Snowmobile.com sat down with Francois Tremblay, director of marketing for Ski-Doo, a division of Bombardier Recreational Products, to pick his brain on the venerable snowmobile brand—where product development is headed, how the company is responding to market demands, and what we can expect in 2009 and beyond.
Snowmobile.com: Earlier this year BRP announced its 2008 Ski-Doo line-up, calling it the most dramatic redesign in the brand’s history. How has the market—dealers and riders themselves—responded to the change?
Tremblay: Everybody is quite enthusiastic behind the new platform. We had a lot of consumer orders in the spring, and dealers are now anxiously awaiting their sleds. From what we’ve seen from our demo ride programs with consumers and dealers, everybody agrees that these changes will seriously increase the riding performance of these sleds.
Snowmobile.com: The common element to the redesign is the Rev-XP platform, which is an evolution of a previous platform, introduced in 2003. How has the rest of the market (OEMs) responded in these last four years?
Tremblay: The Rev-XP is more than an evolution of the Rev platform—it’s all new. What has evolved is the principles or DNA that the Rev was originally built on. We now have rider forward positioning with better knee, hip and ankle relationships, with more space to find the spot that fits each rider. The aerodynamics and aggressive styling improves for better protection and less drag. The mass centralization started on the Rev continues to get more refined with the Rev-XP—but the biggest change in terms of mass or weight is the overall reduction which averages 50 lbs per machine—this is absolutely huge and changes the game for everyone involved in building snowmobiles. Now acceleration, fuel mileage, handling and every other dynamic of the machine improves strictly on the weight reduction—no new engine technology, no new transmission parts, just smart design and engineering.
The other manufacturers obviously saw the success of the Rev rider positioning along with mass centralization and began applying those concepts to their products—but now they have another new challenge. The rest of the market will play catch up one more time.
Snowmobile.com: What is the next step for Ski-Doo with this new chassis? Where is this technology going?
Tremblay: We don’t comment on future product for obvious reasons, but rest assured Ski-Doo snowmobiles will not sit still. We’ll continue to develop new and exciting machines for our customers to enjoy winter on, and always try to anticipate trends and consumer needs in advance.
Snowmobile.com: What is driving this development—speed, economy, handling, value, a combination of all?
Tremblay: Consumer desires, most of all. We’re always looking at what’s next. So providing better vehicle handling and comfort was clearly one of our goals.
Snowmobile.com: What have been some of the drawbacks or challenges of the Rev-XP?
Tremblay: The weight challenge issued at the launch of development was huge—our own team had doubts about being able to meet the objective and once the project was underway they began to see results but didn’t know for sure how low we could go. In addition, the packaging is very tight on the Rev-XP, so fitting all the pieces together required some out of the box thinking. The end result was very satisfying experience for the team.
Snowmobile.com: What might we expect to see in 2009 from Ski-Doo, in terms of the general direction your product development is going?
Tremblay: Always pushing the envelope—that’s what you’ll see. Talk to me in late February—you’ll see then that it will be another exciting year for Ski-Doo.
Snowmobile.com: Your former parent company, Bombardier, for years has excelled in the aerospace and other markets, often through similar initiatives to save weight and increase strength. How much of the development at Ski-Doo is a spillover benefit from this larger corporate activity?
Tremblay: Our former relationship with the company that produces aerospace equipment taught us to look everywhere for new materials and structural technologies, and showed what they were currently working on which could be applied to recreational products. Relationships were formed with suppliers that helped to further our development.
Snowmobile.com: The snowmobile market has had its challenges over the last several years, with slow sales causing some OEMs to alter or curtail product lines. Where do you see this going over the next three to five years, and how does Ski-Doo plan to respond to these developments?
Tremblay: The challenges of emissions have been met and will continue to be. The cost to meet that challenge has now become the concern and we expect that issue to fade as the new technologies become more mainstream. The issue with weather is the biggest unknown. Are we in a 10-year cycle? A 25-year cycle? A 1,000 year cycle? Every year there seems to be some part of North America that gets blasted with snow, while another has a drought, and when you look at what we know about weather as a group of educated people, it’s virtually nothing. We’ve got only a very small piece of reliable recorded weather history to work with so predicting weather patterns is tough. But we know if there’s snow, the business gets very strong very fast.
Snowmobile.com: What are the biggest impediments to growth in snowmobiling?
Tremblay: Ease of entry to the sport—where to ride, special cold weather conditions and equipment, and cost. It’s not the cheapest sport, but also not the most expensive.
Snowmobile.com: Where, either in terms of geography or machine class, do you see opportunities for growth?
Tremblay: Growth could come from Europe and Russia, or any other cold weather market not currently using our products. Bringing new entrants into the sport will clearly be a growth opportunity for the industry. That’s what we are trying to do with the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and the ‘Go Snowmobiling’ campaign. There are millions of people who are interested in spending time outdoors, but haven’t been introduced to our great sport. We need to put these people on the trail.
Snowmobile.com: Being as honest as you can, what developments do you see your competitors introducing to the market that you admire?
Tremblay: They will be forced to answer the challenge of lighter weight, so we could see more materials or construction development in chassis and engines. But the possibilities are truly endless, as we all push each other to produce better machines.
And On a Personal Note…
My most favorite machine of all time is: The 2004 Rev MXZs.
If I wasn’t involved in snowmobiling, I would: Be working for a car or recreational products company.
My ideal riding partner would be: Female, great looking and able to ride at a fast pace.
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