Archive for the 'Opinions and Insights' Category
January 25, 2013
Just Checking In
Been an interesting week. Started out with a morning flight to Minneapolis on Tuesday where I hooked up with the rest of the team and met up with the editors of the main stream sno-mo mags, web-sites and freelance content providers… the industries ‘media brain-trust’ if you will. This little soiree happens every year to give the various publishers and producers a chance to prepare articles and information in advance of any public release of new models in order to meet their dealines.
To make it easier on everyone involved, the manufacturers all have agreed to do a similar briefing at the same location within the same time period each year. I haven’t attended one of these in quite while and in hindsight I wish we had more time. There were people in the room I really wanted to meet and others I hadn’t seen in so long it would have been great to get caught up.
I am not going to drop any hints of who was there and what we discussed and there is no point to pumping any of your friends who may be ‘connected’ as all in attendance signed non-disclosure agreements. It is all a great big secret, which as my old grand-pappy always said – ‘two can keep a secret if one is dead’…so I am watching the web more closely than ever now
One thing occurred to me while reflecting on the day, as journalists and publicists the group at large should be quite pleased with our presentation. I know we gave them lots to write about and really, that’s what they came for. Mission accomplished!
Next on the agenda is another trip to the airport bright and early Monday morning en route to our Minocqua R&D center. Hoping it is not quite so dang cold next week and they get a bit more snow over the weekend. Not really ready for another whirl-wind trip but it looks like I better get used to it as things are not going to let up until March for me. At least there will be a days worth of riding involved on this go round.
So on that happy note… I hope you are planning a ride this weekend and the snow is falling. And for those of you in Yellowknife, maybe it will warm up above minus 40… SMH cheers cr
Posted @ 12:36 pm in Opinions and Insights
January 15, 2013
The price of admission
Now for something completely different. I have been immersed in a research project which really got me to thinking. Allow me to postulate.
IMHO there are basically only two kinds of snowmobiler’s. Those who need a snowmobile and those that want a snowmobile. Now you may argue that you need a snowmobile but by my definition, the ‘need’ owner has to gather fuel to heat his home, gather food for the family or needs to use his sled to make a living. It may be that a snowmobile is his only effective winter transportation next to a dog sled, you get the point. Now back to the ‘want a snowmobile’ person. That’s all the rest of us!
Given that we don’t need a sled, why do we want one? Well that’s easy enough, we want to be entertained and have fun (whatever that means to you). Now is where things get interesting. The survey asked what we get out of snowmobiling and applied a cluster analysis to plot out a whole lot of reasons into some kind of meaningful, axis based map.
Among the most common reasons people like snowmobiling, first and foremost is to simply be active out of doors in the winter. Some want to be ‘social’ and hang with family and friends, other enjoy the isolation found within their helmet and pursue long adventures, then there are those who are all about competing against others (and themselves). Many enjoy tinkering with the mechanical bits while others want to customize the look and bling their ride… Chance are we all have a certain level in common with each stereotype.
Digging deeper, it appears we are all seeking some form of gratification, knowing that what we do on our sleds will get the juices flowing. It’s exciting, challenging, sometimes scary but always fun. So when I tell you on average we all flip our machines every two to three years and often times the machine (especially these days) is in near perfect running condition – why? Because we are simply attracted to something new. It would be unfair to say we are bored after-all how can you be bored with a 1oo plus horsepower bolted to a 600lb cookie sheet.
Now comes a day in my life, trying to explain to someone who may not ride, just why we need more power, more suspension, more anything, when the real answer is…. we don’t…. WE WANT MORE and we are willing to pay for it, but it does not make sense. Not until you understand the psychological implications.
The industry as a whole has done a great job over the past 30 years of conditioning us to ‘want’ new machines by constantly raising the bar in technical increments. And we keep reaching for our wallets but is their a limit? What has been happening to all those used sleds? What about the next generation of used being traded off? What have we done to take care of those that really do need a snowmobile? How easy is it now for our kids to enter the game or people completely new to snowmobiling?
It is no secret we are an aging demographic who have been sledding for years and almost, without exception, got into it in the first place only because we grew up in a family that was focused outdoors and had snowmobiles or our neighbors / best friends did – but what about our kids?
I don’t expect this circle to be broken any time soon but I do wonder where we are going and in a sad way, I miss the old days when snowmobiling was so much simpler. It was just as much fun and a lot easier to share. Meanwhile I will continue to push for a 200 hp / 500+ lb machine and try to keep the cost under whats left of my mortgage! ;)
January 2, 2013
A belated best wishes to you for the New Year!
Today is my first day back at work since the 21st and man, could I use a swift kick-in-the-butt to shake off the ‘holidays’… on that subject, here is a little gift that I received from one of our guys. I have this perched in front of my monitor and it serves to keep me focused (well that is the intent), no further explanation required or forthcoming lol
I didn’t get much snowmobiling in over the holiday as the lakes aren’t tight and trails around the cabin aren’t yet open. On the bright side, I was able to get some trail time on the mountain bike (thank you Santa-me for the new, all carbon ride) and it is looking good for the season to go full green in the next few days. Reports out of Quebec are amazing with excellent snow conditions which spill into eastern Ontario.
Pete sent an encouraging email this morning. right now the whole country is below freezing and 99% snow covered. I can’t remember when was the last time the whole dang country
was experiencing winter. Not meaning to jinx the direction but this is very cool (pun intended).
The rest of this week will be spent getting ready for a meeting of the minds as we have several guests coming from YMC on Monday. We will be working on snowmobile planning all week and the idea is to get them out on the trails weekend after next.
We had a major internal announcement this morning which I thought I would share. YMCA, like YMUS, is essentially, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha Motor Company. Since our companies inception in 1973, we have always had a Japanese president. Our corporate staff is comprised of both Japanese ATP’s (assistant to president) and Canadian VP’s, who lead the decision making protocol, responsible for the success of the company.
Well our current president, Mr. Hank Fujita has announced his return to Japan this month and his appointed successor is one of our current VP’s, Mr. Peter Hastings. Peter is the first Canadian president of Yamaha Motor Canada! This posting is both a sign of faith and trust from the mother ship and is another indication of new Yamaha corporate philosophy as we evolve to continue moving forward in the North American marketplace and around the globe. Congratulations Peter!
In closing, the OFSC circulated a media release from our provincial police which most certainly applies to all snowmobiler’s, regardless of where you live and ride. Again, I know you guys don’t require the lecture but here’s the blurb, as a wise man once said… you can teach a little common sense, but you can’t fix stupid! Be safe. OPP_OFSC BePrepared MR FINAL
November 12, 2012
So the thought crossed my mind when this pic showed up in the in-box – ‘why would an Easterner really need a supercharger to get the most out of their sled’?
Now I remember! This was taken over the weekend in the Gaspe region of Quebec and sent in through our dealer Abel Denis Huard with the simple caption ‘we’re riding’. Gotta love it.
I was watching the CBC news a couple days ago, when the anchor spoke of an explosion in Valcourt Quebec. Turns out the big bang happened at the BRP (Skidoo) R and D center, badly injuring a couple of people.
There were no details on what caused the explosion. I don’t know if they do any engine development there – okay, you are probably guessing where I am going here but I am going to take the high rode and leave it alone - Respectfully, I hope all the people involved are okay and will soon be home with their families.
We have a large contingent coming up from the USA on Wednesday and I’ll be locked down for a few days as we review and discuss our snowmobile mid-term plan and accessory development strategies. The service division is also involved with a meeting on the agenda for Friday to review all the outstanding service issues. I think they are actually going to end up playing darts in the service shop and lament the lack of NHL this season lol.
Spent a bit of time on Toyallyamaha this morning, quite an interesting read (all 6 pages) started by Murse who is ‘Sick of all the hype’ Good one buddy, everyone pretty much stayed on topic right up to where you brought it home. I took the big picture as clear indication that the season is about to start… let the games begin! cheers cr
Posted @ 10:48 am in Opinions and Insights
February 10, 2012
Had an interesting week. We (our accessories development team and snowmobile service managers) have been locked down at Kellermans resort in Muskoka. Twelve of us hit the trails Tuesday to test out some new riding gear. The conditions were less than ideal but all-in-all things worked out really good. Wednesday and Thursday were all day meetings. And here I sit last man out getting caught up on the email and reading the aftermath of yesterdays XTX announcement. I am finding it kind of sad to see the disappointment written in comments here and on the forums but I can’t say I was surprised.
The MY13 Nytro XTX we launched yesterday was a last minute addition to the line up, which YMC finally conceded to build once they recognized the efforts (and cost) going towards accessorizing the sleds to get a decent back-country track and improved deep snow performance. As many have pointed out, guys have been doing this since we first released the Nytro. The only reason we announced it yesterday was based on a strong request from the sales guys who wanted to add the unit to the Power Tour demo rides which are happening now. Had we waited until March 2nd the chances of deep snow to play in would be that much less. Having said that, this years snowfall and warm temps have pretty well negated the whole plan anyway. I have mixed feelings about hyping up our new product launches, thinking they should be more steered by the actual impact the product will have more-so than the basic desire to excite the market. That said, it is our job to advertise and promote regardless of the cards we are dealt be it a completely new model line or BNG. No excuses here, just offering a little background on why we had a preemptive announcement.
Back to the riding… I am also aware of some frustration regarding the availability of our new Dupont hy-fax. As I mentioned in an earlier post I was impressed by the testing results but was not going to fully endorse without running a set. Well I have close to a thousand km on mine now and my last few rides have been on glare ice. The trails are rock hard here and the lakes are skating rinks. My hy-fax still looks like new, have not smelled plastic once, have been running the lakes at speed (I am also using and Ice-Ripper track) and right now I am thinking this is the real deal. I don’t care what brand of sled you ride, without some good scratcher’s you wouldn’t be going far or fast here right now without destroying the runners. I’m a believer! The issue now is overheating engines, everyone I have talked to is seeing temp lights and searching for the illusive snowbanks on the sides of the trail, damn we need snow!!
January 31, 2012
‘Wake’ Me Up…
What a great weekend. My daughter finally had the chance to break-in her new (restored) Bravo and I had a blast watching her. I seldom got to relax for more than a couple of hours without a ‘can we go for a ride to the marina?’… Truth be known, she wasn’t the only one burning gas in the little 250, I was reliving the good old days in style – forgot how cool it is to lean out and have the sled heel over like a well trained retriever – on a one lung’er cookie sheet. I found it somewhat ironic when Rob from J&B Cycle up in Timmins called me this morning wanting nothing more than to lament the demise of the Bravo and tell me about a kind of wake they are planning as their dealership has sold literally hundreds of the BR’s over the years. I wish I could tell you we were going to pull the sheets off a cheap little replacement this spring but it ain’t gonna happen.
There has been a lot of speculation on what the industry is going to announce for new product in the next few weeks. I can’t confirm or deny any of the rumors (well I could but I’d upset far too many people who take these things quite seriously). I remember some of our best new product releases over the years, the Vmax 4 was a major Hollywood production, the Pro-action chassis featuring the 700 triple was a splendid event, held in the Laurentians where we took over the ski hill at Chateaux Chantecler running the units up the hill under a sky filled with fireworks, then there was the RX-1 -, one of my all-time favorite launches – by the time we were done with the theatrics we had at least one of our dealers in tears, (seriously!).
For the MY 2013 product, we are planning to announce one new variant model to our dealers next week and pull the trigger on the complete line-up in early March (2nd) with a web launch at which time we will hit the road for a series of dealer meetings across the country. I will have some comments at that time to throw out here and as always, it will be interesting to hear your thoughts and talk to our dealers. I wonder if this seasons snow conditions are not going to cause some manufacturers to take a second look at current inventory levels and re-consider their MY13 plans. There is no arguing the fact that La Nina, solar flares, bovine flatulence and over 50 years of industrial consumption may be reeking havoc on our winters but then I look at the Ukraine setting record low temps along with crazy high snowfall levels and wonder if it is all just a nasty fluke. I prefer to choose the latter. Right now I just want it to get cold outside and maybe, just maybe drop a little lube for our big ride next week… cheers cr
December 23, 2011
The first day of winter and Santa on the way. What a crazy year here at Yamaha. Talking with Pete last night, it occurred to me; so many things have come together to test the industry and our business model. The Tsunami in Japan, economic recession, strong Canadian dollar or more to the point, the weak American currency (and then there is the Yen), the toll of legal defense, climate change and head shots in hockey. Ok well maybe not the Crosby thing so much but I do feel we have taken a few too many to the noggin in our own way. The end game is not in sight and we have more snow-balls in the air than at any other point in my twenty five year tenure. I don’t expect things will settle much in 2012. Our vision is long term and the thinking is completely ‘out-of-the-box’. For the speculators out there, don’t even bother to exercise your brain on this statement, you’ll grow a beard before you get close
I was at our design agency in California last week as we kicked-off the 2014 MY color and graphics project. Vic wanted a snap-shot of how the current 2012 c&g was being excepted so I posted a poll over on Totallyamaha which has yielded some great comments and not a single bash. I was proud to send the link to factory with my recommendation to the key managers to read the thread, which is a struggle for some of the guys who don’t get to practice their English every day. Was cool to see the Tesarat in the GKDI lobby, the four wheeled articulating concept motorcycle was shown at the Tokyo auto show, it was going to be destroyed but GK was able to save it from the dumpster by simply picking up the shipping tab, good thing. That thing would be an awesome addition to any man-cave!
I want to wish you and your family all the best for the holidays. I am planning to take mine up to the cottage, fingers crossed for snow and prepared to ride something regardless of the weather. As RJ said yesterday, there is no such thing as bad conditions, just different. Given the right choice of equipment all rides are good. Have a Merry Christmas and healthy New Year. Cheers cr
November 14, 2011
The Twenty Minute Work-Out
I just read this media release on the trail permit fee hike in Michigan:
Michigan snowmobilers will face higher trail fees this season. The state has raised the price for a season permit to $45, from $35 last year.
The fee will remain $45 through the 2015 snowmobile season. A state law signed in 2008 provided for the incremental increase in snowmobile trail fees, which support maintenance and grooming of the state’s snowmobile trail network.
“We have strong relationships with our partners in the snowmobile community,” Jim Radabaugh, section manager for the DNR’s Recreation and Trails Program in the Forest Management Division, told the Niles Daily Star. “It is because of our partnership with 68 snowmobile trail sponsors that Michigan is able to offer over 6,400 miles of designated, groomed and signed trails.”
The fee hike is to keep up with rising trail maintenance and preservation costs.
It reminds me of an ongoing conversation we have in product planning. ‘Where you ride is everything about how you ride (and what you ride). ‘ Our testing center is located in the backwoods of Wisconsin and when we have gotten hot and heavy about riding styles and needs, the Wisconsin boys are all about stiff suspension, small gas tanks, tall bars and no windshields.
Scratching deeper into the subject, it was made quite clear that these guys see riding as twenty minutes hard bursts followed by destination stops. When I think about the trail systems in the mid-west, it is hard to ride more than half an hour without hitting a town or resort. Then I think about Ontario and Quebec with a trail system collectively approaching 50,000 miles. Many a trail requires a full tank of gas just to make it to the next (and only) pit stop. And most rides are measured by the tank-full, not the ‘next place’.
Getting back to the permit hike in Michigan, I think about the states population and the relatively meager distance; 6,400 miles of trail to maintain, still 45 bucks is a bargain compared to the 200$ plus permits up here. With so many more machines on the mid-west trails, I can see them getting pretty whopped out and riders gravitating to shorter more intense rides than what I may enjoy in central Ontario. With the smoother, wider trails and longer distances between stops, suspension tends to get a little more plush, the fuel range becomes more important along with the wind protection and seated comfort.
We have a rather extensive menu of riding conditions to select from when designing a new sled. It is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with a one size fits all machine to master every trail. Thankfully a lot can be done with bolt-on engineering whether at a manufacturers level or by the end user. I think at the end of the day the vast majority of us get an ear to ear grin when we have first track behind the groomer and ‘own the trail’ for miles without seeing another machine. Compare that to the last hundred miles back to the truck on a Sunday afternoon, endless two foot craters and sleds bouncing all around you… I get what the boys mean when they say, in their world, snowmobile rides only last 20 minutes at a time. In my world I’d call that a ‘moto’ and then gladly pay my three digit permit fee to go riding, non stop between tanks.
November 9, 2011
No Honor Among Thieves
Looking over some of the recent comments and I noticed a question from Justin, wondering why I went back to a 128 over the XTX Apex. First, I think the track length is completely a matter of personal choice and objective considering the riding conditions you’re in most of the time.
I enjoyed the 144 last year but I was compromising a bit of cornering speed resulting from the balance front to rear; read under-steer or ‘push’ if you will. On the flip side the stroke feeling, function and acceleration were all excellent I have had every model year of Apex / RX-1 under me since 03 including Warrior and XTX along with every shock package except for the 128inch and FOX Mega-Float soooo this year its, the SE. We have a 2011 model that was painted up to look like a 12 for the trade show circuit, has my name all over it. Plan to run stock with the addition of a set of Kirk’s HID lights, some Tuner skis and a tank bag.
Rob Powers made an interesting comment the other day regarding the EPS Apex being as close to perfect as a sled can be. This was in reference to having all the ‘bugs’ out of it, he makes a good point. The updated mono skid is holding together, the drive train, (clutch / belt) has amazing durability, the engine is an absolute hammer when it come to reliability. Issues like hyfax wear, bushing slop, exhaust system, idler wheels etc have all been addressed. Even the flippin handlebar heaters work.!Yeah its heavy when compared to some ‘disposable’ sleds, but for trail cruising, I could care less. What I didn’t say in my first post, is I intend to purchase this one as a ‘keeper’ if all works out to plan. Will update as the season unfolds.
Speaking of ‘bugs’, Has anyone paid any notice to the latest ad campaign from Skidoo? I don’t think many guys will even pick up on the fact but it sure sticks in my throat. If you have read any sled rags in the last four years, you have seen our ‘Yamaha Advantage’ ads where we draw attention to the durability of our engines, the low cost of operation, resale value etc. Pretty boring stuff compared to what the other guys produce but we felt it best to maintain the high road in advertising and speak strictly to our strengths.
Well it must’ve struck a chord with the spin doctors at skidoo, who have abandoned their ‘we’re the best — the rest’ ads in favor of (drum roll please) the ‘Skidoo Advantage’… Whaaat’s with that? You going to paint the Rev’s blue next? Good advertising account managers must be hard to come by in these days of cut-backs. Then again maybe someone proposed a campaign of confusion and mixed messages to negate what we have been pointing out for years as Yamaha strengths, to trick consumers into drinking the yellow Kewl-aid. I said it before and I’ll say it again, modern consumers aren’t stupid (especially Yamaha owners). IMHO their campaign is a direct rip-off designed to sabotage a strong, QDR message from Yamaha which was delivered in an honest, transparent (albeit boring) fashion. Don’t mean to rant but right or wrong it’s an insult to my intelligence, nicely done boys!
Posted @ 11:16 am in Opinions and Insights
October 31, 2011
Georgia On My Mind
Big time snow in the east over the weekend, I hope this is an indication of more to come!
I received a comment from ‘Bosco’ asking my thoughts on ‘what-if’ Yamaha moved snowmobile production to North America: “I know you probably can’t comment but was just thinking about the impact on the industry if the sleds get built in Georgia with the ATV’S. It looks like Yamaha is really starting to align them self’s with the aftermarket suppliers and bringing them into their product development. It would seem that building them here and keeping corporate out of it over there would ramp up new product to market. Thanks for the great effort here! (BLUE FOREVER!)”
This subject has been kicked around as long as I can remember. First off, what would be the impact to the industry? Probably not much. I think the impact would be realized more internally based on the assumption that the Yamaha sled division would become more profitable. We would be able to purchase cheaper parts from North American manufactures who are already supplying Cat, Doo and Polaris. We would also be saving the costs of shipping crated units from Japan.
Now if this additional money was invested into development and technology then the industry would feel the impact with Yamaha raising the ‘competitive advantage’ bar more frequently. On the other side of the coin, Yamaha snowmobiles are manufactured using proprietary techniques developed for large volume quality control and consistency. Our CF die-casting and automated assembly lines are a couple of examples. It would be a great challenge to move the current manufacturing process to Atlanta and I’m guessing here, but it would probably be very cost prohibitive based on the small number of snowmobiles we produce, this being a relative quantity compared to our motorcycles and marine products.
Now I don’t think we would ever leave ‘corporate’ out of the picture as Bosco suggests but having NA production would most likely impact product planning and allow quicker response to market changes and requirements. To that end, maybe the factory in Georgia would not be the ultimate location in lieu of a facility a bit farther north> I elect we build a new factory in Muskoka!
Another factor, Yamaha is first and foremost, an engine builder. If we moved our snowmobile production to Atlanta, our engines would still be built in Japan as there is no engine plant in North America, so it really boils down to chassis and assembly. We know there are certain advantages we could enjoy with North American production, but there are also some major draw-backs, mostly in the costs associated with the start-up, that pretty much negate the opportunities.
The one factor that could really swing the vote is found in the roots of the industry and that is growth. With the economy in recession and the industry showing no signs of increasing sales, we are faced with competing for the same slice of the pie year after year. Making things more difficult; we have the costs of meeting environmental conditions, climate change ‘doomsayers’ warning of a December malaria epidemic in the Arctic and a crusty demographic of aging motor-heads demanding more performance every season (Hey CR, why don’t you guys bring back the Snowscoot?) ;-) . It’s my hunch that the directors and share holders of the company would not be easily convinced of the investment potential in pulling up stakes and moving to America.
All that said, I don’t think our snowmobile production has been based on strong business fundamentals and ROI in a very long time. Our past three presidents have all enjoyed sleds and shared in the passion for our sport. It’s a deep connection we all maintain with the thrill of winter riding, the beauty of frozen nature and the common bond, shared with other sledders. Come to think of it, maybe we should move to North America damn-it!
Posted @ 10:55 am in Opinions and Insights