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Archive for the 'Opinions and Insights' Category

February 10, 2012

Muskoka Meltdown

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!!

 

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Posted @ 10:13 am in Accessory Stuff,Opinions and Insights   

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

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Posted @ 2:42 pm in Opinions and Insights   

December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

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

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Posted @ 9:50 am in Opinions and Insights   

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.

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Posted @ 4:03 pm in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha Insights   

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!

cheers  cr

 

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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!

cheers  cr

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Posted @ 10:55 am in Opinions and Insights   

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   

June 24, 2011

Internet Marketing

Just a quick post to check-in. Snowguzzler reminded me that even during days of +30 degrees C, there are still hard core snowmobilers riding on-line and looking for a few distractions while they wait for winter. I have been busy in my personal life with training and cycling having raised the bar a bit with regards to getting back into competition.  This is kind of bizarre when I think of my age and post in life but dang-it, I’m not ready to be put out to pasture yet.

There is much going on behind the scenes with regards to snowmobile which of course I am not at liberty to discuss here (yet) but I can say the industry as a whole is healthy and I expect we will see a lot of change over the next two or three years, as the economies stabilize and the companies adjust to the new world.

I would like to thank all of you who took the time to complete the survey I posted last month. I saw several things in the data that were eye openers. One, that I have been watching for a long time, concerns your ‘hot-buttons’ when it comes to researching a new sled and making your purchase decision. I have been tracking this for over ten years when the internet was ranked down around 6th compared to brochures, magazines, dealers, advertisements, TV and word of mouth. Turns out now, ten years later, the internet is officially number one, number two is word of mouth, much of which relates to the internet and ‘global communities of common interest’ replacing the bench racing in back of the shop. The one tool that has diminished the most is the manufacturers brochures. Funny thing when I look at our industry, we seem to put more resources and emphasis into printing brochures than we do our on-line opportunities…

But I  see that changing rapidly in the face of technology. Social media is taking over the more traditional means as we sit here, in front of computers, having a chat about the best thing to happen to snow since Santa Claus.  cheers  cr

 

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Posted @ 1:38 pm in Opinions and Insights   

March 9, 2011

10th anniversary video blog

I was helping my daughter with a home work assignment the other night where she had to write a paragraph on spring and what it means if March comes in like a lion or a lamb. I advised her that it came in as a lamb based on the 1st however, depending where you live, there now appears to be a lion right on its butt! Another 40cm of snow in the east and more on its way. Anybody want to buy a Waverunner?

No sooner did I write the above, I received a media release from the OFSC addressing spring conditions here is the header:

OPP & OFSC SAY MARCH SNOWMOBILE FATALITIES ARE PREVENTABLE

Don’t Make Your Last Ride of the Season the Last Ride of Your Life (ORILLIA, ON) – The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) are concerned about an increase in fatal snowmobile incidents this March.  While the number of deaths investigated by the OPP has seen an overall decline to date this season, five tragedies in the past two weeks indicate that sledders are not adjusting their riding habits to the late season conditions.

I have been elected to travel to Japan in a few days to attend some meetings at our test center in Shibetsu. I will spend some time with our snowmobile development team and think it may present a good opportunity to address what I consider to be a hole in our line up. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I created a short survey to get your opinion  on entry level and mid-performance snowmobiles. I would really appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to complete the survey, I’ll post a link here and let you know the results and how it is received. Click here to take survey

We did our first ever on-line dealer meeting / new product launch last week to release the 2012 snowmobiles. To date it appears to have been a success. The additional snow falling is allowing our regional reps to now get out and ride with our dealers, giving many a chance to feel the EPS Vector and Venture.

I have had a few contacts today regarding Matt’s 24 hour record (the most miles traveled by a sled in 24 hours) which has unofficially fallen as of last night. The challenge came from Northland Recreation’s Nick Musters riding a Skidoo. I understand they used the same basic course on Lake of Bays and hats of to their team, they beat Matt’s record by just over a hundred miles. From what I have been told there were a couple of key differences the most significant being they needed two sleds to Doo it after mechanicals required the use of a back-up machine. I also heard they had a groomer maintaining the course… Hey Matt you up for another little trail ride next season? Maybe we should use the same sled!  😉

I was asked to do a small video blog on the 10th anniversary of our 4-stroke snowmobile development. Interestingly enough it is this, the 10th model year, where EPA has forced the complete elimination of our old 2-strokes in North America (bye-bye Bravo and VK540).  Here’s the clip:

 

 

 

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Posted @ 3:15 pm in Opinions and Insights   

February 11, 2011

Are We a Dying Breed?

One of our guys here, aside from being a handsome young buck, is quite an accomplished moto-crosser but a complete newbie when it comes to sleds. He recently had a chance to put on some quality miles and took the time to pen his thoughts and experience. Apex Ride

This got me to thinking about what it must be like for someone who has not grown up with snowmobiles to step out the door and onto the latest technology and in the process skipping all the fun most of us had bouncing around on leaf sprung cookie sheets with a drooling Tillotson belching raw fuel into our crotch while we struggled to control 40 ponies worth of top performance.

I was speaking with Rob Powers,  Yamaha USA product manager, just the other day about the aging snowmobile demographic and what it will take to attract new people to our sport. The fact that our latest breed of snowmobiles has ticked the performance level (and the cost of entry) into the far end of the feasibility scale opens the door for something new in the lower horsepower, lower cost arena. The questions I have is just what could that be and would we sell any?

The Phazer was supposed to get all the snowboard kids jazzed about sledding as they shed their baggies for camo bibs

and strapped the futuristic snowmobile to the roof racks of their moms Volvo to hit the gravel pits and ditch lines. What was the name of that Supertramp tune… Dreamer? Fool On the Hill? … something like that. Guess we forgot about the Inviter and it’s overwhelming success in bringing new people to the sport, mind you I wish I had a dime for every ‘you guys need to bring back the Snowscoot’ comment I get.

What we did attract was a younger demographic for the most part but generally one that has grown up in a snowmobiling family and more often than not, intended to spend most of their time riding on the trails, (didn’t see that one comin 😉 . My point here is I still think there is a big hole in not only our line up but the whole industry, for a new machine, albeit with a more traditional approach to what we know and do. I don’t think it needs to have lake burning horsepower, 2 feet of suspension stroke and a  price tag in Richard Branson’s league. But what does it need to deliver fun, excitement and at the same time value and attractive ease of use?

I have an idea or two, as I think you do as well. Getting back to my chat with Rob, I kinda volunteered to put together a little survey on the subject which I am going to try to get done early next week and post here and on TY to collect your thoughts and suggestions.

The sledding conditions are looking good right across the country and we are starting to see some incremental growth in the industry. January registrations are up and much of the non-current product on the market is finally selling through. These are all healthy signs of a recovery (albeit a slow one).

I am getting some reports of a lot of overflow on many of the lakes around here effecting the portages and making the lake running sketchy. Try to stay on the staked trails and be careful, lot of guys getting stuck in the slush. Also don’t forget to clear that mush out of the skid or pound it out in the morning to avoid suspension damage… cheers  cr

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Posted @ 2:37 pm in Opinions and Insights