learned was, you really need to go back and forth a couple of times from a PD to stock sled to ‘get it’ and ‘get it’ you will. Subtle stuff but its the real deal.
Enjoy the Vortex! cheers cr
December 13, 2013
Open Soon – a Trail Near You
Getting ready to head down to our R&D center in Wisconsin where I’ll have a chance to get up to date on the early season testing and throw a leg over some machines with the new performance dampers installed. We will spend some time with the the guys from GKDI (our color and graphics design group) to kick off the MY2016 direction. You may have seen some of the concept sketches that have been on display at Haydays and other big shows along with surveys on color selection and graphic ideas. Well they have taken the input from these and combined with market trend studies to come up with some ideas for the next round of CG. Can’t say I am a big fan of lime green, burnt orange or flat gray so I hope they have something fresh and palatable for us – LOL.
I have been seeing lots of pictures showing people out playing in the snow on their new sleds. The comments are all quite favorable thus far. I’d be lying if I said I was smirking with confidence behind the keyboard. On the contrary, I keep checking my emails and clicking on the forums to see if something is about to go sideways on us. But you know what? I am pleasantly relieved considering my unwavering belief in our uncompromising quest to get it right the first time. Speaking of which, time will tell. It’s getting dark and “Gremlins are not to be fed after midnight’ – or so the story goes.
Old Forge (snowmobile shootout) is today. I am hoping the new Vipers show well. I haven’t heard what they have there for snow conditions but it could well boil down to who can hook up, not who has the most juice. I couldn’t find any results while writing this but they should be up now if you are interested to do a quick search.
A bit closer to home, I checked the OFSC interactive trail map and there are sections of trail already open! This is almost unheard of this early in the season, especially considering it is still snowing with lots more on the way. The groomers are out and if it stays cold I would be surprised if we don’t see a whole lot of the system up and running by next weekend. That said, I would be very wary of ice conditions, early snowfall on thin ice is never a good thing.
I spotted this sign on the Go Snowmobiling FB site, had to chuckle even though the content is serious and pretty much on the money, I just can’t remember the last time I packed a shotgun with me during a trail ride… maybe not such a bad idea, but not one that I’ll be adding to my gear list anytime soon.
Posted @ 2:52 pm in Yamaha Insights
November 29, 2013
‘Tis The Season
I don’t want to jinx the deal so I am typing this with fingers crossed but winter has apparently arrived! There are now some trail systems officially open in the UP Michigan and Quebec, several local ski hills are planning on opening this weekend in my neck of the woods and Randy is hitting the slopes in Revy tomorrow. I am really hoping no one gets too far ahead of themselves and does something silly, after-all it is still only November. Think twice and ride safe, especially on these early outings…
Our test team has returned home for US Thanksgiving from Alaska where they successfully ran durability on the first batch of production machines. It is kinda nice to know someone has already logged on over 4,000km! By all accounts everything is proceeding according to plan. The sleds will be completely disassembled and inspected for signs of wear or malfunction, reports will be written and reviewed then steps taken as required in a continuous cycle of refinement. The next stage will see field engineering focus on the 2015 model line calibration and validation, this won’t stop until the last flake of snow has melted next spring.
For those who ride in the mountains or may be planning a first ascent this season, you should take a look at this article which I found in SnoWest magazine. Avalanche awareness has measurably increased and is having a positive effect on the safety of riders on the slopes but the danger still lurks. ISMA (our industry association) in conjunction with avalanche experts boiled down these five important points to take with you on every ride. Avalanche Safety for Snowmobilers.
I hope all of you in the USA are with you families this weekend, sharing in Thanksgiving.
Here is another peek at the animation we are working on to help explain the Performance Damper system. It won’t be long now and we’ll have some sleds to try with these magic sticks installed. Cheers cr
Posted @ 1:03 pm in Yamaha Insights
November 18, 2013
The Other Side of Sleddin’
I thought I would share a story of the past weekends adventures. It was all about snowmobiles but nothing to do with my job or this industry. I loaded up my Kodiak with fuel, chain saw, hand tools and set out with my daughter and a group of like minded individuals to brush out several miles of snowmobile trail en route to an old bridge that has linked our lake to the main trail system in years past.
The Six Star snowmobile club supplied a large lift of rough-hewn hemlock, which was all hand bombed on board and barged down the river to the waiting cribs. At one point we had over twenty people, packing lumber, tugging pry-bars, swinging hammers and wielding saws as the old bridge deck was slowly replaced. I didn’t know many of the people I was working with but the spirit and camaraderie we shared was clearly apparent in the conversations surrounding local sledding, grooming, our clubs, and the volunteers who make the trails happen – I worked my a$$ off and it felt really good!
The last spike was banged home right at dusk. ATV’s packed up, hands shaken with a few ‘see ya on the trails…’ My day ended with my family and some ‘new’ friends at the cottage, chicken wings, beers, a warm fire and some good conversation. This is a part of snowmobiling that has its own rewards. The sense of community and accomplishment that follows the effort of contributing to your local trails or riding area. I hope that you also have a chance to experience the kind of satisfaction that I know I will have every time I cross over that bridge this winter…
Posted @ 10:56 am in Opinions and Insights