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BRP adapts with small, flexible factory

By Liz Hochstedler

Facility will produce electric Commanders, special-order vehicles in Québec

BRP isn’t short on manufacturing facilities. The Valcourt, Québec-based company has factories in its home country, the United States, Mexico and Europe that build its wide variety of powersports and marine vehicles. But BRP had a conundrum, as all of those factories are too large to adapt to change and produce smaller-order products.

That predicament met a feasible solution in late March when BRP opened a new, smaller plant in Sherbrooke, Québec. The facility, which created 20 new jobs, is designed to be flexible, molding to the needs of smaller orders, including those of the new electric Can-Am Commander.

“We have facilities in Europe and in North America, Canada and the United States to build high volume vehicles, but in all our manufacturing systems, our design system is geared up for what I call high volume,” BRP president and CEO José Boisjoli told Powersports Business. “There are more and more requests from customers to do tailored vehicles, vehicles that are customized to a certain need, and for the last few years we’ve been saying, ‘No, no, no.’ But there have been more requests lately, so we decided to create this specialized vehicle group to address the needs of the customer.”

The specialized vehicles will be manufactured at the requests of governments, municipalities, institutions, agencies and individual customers. In the new facility, each vehicle will be designed to meet the requirements of the client. The first project, for example, is a combustion-engine Commander for a client in the Middle East who needs special features to run the vehicles on-road.

The other project already in the works at the Sherbrooke facility is the all-electric Can-Am Commander. One has already been built for the Centre de technologies avancées-BRP at the University of Sherbrooke, as the center helped develop the vehicle. (See sidebar: BRP pushes innovation with local college)

Consumer-ready electric Commanders will be available at select dealers in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, Virginia and Ontario, Québec and Alberta beginning July 1.

Producing an all-electric, zero-emissions vehicle has come to fruition for BRP in part because of this new facility and due to reaction and research following the unveiling of a concept electric Commander at Club BRP in Valcourt last summer. BRP also conducted dealer focus groups in the U.S. and Canada to gauge customer interest and receive input on features.

BRP president and CEO José Boisjoli talks about the electric Commander and hybrid Spyder at Club BRP in Valcourt, Québec, last summer.

“There is a lot of interest for electric vehicles, and we are confident. Obviously we’ve done our homework, and we believe there is definitely a need in the market in North America and outside of North America for electric vehicles,” Boisjoli said.

The electric technology for the Commander wasn’t difficult to produce, as most of it transferred from the R&D used in BRP’s production of a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover for the Canadian Space Agency.

“When we did those programs for the Canadian Space Agency, we were fortunate to work on electric technology and very lightweight motors, and for us, it was a good thing to learn from those products, and everything we learned on those programs has been implemented into our electric side-by-side,” Boisjoli said.

The electric Commander features four battery options and three speeds, including the lowest speed that conserves the most energy. The side-by-side will reach 40 km/h (about 25 mph) and will travel 40-160 km (25-100 miles) per charge. Though the final assembly will be completed in Sherbrooke, the bodies will still be produced at BRP’s factory in Mexico.

“The vehicles come, I would say, 50 percent assembled from Mexico, and in our small factory, we finish the assembly with the special parts requested by the customer,” he said.

BRP’s battery technology is ever-evolving as BRP and the Centre de technologies avancées-BRP continue R&D.

“I have to admit that the electric technologies are moving very fast,” Boisjoli said. “There is a lot of drive. I think myself that the most progress we’ve had in the last few years is the battery pack and developing the battery.”

BRP already has orders for the electric Commanders. The vehicles will be produced as dealers and customers order them. They will be marketed and distributed in the same way the Spyder was in 2007, with certain dealers being recruited to help push the products first.

If demand grows quickly and the small Sherbrooke facility can no longer keep up with electric Commander production, BRP will consider moving the model to a main production line. However, the Sherbrooke factory is currently large enough to assemble the electric Commanders, while remaining fluid enough to fulfill special orders as well.

“For us, it’s a first step in the right direction to have a small group that’s more flexible,” Boisjoli explained.


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