July 27, 2009
Viper Story Part 2
Before I start this post I want to thank everyone for your comments on part one, your interest has motivated me to spend a bit more time on this and go into some additional detail, good way to wait for snow, if nothing else. 😉
I was attending the annual ‘Snow Shoot’ where all the OE ‘s get together with the vertical media to demo ride and hob-knob with all the latest offerings. We were in St. Donat Quebec that year and I had brought my machine, keeping it carefully hidden away from the cameras and inquisitive journalists. One afternoon I snuck away from my duties and headed up the trail into the park (Mt Tremblant) to get some saddle time on the mono-shock. I decided to turnaround at a remote watering hole that was advertising poutine and Labatt 50 (and no I didn’t). I sat down at a table where I could keep and eye on my sled while I warmed up.
As I was waiting for my bill a large group of Americans were walking out (yes you do have an accent 😉 ) and one of them spotted the blue sled off to the side. Next thing I knew, two guys were snappng pictures, one of them laying down with his head in the skid frame. By the time I got outside the hood was open and a group of guys were huddled around. I pulled on my lid as I approached, key in hand. ‘Hey is this your sled?’
… In my best French I responded that I did not understand English, dropped the shroud, pulled the string and took off back to the hotel… I spent the next two weeks searching the web (Totallyamaha and HCS) to see if the photos got posted or linked, luckily, they did not. I most certainly did not want to have to explain how the proto suspension got leaked on my watch…
Prior to St. Donat, I found myself on a jet heading up to Alaska for the OMC joint test in Paxson, where we would evaluate the sled after it’s several weeks of testing and calibration. I was totally prepared to whine about how stiff and heavy the sled felt (assumed) based on my experience with the SXr. I was shocked when I discovered the prototype was a marshmallow. What felt like transfer initially, turned out to be sag and when hitting the bumps it demonstrated bottoming and pitching which I concluded- again based on my SXr mono experience- must have been because I was letting up on the gas trying to time the hits. I remember taking the next run holding the throttle open, standing up and expecting it to eat the abuse. Second bump in and my feet were three feet in the air as I looked down at the headlight. I was flapping like a flag on the end of the handle bars. Luckily I didn’t break anything and returned the sled to Rick (the suspension guy) with out saying a word. I needed to candidly speak to our testing manager Jim Kedinger (whom I always trusted for his honesty and respected his candor), was it me or the OMC? … it flat out sucked!
What followed was not pretty. During the wrap up meeting we were shown the engineering targets for weight, handling , comfort, acceleration, top speed etc., mapped against our evaluations sheets. We had not achieved any of them and when drilling down, clearly we were heading in the wrong direction with only top speed being close to acceptable.
It is always difficult to walk into a situation where a group of people have been working hard on something for months and your position is to confirm what they likely already know, but are hoping is not as bad or apparent to a fresh set of eyes. Jimmy and I put a pretty good dent in the beer cooler that night. Turns out they had tried multiple calibration settings to get OMC in the ball park but nothing seemed to work to get transfer with any kind of acceptable suspension function. Consequently we couldn’t dial in the ride / handling and acceleration was suffering making the new engine appear less powerful than the SX700. There was a lot of frustration and for the second time only in my career, we were faced with postponing the impending release of a new mainstream model.
YMC was most upset with the first failure and the questions soon followed. The suspension calibration tech (an American) returned to Minnesota and quit his job, not sure if it was because of a woman or the mono-shock results, but he was gone like yesterday. We needed some damage control applied to the product plan.
I learned with the Vmax500, which had been postponed from 93 to 94, that the cancellation of new models for the upcoming season opens the door for some ‘bolt-on’ upgrades and maintenance to the existing line. The Exciter SX was a good example, if only we could have built that in 88 and not waited three years. This is something our competitors excel at but I find the Japanese don’t quite get it. The North American builders can slap on some shocks, skis and a handle bar riser during their lunch break and end up spin-marketing the best new machine since the second coming of you know who…
I found this worksheet in my files that was used to spit-ball some thoughts for the continuous SXr models going into 2001 and salvage of the OMC. OMC Worksheet. In the end we grabbed the headlight and a grease zerk then did our best… here is the basic material we used for the 2001 dealer presentations 01 SMB.
Meanwhile it was back to the drawing boards.
…to be continued