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May 8, 2008

SRX Launch and Marketing Story

Well this week it’s time for me to come clean on some more SRX stuff. Lets start with the name. 81-srxlr.jpgI was dead set against using SRX based on my experience with the infamous 1981 model debacle. For those who don’t know or may have heard the rumors. The 82 SRX production run (or Vmax as some would have it) was canceled in the name of damage control and to cannibalize the crankshafts for owners of the ill-fated 81’s. Reason being an unfortunate combination of clutch / crankcase assembly and carburetors doomed the TSS SRX to a life of broken crank-shafts. The name was dropped along with the engine and styling, to return as the first V-Max 540 in 1983.

I’m not particularly superstitious, but the thought of naming our new performance sled after the 81 cylinder grippin’ graphics.jpgcrank-eater seemed somewhat of a marketing Faux pas . But my thoughts didn’t matter because we could not seem to come up with a better name, plus the US guys seemed quite good with the SRX handle and so it was born. The irony in all of this came to light shortly after the first pre-pros hit the snow. Reports of a nasty vibration in the running boards trickled in, which spread quickly into the handle bars… uh-oh. –Long story short-… a welding booth was set up at the end of the crank assembly line and every new SRX crank was hand checked,crank.jpg trued if required and the end pin spot-welded before proceeding. As far as I know, this was the first (and only) time we had a production crank, welded at factory.

I had a good ‘I told you so…’ over some pints with Rit and Greg, but fortunately our crank woes of the 81 never manifested in the new SRX and the engine went on to prove itself quite bullet-proof.

Heres some random pics: From left,-the product development team from US, Europe and Canada, next- myself and Tim Nakano (Saito in the background), -the first prototype used for CG mock-up, and finaly-a 600 proto-engine in field testing:

geisha.jpgtim_cr.jpgproto.jpg600-proto.jpg

I’ll put on my marketing hat for the next story. Spring 97, I was the ‘cover boy’ for all of the 98 SRX brochures. The shot was taken by none other than Dave Bush who is well known in the industry for his photography talents. I guarantee you have seen many of his shots in different power-sports magazines and brochures… but I digress.

(more…)

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Posted @ 11:25 am in Opinions and Insights,Sled Development,Sled History and Links,Tech Talk   

May 1, 2008

SRX Development Story Pt2

SRX development part 2.

In this second installment on the SRX story I’ll touch on some of the features which we introduced on SRX. First we had to get clearance from the senior directors to proceed. Saito had to go before Hitoshi Nagayasu who was then second in command at YMC and running the snowmobile show. Saito told me he ‘sold’ the concept based on confidence alone. He had no data or test results to refer to, only belief and a deep desire to challenge our people to build the highest performing, production snowmobile ever offered by Yamaha. The magic number being 200hp / liter. It should be mentioned here that the job of the senior directors is not to measure how ‘cool’ a new product is. That is not the point at all. The project has to clearly make sense in dollars and return on investment. We amortize our tooling over two years of production and the model must be able to survive on its own merit. Good thing Nagayasu understood the importance of horsepower and had a warm spot for snowmobiles because he signed off and we were good to go into development. And so here we go…

We were not the first to have power-valves on a sled but we were the first to have electronically controlled, servo driven (instead of diaphragm / pressure actuated) slide valves. see the OW73 (TZ750) GP bike raced by the King. This offered a couple of advantages. One, the slide opening could be regulated based on engine demand and secondly a cleaning cycle was designed in to give the slides a full swipe at start-up to help keep the valves from gumming up. (Yeah I know, it was still a maintenance item especially on the early models).

Another new feature that helped give SRX legs was the introduction of RAM air. The testing data averaged out at 160kph an additional 6mq was achieved which translated into 3hp or 2 kph. This is a small increase but it’s the small details like this that helped put SRX into the top of its class. Saito also concentrated on air management with separate ducts to direct air-flow to help cool the crank shaft and brake rotor.

A new headlight was designed which Saito was quick to remind me also appeared on the Mercedes Benz SL500. Limited by standard DOT approved, 55/65 watt bulbs, the glass optics were designed to efficiently concentrate as much light as possible into the area needed most. I remember after first riding the SRX at night, the Vmax felt like it had a flashlight taped to the shroud.

The triple pipes were nestled into an all new die-cast bulkhead and an unsymmetrical hood. A hot debate between myself and Rit Lefrancois-acting product manager for YMUS at the time- ensued on this unique styling direction. He didn’t like it / I did. In the end the design proved better for engineering purposes and Canada’s vote sealed the deal. The body design moved to the wind tunnel to determine the best combination of wind protection and wind resistance. This was the first sled which Yamaha put a lot of effort into rider position as well as body shape to determine maximum performance.

To make it ‘pretty’, we decided to apply the Yamaha Racing Strobes against a bright Yamaha blue metallic paint scheme which has since become a stable color combo giving Yamaha a distinct recognition in the market. But heck most of you reading this bleed blue right? So you must know when it all started… I also remember some heated discussions trying to get a ‘Scotch-lite’ reflective graphic material for the strobe graphics but if i recall correctly we had to settle for a slightly less expensive version in the second go-round.

Yokohama rubber came to the table with an all new track belt for SRX, which worked pretty well. It was certainly more efficient than past efforts using a poly weave (opposed to the kevlar winding of the Ultrabloc) but in the end our volumes (combined with some durability issues) led us to a new vendor –Camoplast– which marked the end of Yokohama snowmobile track production.

Next week I’ll be back in the office and will start scanning some of the old docs and images I have collected so the next installment will be quite visual. I’ll also start penning some of the testing stories and insights on the final development and marketing. Stay tuned… cr

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Posted @ 9:44 pm in Sled Development,Sled History and Links   

April 23, 2008

SRX Development Story

SRX Development Story: Part 1

I’ll preface the following by saying I’m splitting this development story into several installments. I have dug up quite a few related documents and will scan them then scatter amongst the pages to add some funk. For example here’s a little history for you- history-remaster.pdf– I am relying on memory here and apologize if some things don’t ‘gist’ 100% with your own recollection. I’d be happy to post your comments or any additional information. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I am enjoying the writing. It’s stirring up a lot of old memories for me.

cover-boy.jpgBefore I get into the nuts and bolts, I think it’s important to remember where we were living back in 95/96. We had been a good two years in developing our light-weight Pro-Action leading arm chassis (code name OMD) and new 3 cylinder, single pipe engine. Ole Hayata, was head of engineering and had done an amazing job to deliver us nine new models in the die-cast, chassis platform, in time for the 97 model year. It was during this same time period, our competitors took their next step in sled evolution with the release of the 600 triple / triples -three cylinder-three pipe rockets- based largely on ISR Formula 3 racings, popularity of the day. The F111 Skidoo, ZRT 600 Cat and XCR600SP Polaris set a new benchmark for displacement performance and were gunning for top speed honors against the bigger sleds of the day.

 

Apparently we needed a triple-triple, 600 version of our new SX. And so it was we set out for Japan to convince engineering to shoehorn some pipes into a sleeved down package. Well it didn’t take very long to discover the SX 700 engine would not survive our bench tests using triple pipes. Further more the body shape and die-cast bulkhead sub-frame of the OMD did not allow the required clearance for proper air management and cooling, given the real estate required for the tangle of pipes. It could not be done. I clearly remember my old friend Gary from Prince George Yamaha calling me shortly after the release of the SX 700 to quiz me about triple pipes before he took on the Canadian distribution of one of the leading after market exhaust brands.

‘Don’t do it’, I advised, ‘The engine will grenade. If you push it, the crank won’t live…’ Man- was that bad advice, but as it turned out Gary didn’t listen to me and went on to help modify hundreds of 700 triples in mountain chassis with many running reliably to this day.

 

We did our homework with YMC and decided our next machine would have an all new 600cc 3 into 3 engine. It was also decided to build a 700 variation for a no holds barred assault on the muscle sled segment. The Vmax4 engine was stuck with a TSS chassis and had been max’d out at 800cc (small pun intended). We set the target for OMH to be the lightest (500lbs), fastest top speed and quickest accelerating muscle sled on the market. We had witnessed the 500 class (representing the greatest sales volumes), evolve into the 600’s and it didn’t take a duck hunter to figure out the 700 class was where we should be aiming.

 

A bright young engineer (and notorious after-hours disturber) was given his first kick at ‘project leader’. The parting gift of Mr. Hayata who was moving on from snowmobile group to motorcycle development came in the form of Masayasu Saito. Masa-san understood very well the competitive mentality as well as the snowmobile lifestyle. When he was a young buck, he purchased a Phazer in Japan and traveled north every weekend to ride it (and chase girls). I had known him for many years as a field testing engineer and durability rider previous to that. He was a great choice to head up the OMH project which would eventually come to market in 1998 as the SRX 600 / 700.

 

SRX would establish many firsts for Yamaha. For starters the clay modeling and wire frame work was performed in thegraphic.jpg USA to reduce some cost and speed up development. I was asked to travel down to the GKDI offices in Torrance CA where we worked closely with the designers on the shape and dynamics of the new machines. Prototypes were built based on the SX chassis and targets were established using the SX 600 plus ZRT in the 600 category and SX 700 plus Mach 1 in the 700 niche. We decided to build a modified version of the lower 8-inch SX chassis to house the new power-plants, because the sled was intended to handle better than any lake racer before it. Initial testing results were quite promising.

The SRX would be our final two-stroke snowmobile development project and it seems quite fitting it would crown 30 years of Yamaha in the sno-mo biz and mark the one millionth sled to run off our lines japan-media-remaster.pdfmore to follow.

cheers cr

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Posted @ 2:20 pm in Sled Development,Sled History and Links   

March 7, 2008

Apex/Attak Owners Survey

Folks, I have designed a survey specifically for the owners of Apex and Attak models. I am hoping you will click on the link and give me your honest answers to the questions. I will be analyzing your responses and presenting to our product planning and engineering people. If you own an Apex Mountain or MTX model please do not complete the survey. We will cover the specific needs of the mountain market in another separate survey to ensure both markets have their specialized needs defined.

If you do not currently own an Apex or Attak please do not click the link as you’ll skew our data.

Apex/Attak Owners Survey

Thanks in advance.

cr

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Posted @ 4:21 pm in Sled Development,Yamaha People and Communication   

January 15, 2008

What’s A Pre-Production Sled

Trick or Treat!

Brian dropped an interesting comment yesterday, my response being the basis of this post. He is under the impression that our pre-production snowmobiles used for spring product launch / demo rides are factory massaged to run better than the forthcoming production units. And this is done intentionally in an effort to ‘trick’ everyone. First I would like to assure you there are no ‘tricks’ being pulled with regards to having ‘super-tuned’ demo sleds for pre-production testing. We go to huge lengths to try to get final or as close to final settings as we can. Sometimes things do change in production. Mostly in the area of QDR if something is appraised to be weak or potentially cause problems.

Pre-production units differ from prototypes as they are assembled on the production line using parts made from final tooling. YMC will run a small number of units prior to full production, which are carefully disassembled and inspected for anything out of spec. Some of the units will be field tested and others shipped to distributors for marketing purposes. In fact some of the units we have received over the years have come with the request ‘not to run-show-only’. I have personally made the decision to let people ride pre-pros knowing that they had poor suspension calibration or performance settings. But I have never been faced with knowingly using a pre-pro sled with performance enhancements for a formal demo ride.

I have heard comments from dealers, journalists (and some customers) over the years who rode a pre-pro in the spring and after riding the production model in-season, complain the spring unit had better performance or calibration. I think much of this comes from the controlled riding conditions we try to employ mixed with some excitement and the generally brief encounter with the unit. We try to give them a positive experience right down to accommodations and hospitality.

A good example, we introduced the FX Nytro to our dealers last spring in Quebec. The trails we used were groomedimg_0887.jpg daily and they were mostly wide summer roads through a provincial park with a deep base, packed, smooth and fast. You could really use the horsepower. I had a couple of dealers call me this fall after scratching around on choppy, tight southern Ontario trails, complaining this was not the sled they road last spring… Yes it is!… it’s the conditions that have changed. Truth be known, we were quite concerned about the pre-pro Nytro handling last spring, the production models have actually improved. They are still very stiff in the suspension department, they have to be in order to take the big hits as well as they do. Can they be made better for specific riders and conditions… sure, with some knowledge and a bit of compromise. I am seeing many set-up ideas posted with reports of positive results, note; you need to be heads up as to what conditions and riding styles the authors are tuning for. There is no single spec that will do it for everyone everywhere…

We are currently planning the release of the the 2009 models. We have invited our dealers to a resort in Newfoundland to ride some pre-pro models. Well Jon just returned from a joint test in the US and reports one of the key models did not meet the suspension and handling targets. It was rated lower than the model it is slated to replace. Big problem!

I have confidence the testing engineers will nail the targets given another month of calibration. But-and here’s the rub- the preproduction units are being built this month. Our pre-pros will most likely include the poor calibration. Will we have some setting parts before our dealer meeting? It’s a toss of the coin. One thing is for sure, we will set the sleds up, best we can and the dealers will have a a chance to ride them. Will they change in production. I sure hope so. Will someone complain next fall that the pre-pro ran better than production? Ironically, I bet they will… Cheers cr

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Posted @ 10:26 am in Opinions and Insights,Sled Development,Tech Talk