Get ’em while they are young. The behind the scenes story of how Arctic Cat and Yamaha joined forces to grow the market.
By Greg Marier
Every hardcore snowmobiler believes they know what it takes to go snowmobiling – you need the latest technology, the highest horsepower, the most travel and the gnarliest track design. Today, all the top-of-the-line sleds deliver these characteristics in spades, but most snowmobilers ‘graduated’ to these sleds after being introduced to the sport as a family activity when young. As snowmobilers, you’ve lived it and you know it – kids that grew up riding Sno Scoots, Jags, Indy Trails and Formulas built the memories that hooked them on this sport, and they continue to ride today.
Feel the Need
This history raises a possible concern for our sport. Snowmobiling is best enjoyed with family and friends so we will always need to entice new, younger riders to get involved in order to grow. However, considering the price, power and size of new sleds today and the difficulty in keeping older 1990’s used sleds running, what will the next generation of riders learn to ride on? That concern is exactly what is addressed with the 2018 Arctic Cat ZR200 and Yamaha Sno Scoot models. They are smaller trail-legal snowmobiles, SSCC certified and compliant with all current safety and emission regulations.
The ZR200 and Sno Scoot are fully featured lightweight snowmobiles made for smaller riders. Features include a variable v-belt drive, independent a-arm front suspension and a reliable Yamaha 4-stroke engine. They are trail legal, off-trail capable, SSCC certified and fully compliant with existing safety and emission regulations.
Join Together and Conquer
It takes a ton of time, money and manpower to develop any new snowmobile model – and it takes even more commitment to introduce a model specifically targeted to engage a new set of riders. Adding to this challenge, bringing in new, younger riders means that the retail price needs to be affordable in order to generate enough customer demand so production goals are met. That can be a tough equation to balance but fortunately Arctic Cat and Yamaha saw the opportunity to work together to fill these new market requirements. Both companies have a long history of targeting new, younger customers, with Arctic Cat successfully building the Kitty Kat and ZR120 for many years and Yamaha having introduced the Sno Scoot, Sno Sport and SRX120 for their younger customers. By working toward a common design that shares the development and tooling costs plus delivers greater demand by selling through both Yamaha and Arctic Cat dealers, the two companies felt this challenge could be successfully met.
Getting the Dream to Reality
Since every new concept needs a starting point, the Yamaha crew brought a concept sled from Minocqua to Thief River Falls to discuss the potential opportunity. The primary goal was to draw new riders into the sport with a sled that was smaller, fun to ride and more affordable. It had to be easy to use for beginners plus have the capacity to continue to challenge the rider as they get better. This model would also be a great way for the 120-riders to move up to as they grow. The interest was there but the prototype design (as presented) was just too expensive to tool up and produce. Arctic Cat felt the most cost-effective way to hit the target was to utilize as much of the ZR120/SRX120 tooling as possible and came back with an alternative design. After much back-and-forth discussion and determining the ‘must-have’ features needed to meet the primary goals while still meeting the tooling and production cost targets, the concept was firm enough to place into the product plan and move toward eventual production.
The List of ‘Must-Haves’
The main product goal was to give young kids and smaller riders an option to ride with ‘real’ snowmobilers on a lightweight, fun little snowmobile with modern features and solid reliability. The primary ‘Must-Have’ was that the model delivers both on- and off-trail performance. This means that the Design team must deliver enough power and comfort for true on-trail capability, meet all of the safety and emission requirements of full-size sleds, and use a v-belt drive system teamed up with enough traction and floatation to allow playing off-trail in deep snow. The next ‘Must-Have’ was delivering proper ergonomics that can fit a wide range of riders (it seems that kids come in all sizes these days) and still allow for both sit-down and stand-up riding styles. The third ‘Must-Have’ balances the financial concerns. The retail price must be low enough to attract new customers and grow the market, but the production costs needed to deliver the ‘Must-Have’ features must allow for enough company and dealer profit so the industry remains strong. The Design team also focused on delivering a family-focused, inviting and non-intimidating design (strong brand ID, easy to ride, lift, move, transport and store). With these goals in mind, the designers got busy and prototypes were built.
Time to Check Your Work
As a new product moves through the concept-to-prototype-to-production stages, there are checkpoints to judge the progress on meeting the project goals. Typically these areas are evaluated by experienced test riders but this project required younger, smaller riders that matched the targeted customer.
Where will these evaluation riders come from? Fortunately, excellent evaluators were living at the homes of Yamaha and Arctic Cat crew members. In particular, Arctic Cat’s Joel Hallstrom’s (Gabby & Jesse) and Yamaha’s Jim Vizanko’s (Brody, Kate, Joe, Drew) children fit the targeted riders age/size/experience requirements and they all helped evaluate the ergonomics and function throughout the development process. Now how cool is that – being able to help your dad by riding prototype sleds on groomed trails, off-trail areas, snocross tracks and out west and then giving your feedback to the engineers and designers so at the next test the product would be better. The Design team even brought in inexperienced young riders (and their mothers) to check out the ‘intimidation factor’ to confirm that everyone feels comfortable with the speed and handling of the snowmobile during a new-rider’s learning curve.
When asked how the young evaluation riders adapted to the new sled, Jim said “It was great working with all the riders and families. The beginners, or riders without much experience, felt most comfortable on the vehicle while seated. They enjoyed how the vehicle fit them, basically the height of the seat with respect to the running boards, and the steering position made the vehicle predictable and easy to control. The more advanced riders wanted to take the vehicle off trail and try to simulate more advanced riding technique’s, such as dangling through the forest or look for jumps to hit. It was amazing how quickly the more advanced riders could get off the sled and drag a foot on a sidehill. These evaluations allowed us to design the vehicle to cover a wide range of sizes, uses and abilities. Honestly, it was a blast seeing how all of the different kids quickly adapted to the sled and how everyone who threw a leg over it had a great time. These testing sessions were extremely valuable in convincing both Arctic and Yamaha members we had the right vehicle and it was the right time to deliver to market.”
Made of the Right Stuff
The final production specs show that the Design team used the right stuff. Key components include a Yamaha 4-stroke engine, 4.5” travel a-arm front suspension with plastic skis, 8.5” travel rear suspension wrapped with a 10” wide, 93” long Camso track, v-belt CVT with a roller driven clutch and a cog belt final drive reduction, Mikuni carburetor, Hayes hydraulic brake and electric start is available as an option – and at the suggested US retail price of $3,749 for the Arctic Cat ZR 200 and $3,799 for the Yamaha Sno Scoot.
Build It and They Will Come
Every new product introduction has high expectations, a certain level of uncertainty and a strong desire to launch a winner. Throughout the Press, dealer and consumer launch events it was clear that the ZR200/Sno Scoot model interest has been extremely high. The sleds deliver surprising function and a high fun factor – both on-trail and off-trail. Market reports say that early retail sales have exceeded expectations, with some dealers already sold out of these models. It has been a successful new product launch and we expect that these new Next-Level Youth models will capture the hearts of many young snowmobilers, create vivid memories of shared family winter fun and strengthen the future of our sport.
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