Archive for the 'Opinions and Insights' Category
April 23, 2016
さようなら – Sayonora
Today’s post will be my last. I have decided it is time to pull back from my career and focus on family and quality-of-life in the few good years I have left. If I include time spent at the dealership, I have been with Yamaha for well over 30 years. And for those of you who have alluded to me having a ‘dream job’ – you’re correct; it’s been one helluva good run. I can’t imagine another uneducated, country boy with little more than a great love for motorcycles and sleds, slipping past the regulated HR qualification process now. Yamaha gave me ‘my shot’ and for that, I am most grateful.
This blog in itself is testament to the visionary management this company maintains. When we launched in the winter of 2007, there was a lot of trepidation around letting an individual employee go on-line, representing the company with no formal set of rules or policies to fetter and control the ‘conversation’. At the time, no one in our industry had a corporate blog; Twitter had not been born, My Space was bigger than Facebook and ‘social media’ was a new buzz-word companies were struggling to understand (many still are). At the time I was communicating on the sled forums and got singled out by a fellow, hiding behind his key-board, challenging everyone and everything to stroke his own ego. It was frustrating to post legitimate information only to have it discredited as bull-spit . I figured there had to be a better way for me to play!
One individual was extremely instrumental in getting Sled Talk past the corporate goalie: Maggie Fox. I met Maggie at a trade show in 2006 where she was speaking on this new thing called ‘social media’. Sensing some opportunity, I attended her ‘lunch and learn’ on corporate blogging. Fortunately, as things turned out, I was the only one who showed up and received her undivided attention. This was a new venture for Maggie and she was motivated to see this blog get up and running under the Yamaha brand. After several meetings here, it was her compelling presentation to corporate that I believe, broke down the final barriers of risk, putting many of our fears at ease. Maggie’s career since has been a turbo-charged success story. First expanding her former company (SMG) from a family consulting business to a highly successful social media agency with locations in Toronto and Vancouver; then leapfrogging into the corporate sphere to head up Ford Motor Companies global digital marketing operations. I’ve lost touch with her but understand she is now the senior VP of digital marketing for software giant SAP. She once told me, having the Yamaha shingle hanging on the office wall went a long ways to opening those early doors. Well, without her guidance, I would not be writing this ten years later.
Once we established the ‘rules of engagement’ – I was trusted to use common sense and turned loose to talk about Yamaha snowmobiles openly as the ‘lucky guy’ speaking from the inner sanctum trying to ‘tell it like it is’. Truth be known, I have ‘stepped in it’ on more than one occasion. Actually, according to my boss, defending my rhetoric and shielding my ego from criticism has become a fairly regular occurrence for him. On the flip side, his guard has allowed me to write 275 articles and personally respond to nearly 3,500 comments. I’m not really known for sugar coating my delivery so the odds of me peeing on somebodies Cheerios really are not all that surprising. I’m just glad I didn’t have to respond personally.
Today there are upwards to 14,000 unique visitors a month coming here seeking nuggets of information on our sleds. One thing has amazed me from day one. Not one of you has ever gone on ‘the attack’. The comments I receive have always been thoughtful and respectful of the position regardless of whether the author agreed or liked what I had to say. I have approved every comment except one and only because it was basically spam. Nothing I have ever written here has been taken and used against me or Yamaha in any way and for that I am so thankful. Maggie once told me – ‘stay honest and transparent, your audience will grow and rise to your defense if threatened’ – so true!
And to be clear, comments offered here have been referred to many times in various meetings, in emails and sometimes over beers. It’s been said we don’t listen, that what is being talked about on forums never gets to the boardrooms. I have often used Sled Talk (and TY) to reference or support a point. This site has had an impact on our business and our sleds.
Well; there it is. What started off as an experiment to add some ‘ballast’ on the forums has ended up in a decades worth of conversations with many of you, some I’ve met, others I feel I know from your regular comments here. And you should know, it has been your interaction and feedback that has kept me motivated, to write. I want to say a special thanks to Tom and all the admins at Totallyamaha. You guys rock! Many of us here at Yamaha realize and appreciate what a great service you provide for our customers. TY sets the bar very high regarding QDR standards for the motor-sports forums.
I don’t know at the time of this writing, what is going to happen to this site and the archives it contains when I’m gone. It would be sad to see the articles on specific model development disappear. They are records of our history with very few, if any people left that can recount first hand. I have recognized many individuals in my stories who mean a lot to me and who contributed to many of our snowmobiles in many different ways. In my mind, they are the most important of all to preserve. Yamaha is made up of people – the brand and the products are a result of their passion. They are the real creators of our ‘Kando’ and should not be forgotten. I hope somehow Sled Talk will live on as a resource for no other reason than this.
May 5th is my last day as an employee of Yamaha. It’s a bitter sweet feeling as I’m going to miss so many of the people I have worked with over the years, many of whom I consider close friends. I’m also going to miss opening Sled Talk to see if someone has left a question or comment for me. On the other hand, I am finally going to finish some projects like my Phazer ‘trials’ sled and am looking so forward to being there for my family every day, even if that means holding the end of the dock down on a Muskoka chair while they enjoy our ‘cottage life’.
Guys, it’s been a great ride and I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this space. I have – I am truly a lucky guy!
March 21, 2016
Quick update, just returned last night from 9 days in Japan. It was our annual AWWM / SWWM meetings where we attended to both ATV/ROV and Snowmobile development in a series of product tests and high level discussions. The journey started in the south at a recreational vehicle park near Osaka. It poured rain on us all day providing a sloppy and challenging circuit to navigate, with no one wanting to be ‘that guy’ to toss away a proto-type. We barely had time to rinse the mud from our eyeballs and we were on a train, bound for Hamamatsu and two days of meetings at factory. Next we were off to the northern island of Hokaido where engineering had prepared some future product and advanced proto ideas for us to savor. The weather was much nicer for the test ride hitting a high around +10C. On the down side, spring conditions are never the greatest to evaluate snowmobiles on. But some features are not snow condition specific so it wasn’t a wash and provided one more chance to ride this year.
Getting caught up in the office this morning, I received an interesting comment from a contact in TRF who explained he was getting a lot of negative feedback on their new Yamaha powered turbo’s. Seem’s someone has determined the Yamaha Sidewinders have a different engine tuning / output than the green versions. It never fails to amaze me how these things can spread like wildfire with nothing tangible to support them. I’ll go on record and say the only thing different in the power side of the green and blue turbo’s is found in the clutching. The ECU programs for fueling / timing etc is consistent model for model. Add to that, I don’t believe anyone has done any head to head comparisons unless some errant magazine got a hold of two similar models at Snowshoot to run off, which again being prototypes at high altitude with non final calibration doesn’t mean squat.
I suppose it’s a good thing for Yamaha to have a bunch of Cat people making claims that we are faster due to special tuning and parts. So regardless of the above mentioned facts, I’ll leave good enough alone.
Posted @ 12:21 pm in Opinions and Insights
February 10, 2016
Hey, Wait a Minute.
The guessing game continues. Thinking a little time spent reflecting on a business model might not be a bad thing right now. Hopefully this may help put things in perspective for those with expectations beyond the realm of feasibility.
At the start of the current millennium, Yamaha made the decision to go 4-stroke as a company, not as a single product group. The idea was born at a level far above my pay grade so I can only speculate on the details. Yamaha looked at the reality of the global marketplace considering all products; marine, motorcycle, power equipment, recreational vehicle (including snowmobile) and scooters. The conclusion – four stroke technology is the best overall direction for Yamaha to offer clean, reliable, fossil-fueled power to meet the needs of the immediate future.
I was in the room when this strategy was introduced to the snowmobile division. At the time I actually believed we had a choice in the matter (I know). Anyway, we debated the pros and cons with great fervour. The deal breaker came when engineering provided information indicating the 2-stroke snowmobile engine would not survive the second round of EPA emissions standards in the US. This was based on the technology available at the time. And so it was, we were down on all fours. Ooops.
For the most part however, the direction has proven correct and the emissions clock is still ticking on the snowmobile anomaly, but lets pretend for a moment, that we could hit the snooze button and propose developing a new hi-performance 2-stroke engine. The first challenge is to justify a return on investment. To design, develop, tool and manufacture an engine (any engine) costs billions of Yen (millions of dollars). The total cost is amortized to be recovered over a fixed period of time, generally a couple of years. The best way to secure the investment is by showing a potential sales volume capable of off-setting the costs in the short term thus providing reasonable profits further down the road. OK, I’ll go on record here as saying the snowmobile business is not showing a lot of growth these days. None of the manufacturers are raking in the dough selling sleds, in fact its a damn good thing we have all diversified manufacturing to produce other motor sports products. This trickles right down to our dealers where you wont find too many that can exist selling snowmobiles alone.
This relationship to producing other motor sports product along with snowmobiles is key. The best way to increase the production volume of an engine is to put it in more than one product. You don’t have to look too far in our industry to see the results. Our competitors have justified their 4-stroke development by sharing engines with SxS / ATV / squirt gun and motorcycle (even the ones with ‘training wheels’). It’s good business. Yamaha has done this successfully for years and now it is a mandate. As a rule, our new engine development projects must have the ability to apply, at least in part, to more than one product group. Herein lies the quandary for new 2-stroke development. Where else could we apply a big two-stroke performance engine outside of snowmobile these days?
Before you jump all over me on this, think of the current markets. Look at personal watercraft, look at motorcycle (including dirt), look at ATV / SxS, look at outboard engines, (OK BRP is still trying but…). Point is – reliability, cost of operation, emissions, applications, warranty risk, longevity all out weigh (pun intended) the advantages of a 2-stroke in everything but snowmobiles, or so it would seem.
Now, all that said, I like 2-strokes. Always have – always will. When it comes to purchasing any of the above products, 4-strokes have clearly taken over. In my case, I own boats, ATV’s, motorcycles and they are all 4-strokes except for my old sleds and my beloved Husqvarna saw. One must concede – The future market for 2-strokes is not looking so good.
So, back to the business model: Mr Yamaha, we want to invest XX million dollars in developing a new 850 state-of-the-art, 2-stroke snowmobile engine. We plan to sell 12,000 over three years providing there is no change to emissions regulations under Mrs. Clinton and maybe you can make $200 profit each if we sell more. Oh, and we get slammed with a Polar Vortex every year during her term. And if you make a really good one – one that lasts as long as a four stroke, doesn’t burn any oil, get’s great fuel mileage, doesn’t go bang if it gets lean and accepts boost easily, we might be able to use it in another vehicle or two…
Wait, where are you goin?
December 5, 2014
From Russia with Love
Returning home from a ten day visit to Russia. I can’t find the words to describe the experience with any justice but I will say my perceptions of this country prior to being here were far off from the reality of the Russia I now appreciate. This same comment applies to the snowmobiling. Our first day riding saw minus 35c and marginal snow conditions. There are no trails here save for those you leave behind and there are no rules and regulations to abide save those of common sense and survival. We beat the crap out of our sleds yesterday to gain access to some elevation but was well worth the price of admission with a tremendous 360
view of the Urals.
Our hosts made sure we experienced what our Russian customers like to do with their sleds. And we in turn, made the point of the great potential here in the new Russian federation for organized snowmobiling based on establishing a trail system and supporting infrastructure.
Ill organize my pictures and post some more background to this story when I get home and caught up, if you like. Until then… Do Svidaniya
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!
November 18, 2013
The Other Side of Sleddin’
I thought I would share a story of the past weekends adventures. It was all about snowmobiles but nothing to do with my job or this industry. I loaded up my Kodiak with fuel, chain saw, hand tools and set out with my daughter and a group of like minded individuals to brush out several miles of snowmobile trail en route to an old bridge that has linked our lake to the main trail system in years past.
The Six Star snowmobile club supplied a large lift of rough-hewn hemlock, which was all hand bombed on board and barged down the river to the waiting cribs. At one point we had over twenty people, packing lumber, tugging pry-bars, swinging hammers and wielding saws as the old bridge deck was slowly replaced. I didn’t know many of the people I was working with but the spirit and camaraderie we shared was clearly apparent in the conversations surrounding local sledding, grooming, our clubs, and the volunteers who make the trails happen – I worked my a$$ off and it felt really good!
The last spike was banged home right at dusk. ATV’s packed up, hands shaken with a few ‘see ya on the trails…’ My day ended with my family and some ‘new’ friends at the cottage, chicken wings, beers, a warm fire and some good conversation. This is a part of snowmobiling that has its own rewards. The sense of community and accomplishment that follows the effort of contributing to your local trails or riding area. I hope that you also have a chance to experience the kind of satisfaction that I know I will have every time I cross over that bridge this winter…
Posted @ 10:56 am in Opinions and Insights
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