<B>Expanding the 4-Stroke Family</b>
Even though snowmobile sales have declined the past several years, Yamaha has been able to increase their sales and gain market share. The way they have it figured, their growth will continue. Here’s the logic; there are 1.6 million registered sleds in the US. Only about 60,000 of them are Yamaha 4-strokes.
Back in 2003, only 40% of snowmobilers said they would consider buying a 4-stroke. Fast forward to 2007, and now 77% of snowmobilers say they will consider buying a 4-stroke. Yamaha calculates this out to 1.2 million prospective customers! And yes, these riders have indicated that they will buy new again.
Combine this with the fact that, as an industry average, only 20% of buyers are “brand switchers”. But when it comes to Yamaha, over 40% of their buyers come from other brands. Yamaha’s sales and market share has more than doubled in the last three years!
Coming into 2008, Yamaha had targeted the rough trail rider as their next conquest. They had strong (industry leading) sales in the “power trail rider” class and the “trail cruiser” class, but they were at the bottom when it came to the rough trail rider. Thus, for 2008 they introduced the FX Nytro in an effort to get some of these riders onto team blue.
During this time, Yamaha has been racing their 4-strokes, helping them develop their rough trail product, but also identifying with the rough trail riders. These riders believe racing is important to prove the value of technology, more so than the average snowmobiler.
So here we are, 2009. Yamaha wants to continue their growth with their 4-strokes, but most especially with the rough trail riders. To that end, they are committed to show customers that their sleds meet their core needs and deliver a unique advantage that the competition can’t (or hasn’t) delivered.
Core needs? That’s a term from market research as to what snowmobilers want and expect from their sleds; performance, handling and ride comfort. Think of them as the three main food groups of most every snowmobiler. Without any one of them, you tend to starve.
Add to this the “Yamaha Advantage” of gas-and-go riding. As a fleet, Yamaha claims the best fuel economy, the best reliability, the best resale value, the lowest EPA ratings, and the lowest cost of operation. Yamaha thinks of these benefits as a feature with no specifications, or “better by design”. Like we said, gas-and-go riding.
That’s the theory behind how Yamaha aims to get more of you to buy one of their 4-strokes. For 2009, they are expanding upon their desire to better penetrate the rough trail riders with an expansion of their FX Nytro models.
Derived from their race program, the FX Nytro models are designed more for the rough terrain than they are the more trail-friendly Apex and Vector models. On the FX Nytro models, you are in more of an “attack” riding position, more vertical and less seated. The entire sled is designed around this riding position, prone to better take on the rough terrain.
So to expand their rough trail appeal of the FX Nytro, Yamaha wanted to improve the ride comfort, handling, rough trail stability and off-trail capability. If this wasn’t enough, they also wanted to increase the top speed and acceleration of the FX Nytro. Seems like a tall order, right?
We really expected Yamaha to take the easy way out and simply make a 136” Nytro and be done with it. Silly us. Instead, they took it to the next level and made their do-all FX Nytro XTX an even longer-tracked sled with a 144” track length! They wanted a 4-stroke crossover sled that was a true hybrid between rough trail and mountain.
The end result is a sled that corners like a 121” Nytro, with tipped-up rails that make it act shorter on hardpack, yet the full length is in contact when the snow gets deeper. Short track cornering, with mid-length bump bridging, and long track flotation. Did you catch that? It corners like a 121”, takes bumps like a 136” and floats like a 144”.
This is a fully-coupled rear suspension with a more pronounced six-degree tip up to the rails, making it more effective. Combined with a new tunnel, it flat out looks better, corners better, rides better, and yes, gives us a sled that works well in a far wider range of conditions.
One of the biggest differences is found in an all-new front suspension geometry. This new arrangement has much less bump steer, less caster angle and more trail, aimed at making the sled more stable and less responsive to the steering input. “Slower” steering would be an accurate description. 2008 FX Nytro models are known for their “twitchy” handling, great for short-tracked race courses but not the best for high-speed trail riding.
We put the XTX through the paces and found it to be a delight to ride, better all-around in all but the tightest conditions compared to our 2008 FX Nytro. The front end changes were amazing, better matched to the way we ride and the way this sled will be used in the field.
Yamaha also integrated this new front suspension design into their FX Nytro and Nytro RTX models, along with additional changes that best matched the 121” versions. Let’s just say that those who wanted more of a trail sled and less of a race sled out of their Nytro will be pleased with the changes in manners. It corners flatter, doesn’t shake its head at you as much when you get out of the throttle, and gives you added confidence of what the sled is going to do.
Yamaha has done a great job at segmenting their models. At the top we have the four-cylinder Apex models with their 150 HP fuelie under the hood. Next comes the three-cylinder FX Nytro models with 130 HP and a more aggressive stand-up riding position. Then we go back to an Apex (Deltabox II) chassis with the RS Vector models, better suited for sit-down trail riding than the FX Nytro options. And for those who want a smller and lighter four-stroke are the Phazer models, powered by the fuel-injected 500cc twin.
Once you grasp the engine sizes and power differences, then we can move onto the suspensions and sled capabilities. You will find base models as the “value” options in each engine size. Above this we have “GT” versions, better suited with features aimed at Groomed Trail (GT) applications. Then we have “RTX” versions, which are the rough trail calibrations that better resist bottoming but admittedly are not as compliant for the sit-down trail rider. These are all 121” track length options.
Next comes the “LTX” versions, which means a 136” longer track for added bump filtering and off-trail capability. The FX Nytro XTX shakes this up some, with its 144” track length, so it’s not an “LTX”. And then we have the “MTX” designation reserved for the deep lug, longer tracked mountain sleds. Combine the model name (engine size) with the suspension/feature/track length designation and you can pretty much figure out what each and every one of their models is designed to do, and how powerful it will be. 2009 also brings us the FX Nytro RTX SE, a tricked-out sled with premium suspension components, only offered in the spring
The odd ducks here are the Venture models. They come in various engine sizes, from the 80 HP Phazer engine in the Venture Lite to the new Apex-inspired RS Venture GT, fitted with a touring-tuned 120 FI engine, based on the engine from the FX Nytro. The power of this version is linear and smooth, not the stick of dynamite the FX Nytro has under the hood. We rode this sled with this engine and it is an ultimate four-stroke cruiser.
For 2009, Yamaha has a full compliment of four-strokes to satisfy most anyone and everyone. From the proven Apex and Vector to the lightweight Phazer and the race-inspired FX Nytro, and now a flagship fuel injected RS Venture. Buy any of them in the spring and get an extra three years of warranty, for a total of four years. No deductable, transferable, covers the whole sled. No wonder Yamaha keeps growing and growing.