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Archive for December, 2007

December 24, 2007

Yamahappy Holidays

It’s Christmas eve and I am fortunate to have my parents staying with us for the holidays. I’m not the most sentimental guy but its hard not to reflect on ones life this time of year and appreciate all the good things we have created or been bestowed.

One of my greatest accomplishments this past year has been this site. I have hinted in other posts, the proposal of the Sled Talk blog sent up a lot of red flags within the company. It has been an interesting challenge to write honestly about topics, some of which are sensitive with regards to Yamaha product liability and corporate policies. And at the same time remaining true to myself and what I have come to believe as a snowmobile rider and enthusiast.

Bar far the most rewarding part has been the words of support I receive from people (you) who visit the blog and enjoy what they read. It still surprises me how few written comments I get in relation to the ‘hits’ as Sled Talk has shown steady growth since launching last March. I smile whenever I hook up with an old (or new) acquaintance who frequents the blog and cites a post of interest… I know there are many of you who come here to read and enjoy but don’t comment.

I guess what I want to say is a heart-felt thank you for supporting Sled Talk with your time spent here and showing me respect, reserve and good judgment with regards to your comments. I am confident we can keep this going into 2008 and beyond.

As I’m looking out the window at my sleds sitting, covered in the backyard, snowflakes falling…I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. I hope you enjoy lots of quality time with your family (and your sled) over the holidays.

I’ll be back online in the New Year and until then, may your hands be warm and your feet pleasantly dry 😉 cheers cr

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Posted @ 10:14 am in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha People and Communication   

December 18, 2007

Do We Listen To You?

… is anybody listening to me??

I read an interesting thread on TY where a guy is asking if we ‘hear’ their conversations happening on-line and others wondering: ‘do they (Yamaha) listen to us’?
I have touched on this subject before and I think the timing is ripe to revisit. How do we handle market information or input from customers regarding their complaints?

Before I comment let me give a little background. When we first introduced the idea of SledTalk, we performed a ‘risk management‘ exercise and held meetings to determine what kind of fall-out could arise from such an open, public forum. Put yourself in the position of a corporate ‘watchdog’ in any big company and consider for a moment the litigious climate in which we must do business. If one is deemed ‘aware‘ then it can be construed (right or wrong) one is ‘negligent‘ for any ‘inaction‘ after the fact, regardless of circumstance. Enter the internet and the overwhelming stream of information now available. How should companies recognize and react to the online chatter? Safest thing to do; is do nothing. Do not participate, do not acknowledge, do not discuss. And that is precisely the reaction you will see from most companies.

Are there people on the inside (all the OE’s) lurking on forums and blogs? Absolutely. Do they take conversations from the internet into the boardrooms? You bet. Do they react to everything that cowboy_on_computer.gifgets posted? Of course not. The fact is there’s almost as much ‘mis-information‘ on-line as there is good information. What I like the most about sites such as Totallyamaha, HCS and Dootalk is the ‘early indicators‘ and ‘customer reactions‘ I get from monitoring some conversations. Do I read them all? No way, there’s far too much and I don’t get paid to spend all day surfing but I do ‘share the love‘ when I read something I think is important, I’ll leave it at that.

So how do we separate the ‘wheat from the chaff ‘? It’s pretty simple actually…

(more…)

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Posted @ 3:02 pm in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha People and Communication   

December 13, 2007

Yamaha Snowcross Update

I received some good pictures of Steve Taylor in action on his FX Nytro open class race sled and thought I would pass them along.

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The guys raced a WPSA regional last weekend at Park X. There were a bunch of big names there and our guys made some more progress.

The way I heard it, Johan won a heat, ending up 6th in semi-pro (in a deep field). Steve had to start on the back row in the main but made an impressive run through the field to finish in 5th. I’ll be honest, one of my personal fears was that Robbie Malinoski, coming off Yamaha would hop on board the new Skidoo and rocket into first place. But I understand this so far, is not the case at all. They are struggling with their new sled. Steve finished in 5th place with Malinoski well back in 12th. So much for a marketing coup. I can only imagine how their agency would have spun that one…

heres a couple of Johan:

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Obviously it’s a very competitive arena for both hardware and riders but if we get a chance to ‘stretch our legs’ and use the four stokes power, there may just be another chance for an underdog podium.

And then there’s Yuji:

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The factory development race team with Yuji in the pilots chair is running a painfully stock FX Nytro in the open class at this time. His rear suspension and track is basically the same as the YMUS team and they are playing around with some front end camber / caster, adjustments but aside from the ergo’s, what you’re seeing Yuji ride on the race track is pretty much what you see on the trail. This is truly a development effort targeted on testing and proving production designs. Yuji was even running the stock GYT clicker shocks off the base model Nytro in the Duluth nationals. Watch for him in select events. I do believe they plan on trying some new things but as the old adage goes; before you can find your destination, you have to know where you are.

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The next points race is Canterbury Jan 11 – 13, Shakopee MN

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Posted @ 11:05 am in Competition and Racing   

December 12, 2007

YAMAHA, People Behind the Product

Desperately seeking songs of good cheer…

I’m going to stray a little bit today with this story. It is not about sleds so much as some of the people here at Yamaha that bring them to market. And I dedicate this to one of them especially.

Going back about 17 years, we were quietly working on the Vmax4 and preparing to release the Exciter SX. This was an exciting time and it was decided to send our top brass along with myself to the Minocqua test facility to experience the first ride on the new 4 cylinder. Our VP, and senior GM’s, along with our National Service Manager and  National Sales Manager, plus both Assistants to the President and me, Product Manager.

In most big companies the people holding the senior corporate titles are conservative ‘suits’ whose outdoor excursions are generally limited to the country club or maybe a fly-in fish camp. But this was the Yamaha Canuck contingent, bodies and sled gear jammed into a rented mini-van and on a unified quest for Tomahawk beef jerky and Bud.

I was elected ‘driver’, having been to the Wisconsin ‘Northwoods’ on more than one occasion. Hal Kai called shotgun and we set off from Rhinelander in the fancy new mini-van. I cranked the heat, then the tunes. It wasn’t long before someone requested another genre of music, so far we had only found two kinds of songs; country and western… Hal started fumbling with the tuning buttons then, from the back seat, someone asked if the VOX (voice actuated function) was working. I glanced at Hal and got that blank look which I have seen so many times from our Japanese staff.

What the heck are you talking about?’ I asked. He, explained the Road & Track he was reading spoke of this brand of mini-van having an automatic channel ‘seek’ function. Evidently all you had to do was say ‘SEEK’ clearly and the radio would move to the next station. I bent forward and loudly spoke ‘SEEK’ and it worked like charm. Cool, Englebert Humperdink… now Hal caught on and laughing called out ‘SEEK’… nothing happened, I got the look again.

So I, the resident tech geek said ‘SEEK’ and it advanced thank goodness! (no offense Englebert). By now Hal is getting politely miffed, ‘SEEK’… nothing. Someone alse calls up from the back ‘maybe its his Japanese accent‘ and so went Hal- SEEEK, SHEEK, CEKE, SICK, SHREEK etc. finally with his best American accent- SEEK and the channel changed. Hal was elated, I don’t think we got through a whole song all the way to Minocqua.

The testing went well and when all was finished we were offered the chance to hop on some sleds and ride over to Eagle River as it was ‘Derby weekend’... ‘Weasels’ here we come, but thats another story. One that won’t be told here.

Some of the guys had to leave prior to the Derby so we piled back into the minivan to make the ‘red-eye’ at the airport. It was late and snowing. Thankfully Hal and Tim Chelli came along to keep me company. We made the drop in Rhinelander and several SEEKs later, were on the road back to Minocqua. It wasn’t long before Chelli passed out in the back seat leaving Hal and I trying to stay awake up front. Some sleepy music came on, Hal now had it well wired: SEEK… nothing. Louder SEEK… nothing. Again even louder SEEEEEK.

Chelli woke up cursing and pointed out to us the radio control pad situated behind the driver in the back seat with the ‘seek’ button. They had orchestrated the biggest ‘gotcha’ of my career, one we still laugh at 17 years later. I couldn’t see from the drivers seat but our senior VP was literally in tears all the way up with the other guys choking on their laughter, man were we ‘duped’.

Anyway, that gives you an idea of the kind of management team we have maintained here at Yamaha. We’re all older now, the business has changed some and with it there has been a changing of the guard.

Looking forward we have some brilliant young people working here and with any luck I’ll be in their corner helping them as they SEEK our future. cheers cr

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Posted @ 4:14 pm in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha People and Communication   

December 7, 2007

Is Lighter Really Righter?

…Batteries Not Included!!

Rod made an interesting comment on my last post ’50 Extra Pounds of What’, specifically regarding the point on weight and quality (QDR). I did discuss some of this in an older post, ‘You Can Only Have Two’ but Rod puts an intriguing spin on it:

I think Yamaha should do an about face and make a big deal on weight…. Yamaha won’t compromise, if I may, QDR to save weight. You can’t have one without the other and keep your costs competitive with the competition because expensive exotic materials would have to be used. No one in the business doubts Yamaha’s quality, durability and reliability not to mention fit and finish. I think its time Yamaha starts using the weight issue to their advantage and advertise their sleds are heavier because they wont sacrifice quality, durability and reliability to save on weight.

It would be an interesting exercise but I think the message may fall on a lot of deaf ears. Unless you actually spend some time getting really intimate with the mechanical aspects of a Yamaha and have a certain level of experience and understanding. Much of the engineering and build quality will go unappreciated. Marketing 101 still maintains we (consumers), purchase on emotion more-so than logic, consequently savvy marketers push the sizzle not the steak. I won’t point any fingers because we are all guilty. But I recently spotted an interesting article from www. trendwatching which struck me with the possibility things might be changing.

The annual Old Forge Shootout and Snodeo is going down this weekend which always makes for some internet chatter. I am curious to see how the only sleds with ‘electric start’ do when they pull them out of the box and bolt the boards on. I always wince when they take these brand new machines with nary a minute of break-in time and run WOT for the radar gun. The 4-strokes especially, as the break-in time makes such a big difference in top speed and power. Should be some numbers out shortly…

Update: here’s the official report (I am biting my tongue) 

We lost a good guy from our planning team this week. Jake Komatsu has been heading up our product planning on the factory side for the better part of two years. He’s a young guy with lots of passion and enthusiasm who loves snowmobiles. His wife has incurred some serious health problems and needs to move back to her home town which is a long way from Iwata. Jake has resigned to be with her… you will be missed Jake-san.

In closing, I received an official OFSC communication today stating some of the Ontario trail system is signed, groomed and officially open for riding this weekend. Please check their web-site for details and wherever you live, don’t poach trails or ride where you’ll give us all a black eye… cheers cr

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Posted @ 4:08 pm in Yamaha Insights   

December 4, 2007

An Extra 50 Lbs of What?

The 2008 snowmobile season is just starting and we’re already moving to 2009…

This morning I heard- for the first time in a long time- the whole country is covered with snow. Mark Lester from Supertrax checked in saying he has logged 900 clicks thus far, in southern Ontario. And the groomers are out in his stomping grounds (Haliburton). I did a quick search of Enviiroment Canada weather stations and everything from the Great Lakes east is under a severe snow storm advisory, as far as New Brunswick and Quebec is getting creamed!

The temps are very low in the prairies and we’re making ice everywhere… this is shaping up to be a ‘good old 071204shibetsu3.jpgfashioned winter!’

Karl-san sent me another few pics of his winter vacation destination- our test center in Shibetsu.

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I don’t envy Jon as he has to fly out to Colorado today to join the US marketing guys as they shoot the 2009 model action photography and video segments (YYZ is going to be a zoo with the de-icing and all). Following the photo-shoot, he will join the kick-off meeting for the 2010 model color and graphics. Yep, 2010… We need to decide on base colors and give the designers some direction on graphic development and ‘colored parts’ (accent components). This should keep him good and busy right up until the holidays.

We have received our first 09 prototype here at YMCA which we need to do some additional photography with and get the hole-shot on some new accessories development. And yes it is a very cool looking sled, but not what you’re thinking!

The testing guys are working hard to get the final specs done on all the 09’s. There will be a joint test fairly early in January where the key sales and service guys from Canada, US, Europe, Russia and Japan will all get together to evaluate the prototypes and updated models before meeting to finalize their comments with testing and engineering.

It’s an exciting and busy time of year. Full of anticipation, sprinkled with a little trepidation. Sales so far are good with more and more people moving to our four strokes. So far all reports are quite favorable on our new sleds with very few reported problems. Our mantra: QDR-QDR-QDR … Quality Durability and Reliability. To that I want to refer you to an enlightened thread over on Totallyamaha which brought a tear to my eye… bring on the snow!

cheers cr

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Posted @ 1:59 pm in Yamaha Insights