Dreams of Future Sleds part II: Polaris and Yamaha

Last week I made a blog post about the snowmobiles I hope/think Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo will/should build. Today I switch gears and dream about future snowmobiles from Polaris and Yamaha.

1995 440 XCR: I'd like to ride the 2013 version of this sled.

Polaris needs a boy racer. I cut my snowmobiling teeth on 440 XCRs, running the woods, ditches and rivers in Minnesota. Those were good times blazing around with my buddies who also rode 440-powered cross-country sleds, including ones from Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat. Polaris did a great job building those quick, well-handling Indys, and I know it could build them again, if only the company brass would throw just a hint of caution to the wind and let the engineers build a 100-horse engine and strap it in a conventional-but-smaller chassis with a full tunnel, A-arms, rebuildable shocks and 116-inch track (for less weight, reduced size and bumping the cool factor by being different). Polaris is printing its own money these days with off-road vehicle sales going through the roof while other dirt-vehicle companies have hung an “Out To Lunch” sign on their doors, waiting for the economy to turn around. I never took a business course in college, so I don’t claim to be an expert on how to run a corporation, but why can’t the Polaris snowmobile group use cash from the ATV side of the business and spend it on a new XCR? Polaris has done this in the past, investing its own capital to develop Victory Motorcycles, which is a profitable, respected brand. Investing money into a new XCR would be a loss leader now, but it could help it re-connect with young snowmobilers who might stick with the brand for years to come.

Styling elements from YZF sport bikes will hopefully be incorporated into the new Yamaha Apex.

It’s time for a new Apex. Wow, was I impressed when I rode our Apex demo sled on a long trip this winter. Everything about that sled was S-M-O-O-T-H, smooth. The impression starts with the powerful Genesis four-stroke engine and that quality carries through the steering, seat and exhaust note. With the new electric power steering, navigating this big sled through the tight and twisty trails is easy. Yamaha should capitalize on this “smooth” attribute that make its sleds some of the best for long-distance travel and build a new platform with an upright rider position, less weight (or a re-distribution of weight) and modern styling. The current Apex platform is reminiscent of a pre-rider forward sled that puts the feet in front of the driver rather than underneath him or her. A taller riding position on the Apex II will lead to more comfort through better posture that puts the knees at a 90-degree angle. Yamaha sleds are in the ballpark for weight — really, they are — but fact is there’s a lot of mass concentrated in front of the driver. Yamaha engineers did a nice job moving weight to the rear of the machine via its rear-exit exhaust system they developed for the RX-1 and subsequent four-stroke models, but more work is needed. The appearance of stuff that dudes like — lawnmowers, TVs, women — helps create a connection and it appeals to our emotions. The better “it” looks, the more of a connection we feel and the more we want it. The Apex platform is dated; model year 2012 represents its seventh year between the pages of Yamaha sled brochures. Designers could take some cues from its motorcycle department and incorporate projector-type headlight bulbs like its YZF sport bikes. Apex side panels are bulbous and body parts are busy. Styling of the new Apex should be cleaner and slimmer. Make the Apex II look modern and cool and cash registers in Yamaha snowmobile showrooms will be ringing again.

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