Archive for October, 2014
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