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October 13, 2015

Bounce in your Sled?

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.

2016_YZ450FX_blue_CAN_2The 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!

We are a couple of weeks out from the Toronto Power Sports Show and flurries are in the forecast…

cheers cr

 

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Posted @ 3:21 pm in Industry News,Travel and Events,Yamaha Insights   

September 23, 2015

First Day of Fall

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.

SWTI 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 R1 SBanomaly 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.

cr

 

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Posted @ 2:13 pm in Industry News   

September 14, 2015

Hey Hey Hay

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!!!

Think snow!

cheers cr

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Posted @ 3:40 pm in Industry News,Travel and Events   

February 11, 2014

Time to Pin It

image

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 imageneeded 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.

http://youtu.be/doJwVqRaWiA

 

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.

 

cheers cr

 

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Posted @ 2:18 pm in Industry News,Sled Development,Yamaha Insights   

November 11, 2013

Coming soon to a Trail Near You

Cold rain, snow squalls, commuting in darkness, indeed, we’re on the brink of winter. The doors on the big rigs are sealed and our testing crew, gear bags stuffed, en route to a remote area of Alaska where they’ll run durability on a fleet of production sleds to kick off the seasonal project development sequence.

Never to be left in the snow dust, our management team is spooling up with a flurry of meetings starting next week in our Lakeview office.  Jon is off to the corp head office in Cali to pull double duty on future product discussions and MY16 color and graphics. I am going to stay back to keep the home fires burning but will dial in for a quick product plan update via a conference call.

I don’t know if its a past life spent racing dirt bikes or simply growing up in the mountains riding fan-cooled sleds light enough to pick up by the front bumper – multiple times a day – I am captivated by the MX conversion kits led by Timbersled and several others. I know there would be issues on the dedicated trails here in S-ON. But the power line corridors and dissecting abandoned logging roads beg for something like this. Light, agile and narrow with no plumbing to hook a stump or send you to the shop with crumpled clip and an empty wallet. I want one!

The trucks are rolling out of TRF with SR Vipers destined for dealerships all over North America. We had a little hiccup with the shipping dates but we’re now on the gas and sleds are being off-loaded at many dealerships as I write this.

While at the TO Snowmobile Show I met Louie. It was an interesting encounter. One that quickly led to a tire kicking session on a Frankenstein sled, fabricated in his man-cave from an aluminum cookie sheet with hand laid carbon fiber bits and glued on Pogo-sticks off a Tundra. A VK540 mill spinning a forward mounted ‘old school’ secondary layout providing thrust. A Newfie boon-docker  if you will.

Turns out Louie wasn’t just into building eclectic bush-wackers , he hosts his own web-base TV show called ‘Powermods’ where he explores some of the after-market industries latest and greatest bolt-on engineering with a ‘how-to’ approach to building and testing some pretty cool stuff. It was only fair that I showed him some of our latest – captured off guard and off the cuff, here’s my spiel with Louie on the Performance Damper. It was fun watching the reaction of people trying to get their heads around the technology, Louie’s ‘awe c’mon’ was perfect. Now if that wasn’t enough, here’s a brief explanation on the Dupont Hyfax display.

cheers cr

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Posted @ 3:52 pm in Accessory Stuff,Industry News,Tech Talk   

November 28, 2012

Powder envy

Thinking we should all live in the mountains. I have been  seeing some pretty exciting pics from friends who are fortunate enough to hold up in the west. Check out the November snow that DNR gets to play in. And the resulting oops of a random brain fart. Randy has also been hitting hard already in Rev’y.

 

Kinda makes you want to go play does it not?

I was reminded this morning of a little project I did last season and meant to pass along as a tip for anyone still running our older two stroke / trailing arm chassis. I mounted up a pair of the dual keel Tuner skis to my 2000 Phazer and was very pleased with the results. The steering effort was good, there was less push and much less darting. The mod was simple, all it took was a longer bolt (I used the standard A-arm spindle bolts PN  90105-10070) and scrounged up 4 flat washers with 10mm ID holes to shim between the saddle and spindle axle. The original ski rubbers were retained along with the mounting bolt nuts, (of course I used a fresh cotter pin ahem) and applied a gob of grease to the bolts. Now if I could just figure out how to mount a set on the Bravo…

Our brass is all overseas right now for some meetings with top management. This is an annual planning review with lots of big picture stuff covering all or our products. One item on the agenda is of particular interest to me and I think it will impact our snowmobile business  in the coming months, but more on this later. Meanwhile we are sitting fingers crossed, waiting for the season to commence fully, with the hopes of open trails and renewed sales after last years dismal finish.

We had a nice dump of snow at home on the weekend and it wasn’t long before I saw sled tracks on the shoulder of the road leading off into some farm fields. I say it every time this year and knowing that I’m preaching to the choir but: Think twice before heading out on your machine. Wait for the trails to open and take extra care off-trail with the limited base this time of year… play safe!!  cheers cr

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Posted @ 11:38 am in Accessory Stuff,Industry News   

April 13, 2012

Iwata Bound

A quick hello and goodbye. I will be leaving on Monday for Iwata JP and a couple of weeks of meetings. The past days have been spent in preparation and my mind has not been on blogging and Sled Talk. I find it difficult when I am really focused on planning, to come up with creative topics that can be shared here. There is so much I would like to address but no way I can think of that would not jeopardize our future and my current position, (I like my job). It’s much like watching an iceberg, you get to see a chunk floating along and are left to wonder whats lurking beneath the surface, waiting for the balance to shift before it becomes exposed.

This past winter season has left dealer inventory higher than we would like, and from what I have seen in the figures, we are not alone. Overall though things are not so bad. The western region has had record snowfall and the east had a good finish as well. There will no doubt, be some aggressive sales programs going into the fall on non-current and production will likely be adjusted by all 4 OE’s in consideration of same. But snowfall and mother nature has always dealt the trump cards in this game and we always seem to persevere.

The economy has had it’s impact on us as well. One positive thing that has come out is in regards to our parts pricing in Canada. The traditional model was to take our FOB cost from the factory and add margins to average costs, dealer net and retail, based on the Canadian dollar / yen exchange. Most of this was done when the Cdn / US dollar had a significant spread, and was fairly accurate. That has all changed now with a par dollar and as a result we have taken on a pricing alignment project to balance our pricing with that of the US. Contrary to what many of you believe, some of our parts were actually cheaper in Canada but many of the higher ticket items were significantly more expensive. The adjustments have seen some prices go up, especially on parts under 10 bucks but many of them have come down (a lot). The formulas to make this work are quite complicated and effects thousands and thousands of lines. There is still a split between the two countries largely based on the economies of scale, but we are now much more closely aligned with Yamaha USA.

I’ll try to give you an update on our progress in Japan or at least a hint or two of what we had for dinner 😉  cheers cr

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Posted @ 10:08 am in Industry News   

September 27, 2011

I Want My Share

Something came to my attention last week that stopped me in my tracks. As you may already know, there has been at least three occasions where large sections of the Quebec trail system have been in jeopardy of closure. This has happened due to disagreements between certain landowners (farmers) and the Quebec government over such things as taxation and bi-laws. The trail access was held hostage until concessions were met. In all cases at the eleventh hour leaving the FCMQ in an awkward position with trail permit sales and grooming operations caught in the decision.

I have no viewpoint regarding the actual political issues between property owner and government. I just think it is unfortunate that the trails became a bargaining chip in a game where they play no active role. The bottom line is the trail systems very existence is founded on the goodwill of the volunteers and property owners. If we lose one or the other the ‘trail closed’ signs get posted and the local communities suffer.

Well the mayor of Saguenay city decided to initiate his own defense to ensure  snowmobilers (and their wallets) have full trail access to the region which is highly dependent on winter tourism.

His solution, reach deep into the regions coffers and pay the local landowners who have trails cross their property. Pretty nice gesture at first glance. The numbers I saw said $900 / kilometer, then another source said 900 bucks per owner, doesn’t really matter. The part that concerns me is what about all the other property owners who are not in the region of the Saguenay? How about the farmer who lives right on the border of Saguenay, he’s not getting paid anything for the trail across his back 40 while his neighbor is getting nicely rewarded by the town…

I don’t know where this is headed but I for one am a bit concerned. There are a lot of riders who complain of a 200 dollar trail permit. A precedent like this could cause a demand for widespread compensation  that would knock the permit price into the stratosphere. The only solution would be found in accessing tax dollars from governments willing to protect winter tourism, which will be sketchy indeed.


To end on a positive note, here’s a pic from the Whistler web-cam submitted by one very excited western region sales manager.

 

cheers cr

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Posted @ 2:00 pm in Industry News,Opinions and Insights   

August 25, 2011

Who’s Left?

Okay, I know its been a coupla months since I blogged. I hit the sled switch back in June along with a couple of potholes and escaped on my bike. But there are only two races left on my weekly series calendar. It was almost dark last night at the finish line and fall is just around the corner.

I have noted quite a few topics to touch upon over the summer and I’m open to any ideas you may have.

Totallyamaha: we have lost a good friend recently with the passing of Mike Broda aka TURK on TY, he helped a lot of guys on-line, had many friends and will be missed.

Skidoo is up to their old tricks and has blatantly ripped another one with their latest ad campaign, or is imitation the finest form of flattery? more on that one later.

We have several new accessory products that are to be announced at Haydays one of which promises to solve one of snowmobiling’s biggest PITA’s but I may just spill the beans here in a weak moment.

There are a series of dealer meetings in Canada starting in mid-September that will get me out of the office for a few days.

Fall trade shows? yep, here we go.

Trivia? how about a Grizzly 660 with 57,000km on the odo and the motor hasn’t been touched.

Yamaha USA is getting back into SMB terrain and hill-climb racing? all very true, will look for some insights on the developments.

The Canadian government is ready to bankroll a half mil for the development of a stealth snowmobile to protect the Arctic. I’m speechless! but not for long.

Yellowknife has his first 2,000km of 2011 ready to post… well maybe not quite.

Hope you have had a great summer. Please stay tuned

cheers

cr

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Posted @ 3:24 pm in Industry News   

April 24, 2009

Business Update

One would think by the time May rolls around, our thoughts and actions would shift focus from sleds to wheels, water and warm weather, but that is not the case here at Yamaha. In fact the snowmobile business is becoming more prominent in my daily activities than it has in years. I was intrigued by a post over on TY with the subject Yamaha…. are they okay???? It is interesting to observe how small snippets of info can lead to so many oppinions and conjective conclusions. For the record I’ll toss in a couple of more tid-bits and see what filters down.

First, no worries, we are still in business. The total snowmobile industry has taken another hit in the USA with sales down about 20% over the previous year. In Canada we fared better on par (no change) over the previous year. The market share inside of the totals moved around quite a bit mostly due to non-current liquidation and individual OE programs. In the US a lot of focus was on moving non-current models. Yamaha started the season in pretty good shape compared to some others but we still felt the impact of the economic crisis. So far this year it appears the ‘spring order’ has softened with more people opting to sit on their wallets until the fall to decide on whether to pop for a new sled, which really comes as no surprise.

It is interesting to note that Canada and the USA are now within about 10,000 unit sales of each other (approximately 10% of total North American sales. ) To put that in persepective it was not long ago at all, when the USA accounted for more than double  Canada’s  sales. So it is no surprise that Polaris and Cat, along with Yamaha are looking much closer at the Canadian market than they ever have in the past.  Skidoo, being a Canadian company, has always been in tune with this market and has put significant effort and resources (with the occasional help of our government) into building more touring, trail and utility variations to cover our more diverse needs.

Our relationship with Yamaha USA has long been one of a ‘little brother’ partnership where we work closely with regards to our product planning ideas and willingly except the marketing direction and support that always came as a result of the well funded and managed planning and marketing team in the USA. Our factory has always listened to the total market but generally followed the direction put forth from the USA.

Now in light of the current situation, we find a lot of attention is being given to our market and our thoughts on how we should proceed as a company. We are engaged almost daily with our friends south of the border and are working hard to change things up and work much closer on the planning and execution of projects that have been done quite independently in the past. I am predicting that you will see a new Yamaha begin to emerge next season. One with a less traditional voice and a lean / mean and ‘connected’ approach to marketing.

I could go on about some of my own feelings and ideas but that would be somewhat premature at this point. Team USA will be in town next week and we will be ‘rolling up our sleeves’ to lay the foundation for our new joint strategy. You can rest assured Team Blue is not going to back off from the snowmobile business. I believe we need to exercise restraint with regards to pushing wholesale at our dealers and focus on improving our quality and reliability at every step. The seasons are getting too short to find yourself on the wrong end of a tow-rope, right? I’ll keep you posted.

Just for giggles, I mentioned in some recent posts how many of our old guard has taken retirement, most recently my friend Greg Marier. Greg sent geishame a picture this morning that made me stop and reflect about the years of past planning. Here we are seen in Japan back in the pre-trailing arm days… the back row says it all with (left to right) Greg, Jim, Tim, myself and Haga…  the planning foundation for USA / Canada and Europe for over 20 years. Like the people, the times have changed. We have some young guns at the helm now and new challenges to meet. That said, Yamaha is quite okay, damn straight… and thanks for asking!

cheers cr

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Posted @ 9:46 am in Industry News,Yamaha People and Communication