Yamaha unveils Arctic Cat snowmobile partnership

New SR Viper line built by Arctic Cat in the ProCross chassis with Yamaha clutches, engines

While the rumor mill has long suggested an upcoming snowmobile partnership between Yamaha Motor Corp. and Arctic Cat, it was still a dramatic moment as Yamaha announced a new supply agreement with Arctic Cat at Yamaha’s first-ever joint dealer meeting between its U.S. and Canadian snowmobile dealer body in Minneapolis.

As part of the agreement announced last month, Yamaha will introduce five snowmobiles for model year 2014 built on Arctic Cat’s ProCross chassis in Thief River Falls, Minn. The models will be powered by Yamaha’s Genesis three-cylinder four-stroke engines and use Yamaha’s clutches. The new units receive their own unique colors, and will also revive the company’s previously used Viper moniker to create five individual models: the short-track SR Viper and SR Viper RTX SE, mid-length SR Viper LTX and SR Viper LTX SE, and the long-track crossover SR Viper XTX SE.

Yamaha introduced an Arctic Cat-built SRX 120 youth snowmobile last year, which was the first step in the cross-brand partnership.

“Combining the best parts of each other’s DNA, we build the best four-stroke engines in the snowmobile industry bar none, and they build arguably some of the [most] lightweight chassis in the market,” said Peter Smallman-Tew, vice president at Yamaha Motor Canada and its North American snowmobile lead. “Put the two things together and you have one heck of a snowmobile.”

The new supply agreement is part of a short- and long-term approach to get new-tech snowmobiles in Yamaha dealerships as soon as possible. Beyond the five 2014 models, company officials stressed that Yamaha is redoubling its efforts in the snowmobile market and that this agreement is part of a longer-term plan that will include multiple new four-stroke engines in the near future and a new snowmobile model every year for the next five model years.

(Photo by Wayne Davis)

To achieve its goals, new engine development is currently underway at YMC Japan, and the company has added staff to its research and development facility in Minocqua, Wis. Yamaha strongly emphasized that the new “mutually beneficial” agreement is not a merger with Arctic Cat now or in the future, and that this moment is a turning point as Yamaha recommits to the North American snowmobile market.

“This will enable us to be closer to our two largest markets and respond more rapidly to market demand, and to continue to produce products beyond our customers’ expectations,” said Yamaha president Toshi Kato. “This is just the beginning of how we are doing that.”

A snowmobile transfusion

Tim Kennedy (left) and Bob Starr from Yamaha brought appropriate attire to the State of Hockey for the North American snowmobile dealer meeting. (Photo by Wayne Davis)

Rather than replacing existing models, the five new Arctic Cat-based units will augment Yamaha’s existing snowmobile lineup, which will also include a new Phazer XTX crossover model for 2014. Yamaha calls Cat’s platform the SRV chassis, and while the sleds will have unique engines and clutching between brands, they will essentially be the same machines as Arctic Cat’s 2014 ZR and XF 7000 snowmobiles. Yamaha and Arctic Cat engineers are working together on final setup and suspension specs, which will be shared between the brands.
Addressing quality concerns for the new models, Smallman-Tew said that any models bearing the Yamaha name meet its in-house quality, dependability and reliability standards.

“Let’s just say that right up front: no matter where it’s built, what product, anywhere in the world, it meets our QDR (quality, durability, reliability) standards and that is the most essential part of Yamaha’s DNA,” he said.

U.S. product manager Rob Powers added that the company elected to use its own clutches to ensure durability and quality.

“Yamaha is second-to-none in the industry for performance and durability,” he said. “We’ve got 10 years of tuning four-strokes, so we know the ins and outs of the clutch weights and tuning, plus we have a new … belt for superior durability.”

On the same day as Yamaha’s Minneapolis dealer meeting, Arctic Cat — based less than 10 miles to the west in Plymouth, Minn. — released its own statement about the supply agreement with Yamaha.

More than 900 dealers from the U.S. and Canada ventured to Minneapolis to see the 2014 snowmobile lineup. (Photo by Wayne Davis)

In the release, Arctic Cat’s chairman and CEO Claude Jordan said, “Our current Arctic Cat snowmobile chassis is renowned for its light weight, bump control and precision handling. Combine that with our performance engine options from Yamaha, as well as our state-of-the-art engine manufacturing facility in St. Cloud, Minn., and we guarantee there will be exciting years ahead for Arctic Cat enthusiasts.”

Speaking about its own products, Cat’s snow division vice president and general manager Brad Darling said, “The engine purchasing agreement with Yamaha, combined with the engines we plan to manufacture in house will provide our consumers with the most well-rounded engine choices when it comes to technology, reliability and horsepower.”

Predicting future growth

In introducing the agreement and its new models, Smallman-Tew acknowledged that Yamaha dealers have recently weathered a challenging period in the snowmobile market, while predicting that things will be looking better from this point forward.

“It looks like we’ve passed the bottom and are starting to head up again — we’re predicting growth of about 7 percent next year,” he said. “The North American snowmobile team has a very serious message and we have a very serious mission … to reassure Yamaha as a force to be reckoned with in the snowmobile industry, and let me tell you we will fight with everything we have to take back our fair share of the market.”

In predicting upcoming growth, he added that the company sees pent-up demand in the North American market, where more than
2 million snowmobiles remain registered and active, while fewer than 100,000 snowmobiles were sold in the past year.

“We did about 91,000 snowmobiles in sales as an industry [and] that only represents about 4.5 percent,” Smallman-Tew said. “We’re not replacing enough snowmobiles for the demand that’s there.”

Yamaha executives (from left) Mike Martinez, Matt Takizawa, Toshi Kato, Peter Hastings, Peter Smallman-Tew and Frank Pittman had plenty to celebrate at the first meeting of Yamaha North American snowmobile dealers. X Games medalist Doug Henry joined the festivities in Minneapolis, where Yamaha unveiled its partnership with Arctic Cat. (Photo by Wayne Davis)

Senior executive officer Matt Takizawa also unveiled a new slogan for Yamaha’s powersports arm: “Revs Your Heart.” Those words will be used in the snowmobile, motorcycle, ATV and side-by-side segments.

Out of the box

The new Yamaha SR Viper models share similar styling cues with Arctic Cat’s ProCross models, with graphic and color changes, and a new seat, differentiating the two brands. SR Viper models will be available in Racing Blue and White, and Vivid Red and Black.

The SR Vipers will launch out of the gate with 84 Yamaha- and GYTR-branded accessories, with another 16 in the pipeline for dealers to increase performance and add comfort and personalization.

Frank Pittman, general manager of Yamaha’s customer support group, said that dealers’ aftersales practices will be identical to Yamaha’s existing snowmobile units, with the same warranty administration, parts ordering and service training.

“Our whole team is looking forward to working hand-in-hand with our Minocqua R&D and engineering teams on parts and accessories … for all the new sleds that are in the pipeline over the next several years,” he said.


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