Here we are, model year 2007. This is the first year that 100% of each manufacturer’s U.S. build must meet the 30% “fleet average” for reductions in unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO).
For the past several years, the snowmobile manufacturers have been getting ready for this day. Each came to the table with their own set of cards, and ways of meeting the mandate.
So, how’d they do it?
Yamaha is a motorcycle company first, so it was logical for them to leverage this knowledge base and integrate what they were really good at into the snow division. It likely required the least amount of investment and was the easiest to implement, yet still no easy feat. For 2007 they’re 100% 4-stroke, using a mixture of street-bike derived engines to the new dirt-bike derived Phazer powerplant for 2007. This gives them a three-engine family, from 80 HP to 120 HP to 150 HP. All fully-compliant, so Yamaha never really worried about banking credits. No need. While the other sled makers see sales slide, Yamaha sales have been growing with their no-stink, thick-power, smooth and durable engines. Slowly, the weight issues of the 4-strokes are less and less of an issue.
Ski-Doo is now primarily a marine company, with Sea-Doo plus the technology from their acquisition of OMC (Johnson & Evinrude marine). They have pioneered the use of semi-direct and direct-injection 2-strokes with the greatest success, and this has been their primary approach and where their investment dollars have been aimed. Yet they have also continued to develop the less-expensive but full-compliant carbureted 2-stroke via electronic controls. The 800 PowerTEK engines (with carburetors) meet the regs all by themselves. No other carbed engine family (which now includes the 2007 Rotax 800R) can make this claim! And, they now have an ATV-derived 4-stroke aimed at the economy freaks, boasting the highest MPG in the biz.
In a way, Arctic Cat was the first and the last to the party. Say what? They had the first 4-stroke sled, the T-660. Then they had the first turbo, the T-660 Turbo. This was made possible by Suzuki, the Arctic Cat engine maker, as this engine existed in the Japanese auto market and was easy to leverage. This allowed them to build emissions “credits”, borrowing (non-mandated) cleanliness from the past to meet the current (mandated) requirements.
Past these 4-strokes, Arctic Cat has been slow to respond. They’ve built EFI 2-strokes forever, even had direct injection watercraft years ago, but “clean” 2-strokes for sleds? Tweaks to the 600 liquid and 570 fan engines improved their numbers, but were nowhere close to being fully compliant on their own.
For 2007 we get the mighty 1056cc EFI Jaguar, no turbo, a sled-specific 2-cylinder naturally aspirated 4-stroke engine smack-dab in the middle of the trail market with 120 HP. This is claimed to be the cleanest sled engine, period. Good thing, as the all-new 1000cc 2-stroke twin and 800cc 2-stroke (evolved from the Firecat seven) both use throttle-body fuel injection. Incrementally cleaner, but not fully-compliant on their own. Knowing they sold enough 4-strokes over the years to build “credits” could explain this situation. We just don’t think the current mix of 4-strokes and 2-strokes can make it alone without the help of banked credits. They can only use credits through 2009, which leads us to believe they might have chosen as Yamaha has, to put their long-term $$$ into the 4-stroke camp. We’ll see.
Then there is Polaris. For a very long time they sat atop the sledding world. Then came the EPA. They didn’t have the vast motorcycle arsenal as Yamaha, didn’t have the same success as Sea-Doo with the PWC direct injection (or have the marine link), and had been distancing themselves from Japanese engine supplier Fuji Heavy Industries. This EPA thing has (seemingly) hurt them more than the others.
But they did build motorcycles. They did have direct injection. They did build ATV engines. They did build a “rental sled” (push-rod Frontier) to meet the Yellowstone challenge. They did develop their own version of “clean and compliant” transfer port injection for 2-strokes – first on the big-block 755 and 900 engines, and now for 2007 on the small-block 600 and 700 engines. AND, they worked with Weber to develop a smaller and more compact 4-stroke, the 750cc twin. This engine is the FS and FST, fuel-injected and turbocharged, respectively. While the last couple of years have been rocky, Polaris is here, now, and ready to party. Instead of going one way or the other (2-stroke OR 4-stroke) like everyone else seemingly has, they’ve been spending the $$$ on both paths. This way, whichever prevails they should be “in”, but dual-development of two technologies has to be more expensive.
Now there is some breathing room. The current 30% reduction, averaged across the entire U.S. build, is in place through the 2009 model year with the next gun held to the head coming in 2010. Here we find even cleaner regulations. Unburned hydrocarbons (fleet average) must be reduced another 25% to 75 grams per kilowatt-hour, down from the current 100 grams. Why does this matter? 4-strokes pretty much meet this here and now, no extra $$$ needed. 2-strokes? Those that are compliant on their own are O.K. right now, but there isn’t much wiggle room for “dirty” 2-strokes to remain in the line with the averages. If they do, they can’t sell too many of them.
If there is any silver lining to be found, it is this; the 2012 “proposed” regulations are just that; proposed, and it now seems as if they never will come to pass due to lawsuits filed by radical greenies that backfired on them. The current and looming (2010) targets are a substantial burden on the entire industry, from the manufacturers and the required investment to develop (and integrate) the new technology to the end consumers who ultimately pay for it. The snowmobile industry can not be targeted as being “dirty” or being “careless”. Just think, it all started with green groups complaining about sleds being too dirty for Yellowstone. Even now, with sleds that are cleaner than many automobiles that enter the park (at will) in the summer, where are we now with Yellowstone access? As an industry we rose to the challenge and did our part; but that wasn’t the “real” issue in the first place.
Typically, manufacturers respond to market demands – build what sells – a “market driven” product offering. In this case, it was a “governmental mandate driven” product direction. Regardless, the cleaner engines deliver much improved fuel economy, a boon with rising fuel prices. No longer can fuel be used as a “coolant”. Running quality and consistency is also improved, as is (in most cases) durability. And, we have some very different technology to choose from. Ten years ago the snowmobiles were more similar across brands than they are today. And despite what mandated goals must be met, it remains the consumer and the market that will ultimately decide which path, or paths will prevail.