In case you haven’t heard the word, Arctic Cat has a new snowmobile engine for 2014. The difference between this engine and previous Cat launches? This one is all Arctic Cat designed and manufactured – the first Cat-developed two-stroke snowmobile engine in the company’s long history.
The engine is a 599cc, liquid-cooled, semi-direct injected twin that features a lightweight design and many unique features. Foremost on that list is the Dual Stage Injection (DSI) system that injects fuel on top of the piston, and through a slot in the side of the piston.
To learn more about the process of developing this engine, Snow Goer traveled to Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to meet with Donn Eide, the engine test and design manager; Greg Spaulding, the ground leader in charge of two-stroke design and high-performance development; and Joel “Joey” Hallstrom, the snowmobile product manager.
To see the full story on this engine and its development, including technical details of the engine, pick up the October issue of Snow Goer magazine. Below is the text of most of our discussion with Eide, Spaulding and Hallstrom. The first couple of minutes of our discussion were lost due to a glitch with our recorder.
SNOW GOER: What were your targets when designing this particular powerplant?
DONN EIDE: Initially, we targeted the Tier 3 EPA emissions standards, which is 2012, and at same time [we targeted] improved fuel economy. We wanted to retain the cost and weight and simplicity of the current batteryless EFI system
SG: Obviously you also have to remain competitive in the 600 class vs. your competition. Was there a horsepower target or some other way of measure competitiveness?
EIDE: We started on the F6 600 engine, and saw improvements. Then we said, OK, now let’s try the system on the more hyper 600 SnoPro race engine – As you know, the Sno Pro race type engine is more high strung, and it gave the wall injector a good test. We said, “Let’s try the wall injector on that and see if we can make a good consumer package” and it did. So basically we were able to take the high performance race engine and make it clean running and fuel efficient at the same cost and weight as what it is currently.
JOEL HALLSTROM: So the 600D is the Suzuki 600 EFI – from the F6. And then there’s the Suzuki 600 race engine, which is still carbureted, but they adapted this system to that engine.
EIDE: That helped prove its benefit and potential. That was the spring of 2010, when we ran the first 600 Sno Pro engine with DSI.
SG: At the same time that this was all going on, obviously those of us outside of the Arctic Cat walls didn’t know what was happening in terms of your relationship with Suzuki and your future powerplant plans. When you guys started this project, did you know this system was going to end up on YOUR Arctic Cat exclusive engine, or was it something you were going to develop for whichever engine was available in the future?
EIDE: When we first started developing the fuel system, we did now know at that time that it would be on Arctic’s first engine. The first time it became known or looked like we would be applying it to an Arctic engine, was in about the spring of 2010, after it was tested on the Sno Pro race motor.
SG: So from that point forward, how different is the development of this entire engine and fuel system from what you guys had previously done, when developing ZRT engines or the F7 engine or whatever? To an outsider, we didn’t know how much of those engines was Arctic Cat vs. Suzuki. Was Suzuki just the manufacturer and Arctic Cat the developer, or isn’t it as simple as that?
GREG SPAULDING: You have to look at it two levels. You have design and you have development. The difference with our new Arctic Cat engines is that we do both of those 100 percent. In the past, we would work jointly with Suzuki on the design. So, for instance, Joey [Hallstrom] in marketing would say, “OK, we need X for a motor – this is what we need because this is what the customer wants.” So that would be the directive, and then we would start communicating with Suzuki to work up a plan to design an engine to meet those parameters.
So we’d work jointly, but Suzuki would do the design. Obviously, they have enough experience to design a motor with the strength and structure, and we were fortunate enough to get to work really closely with them. So then we’d get the design and they would prepare typically six sand-cast prototype engines, and they would ship them here. Then we would develop those engines – develop them in the sense that, is the cylinder port layout correct? The combustion chamber, the piston profile, all the exhaust development, the intake development, the mounting – that’s all part of the development, because it’s all part of a package. The difference now is, the design portion which we would do jointly with Suzuki, now we do 100 percent here. And then we develop that engine as we did in the past.
SG: You guys have always had very strong motors, but were there ever communications problems or any back-and-forth the Suzuki in Japan that you’re now able to avoid with your new arrangement? Any hurdles over the years?
EIDE: It got better over the years because you could email back and forth – before we were writing ideas on a piece of paper and faxing it. But overall, we had a really good relationship over the years with [Suzuki designers]. We became friends. Both groups developed great friendships that will last forever.
SPAULDING: And they would come here and stay for a month or two at a time. And Donn, I don’t know how many times he’s been over there over the years, and I know Joey certainly was.
SG: With this new El Tigre engine, obviously there’s a lot new here – certainly the injection system, but the reeds, the crank, the lighter weight and more. But you also maintained a lot here that Cat customers are used to seeing: the power valves, the laydown design, etc. Is that just a function of being a layout that you just knew worked or were comfortable with, or are there other reasons?
SPAULDING: With the laydown design, a lot of people have asked that, and the answer is, “Why wouldn’t we?” That thing, because of its laydown design, its shape, its crankcase, it’s inherently stiff and strong. We knew it was strong, so we didn’t want to deviate too much from that. Because of the laydown concept, we have had a very durable design – probably the most durable bottom end in the industry.
EIDE: That’s probably one of the bigger answers for when people ask why they should trust a first-year motor. Well, we took a proven design — probably the best design in the industry by far in terms of strength and durability, and we didn’t want to deviate too far from it
SPAUDLING: Even though we’ve had it for a number of years, it’s still a new design, relative to everything else. I mean, if you stand it straight up, that’s how snowmobile engines have been since the 1960s.
SG: Aside from that, it’s even the same bore and stroke. Again, did you end up there because that’s your comfort zone and it’s proven to work?
SPAULDING: Yeah, we’ve had experience with that, and therefore you know the durability of those components in that design, but also we felt that that’s a very good bore/stroke ratio for that displacement motor. That’s one of the beginning things when you lay out a motor – what are you going to operate it at, what’s the displacement, what’s it going to run at, what’s a good bore/stroke ratio? And that is a good ratio.
SG: Getting back to the fuel injection system for the two stroke, now with the three different manufacturers building them, you’ve got three different ways of doing it. BRP’s is pretty complex, Polaris has a different approach with its Cleanfire system. Speak to your unique advantage of your new system – what makes it unique and better, from your perspective?
EIDE: Cost and weight like we’ve talked about, and we have more control of when we’re injecting the fuel onto the piston vs. the Polaris. The Polaris is further upstream, getting in the crank case and boost port. They inject into the boost port, where we inject onto the dome of the piston. We have better control of the fuel spray and trapping; less escapage out the exhaust port.
HALLSTROM: And this slide addresses a lot of that [pointing at slide].
EIDE: The drivability of the engine that you rode in [West] Yellowstone is a product of where the injector is sitting and what it’s doing. And the easy starting. We inject the fuel right on the piston where it belongs, and a lot of other things – it makes the calibration much more simple compared to an EFI system where you’re priming the bottom end or priming the pump before it gets to the piston.
HALLSTROM: And the other thing, John, and I’ve had a chance to work with Eide for 30 years now this August, and Greg since 1994. You’re not going to find anybody in the industry that knows more about two strokes than these two guys right here. I don’t care who’s at Polaris or who’s at Ski-Doo or wherever. I mean, Donn’s two stroke background going way back to old Arctic Cat and the rebirth of this company in 1983 and how the engines have progressed. I mean, he’s had an opportunity to pretty much see it all. And the same with Greg. So when you get guys of this caliber and this talent and, really, this experience, who are still in the industry, and have got that knowledge. They can kind of weed through what works and what doesn’t and where they think it needs to go.
SG: So getting directly to the unique injection system and the slot in the piston, where does this idea come from?
EIDE: It’s not completely new – there’s prior art, I think Yamaha and Honda had it in the early 1990s as well as Bimoto motorcycle company in Italy, they had it, in terms of cylinder wall injection.
SG: So, it was on their dirt bikes?
EIDE: I don’t know if I ever saw it in production, but there were papers on it.
SPAULDING: But I don’t know if there’s ever been a combination of an injector into the cylinder with the purpose of the slot being for duration [of the entry of the fuel charge]. I mean, there’s been pistons with holes in them and whatnot forever, for a number of different reasons.
EIDE: People use a single round hole just to give it a shot to lubricate the piston pin bearing.
SPAULDING: Yeah, and Yamaha for years, they had an oblong hole, but not a slot. But the reason for that was they had a reed on the cylinder, and they’d have a port right above the intake port for the fuel to go out that hole and make a route through those passages.
EIDE: As far as what the slot does, it gives you that whole duration time when needed. It gives you good injector dynamics.
HALLSTROM: And that’s where, these guys have seen what works, what doesn’t work, who’s had what.
SPAULDING: That’s where the system gets the value that Donn has talked about, but you don’t need the heavy magneto or to generate the power to drive a pump for a higher capacity injector and all the heat and the complexity. You don’t need that to get to where you need to be, efficiency wise.
SG: Are there any physical parts on this engine that were either sourced from Suzuki, or that are sourced from the same sources that Suzuki used? Any true, 100 percent crossover parts?
SPAULDING: It’s totally different. I guess the only parts that Suzuki also used are a couple of recoil parts.
EIDE: Like with Kokusan, we’re using the same supplier, but the parts are a little different. We tooled and made them, but they come from the same supplier. Kokusan makes the batteryless ignition and EFI system.
SG: Joey [Hallstrom] talked about your tenure in the sport; to that point, when Phil Mickelson was writing our Tech Professor columns, he wrote about how much more control designers and developers have now through the ECU – there are sensors on so many different things that are feeding information to the
ECU, and there are programmable maps for all of those inputs. How has that changed your jobs?
SPAULDING: You know, you can vary the quantity of fuel, the ignition timing by so many different functions of the engine. For example, the exhaust temperature, to tailor that to how the engine operates is so critical on a two stroke. Baro [barometric pressure] sensors, water, air temp, throttle
position – I mean, everything. It just let’s you continue to become more powerful and more efficient but also more clean.
HALLSTROM: To put it in real layman’s terms, you talk to customers today and they ask you how do I change plugs, or where do I put the plugs. I mean, when’s the last time you’ve changed spark plugs in the field? I don’t want to say it’s impossible to foul a plug, but the possibility now is so much more remote.
SPAULDING: Obviously the injection technology, that radically changed on the new engines and all of the sensors that monitor the environment that you’re in. The exhaust temperature control is – on our packages anyway, because it’s our technology – we use exhaust gas temperature because the variation of exhaust gas temperature, in essence, means you’ve got multiple motors. If you have a pipe that’s 200 degrees Celsius inside, that motor package will act like this, but if that temperature operates at 400 degrees Celsius, it’s a whole different function in many respects. The timing required, the fuel required, the time the exhaust valve opens – all those things are different as [exhaust] temperature changes. So our pipe sensors not only controls ignition timing but we can tailor with pipe temperature to ignition timing, fuel, baro, acceleration, exhaust valve opening, and we can finesse that motor to be ideal in so many different parameters that we never previously had control of.
SG: You guys both started out working with spark and fuel and doing the best you can. Was it difficult to evolve with technology? Is that a constant challenge, to keep up? Was it almost like always going back to school to keep up with the evolving technology?
SPAULDING: It was almost the other way around. The improvements were often requested by us. We were saying, “Hey, we need to get control of this, this and this, and we need to get some software that will allow us to do it.” You’re preparing them for what you want.
SG: We talked about the injection system. When you first showed us this engine in St. Cloud, you talked a lot about the crank design and the reed design. Are there a couple of elements that you are really proud of or that you want our readers to be aware of?
EIDE: You mentioned the obvious ones. But there are other things. We now have a completely sealed center gear oil bath, but that’s not too exciting except to some of us. All of our engines in the past pretty much had the center gear being lubricated by a mechanical oil pump, where we had to simply inject some quantity of oil into the gear area and later when you shut the engine off the oil would accumulate in the bottom of the crankcase and when started later had to be used up by the motor, so you had a lot of smoke start up. Now this system is a sealed, controlled oil bath full of oil at all times and never consumed by the engine.
SG: Is that one of the things that allowed you to go lighter? You also got 10 pounds lighter with this engine through a number of means, including using finite element analysis (FEA) to make a lighter crankcase. Talk about that.
SPAULDING: Not that in itself. I think FEA and our experience of where we’ve been and what we know. You combine that with the guys that are in our groups that design these things with the FEA, that’s where we got lighter. The lighter weight was phenomenal. It’s 10 pounds lighter with the throttle body on it and the spark plugs and whatnot. We looked at every part pretty much, and designed it, and then we applied stresses and loads to that part based on either what we can measure and/or what we knew from experience. And then because we did have a real qualified FEA design engineer, we just started modeling these things. We applied loads to those components and, again, we either knew what the forces and loads were and then we could change the design and try to find the weak points, and change it again to improve those points, always watching the weight. We did that on as many features as we could.
SG: I assume that like designing many things on a snowmobile chassis nowadays: A computer will give you great information and direct you in certain ways, but you still have to build one and test it in the field, right?
SPAULDING: Yeah, and that’s just ongoing learning. Because, what was helpful because of our relationship with all those years Suzuki, and the things we did here, on the design and development end, we had a lot of good understanding of what forces and loads are applied to some of the components. Certainly we have to do a lot of measuring and we continue to, and that always improves. All of that helps and is required in making FEA models and making them more and more accurate.
SG: The 6000 El Tigré that we rode at Rode Reports, it was ran clean as hell. There were no burps or bobbles – it was just right there, all the time. That said, and I realize I’m sensitive ground here, at times it didn’t seem as fast reacting as some competitive designs. I met with one of your dealers last week, and he said he got to ridden one in late March that had a sixth generation of mapping on it, and he said it was just an animal. So, what has happened with the setup of that engine since we rode it in the last week of February? Bring us up to date.
HALLSTROM: You were really in the end of the third quarter of the football game. And then the other thing, doing the Rode Reports in West Yellowstone at 7,000 feet, I mean, everybody has got to understand that nobody’s stuff performs like it does here at 1,200 feet or wherever. So, you give a little bit up. We’re down 3 percent every 1,000 feet, right?
SPAULDING: We try to find ways to improve in spring testing. Just like we have forever. So there’s always going to be an improvement here or there.
HALLSTROM: We also changed the compound of the drive belt to coincide with the horsepower better. That’s just part of the development. That’s why it’s tricky to do Rode Reports at that time of the year. And you’re ever farther away if you try to do it with the Sneak Peek. I mean, between a late January ride and a February ride and a March ride, I know at our company, and I know the other guys too, there are a lot of changes. We can really only work from sometime in November until the end of April. That’s our window. But then within that window, there’s a very small window of really good, cold, consistent temperatures. Once we get into March, it can get hot and sticky.
SG: That’s really one of the unique challenges of our job is, so many of our readers, they want to read about what’s new. But what’s new is always the further off of its final calibration as compared to what’s already known. I’m sure Polaris, for instance, with the Cleanfire 600, they pretty much had their calibrations nailed at Rode Reports because they’ve had that engine for several seasons now. But our readers really want to read about the new motor — in this case, your new motor — because it’s new. So we’ve got to do the best we can, but certainly include some caveats.
EIDE: (laughing) Can you imagine if we told that to Roger [Skime] in February, that this thing is done [with its calibrations]? He’d find something in a heartbeat.
SPAULDING [laughing] Oh God yeah!
SG: So, the media will all describe the engine based on their experiences, but from your perspective, how would you describe the feel of this engine?
EIDE: Just in words, I’d put starts easier, light, responsive, good acceleration and consistent. And by consistent, I mean it does the same thing every time, probably considerably better than when you rode it.
SPAULDING: It’s funny how you can feel the weight of the motor.
EIDE: I’m sure you’ve driven snowmobiles, especially carbureted models, in that 4500 rpm trough where they’re out of tune what we call “popcorn” or “burbles,” you talked about how in Yellowstone you didn’t see that or feel that [in our 600], that was the true test. When it came from F6 engine to the Sno Pro 600 race engine. Of course, the 600 race sled has a lot of that popcorn at about 4500 rpm, it’s not really very drivable at that RPM, it’s a hyper race engine and doesn’t get driven there. So the big test was how would this fuel system work on it? And it tamed it out just like that [snaps fingers]. It got rid of that midrange popcorn and burbles. We said, “That’s going to be the true test, when we put it on and see if it will clean it up.” And it did. It gave us fuel economy, got rid of the burbles and made it EPA compliant
SG: I’m sure you all were very proud of the Suzuki engines that were in Arctic Cats, because you were such a big part of those. But this one is different – it’s all yours. Does that feel different?
EIDE: Oh yeah.
SG: How so?
EIDE: It’s the chance of a lifetime.
HALLSTROM: This is really their kids.
EIDE: That’s a good way to put it.
HALLSTROM: They were there from conception to birth and now they are graduating from school basically. Greg summed it up best. We were heavily involved with Suzuki obviously, but the engines were built over there and then they were shipped in here. They were built to these guys’ specs and
knowledge, but obviously this is, for everybody, entirely our engine.
SPAULDING: It’s kind of like watching your own kids grow up vs. the neighbor’s kids. The neighbor kids are really nice and everything, but it’s not even close to being the same.
HALLSTROM: And that was the intent of this year’s sneak peek at the St. Cloud facility. We’re obviously quite proud of that, our strategy of not only our ATV engines being built that but now these two-stroke snowmobile engines being there. Designed and developed here, built there, shipped up here and installed in the sleds here. It’s pretty special to us.
SG: Donn, tell me about the people in this picture that you see quite proud of.
EIDE [pointing]: Mike Konickson, he’s our coordinator controller.
HALLSTROM: A little thing about Mike, his dad was Wayne Konickson, who just passed away about a year ago. Wayne goes way back with Donn. He’s from the ‘68-69 Arctic Cat era, he raced with Donn, he raced many I-500s. It’s in their family. Wayne was in charge of field testing. So you’ve got a second-generation son here that works with these guys. I mean, Mike has seen Arctic Cat snowmobiles since he was a little guy (laughs). There’s a lot of that in this whole building.
EIDE: This here is John Ho, he is our FEA designer. We hired John three years ago. We looked a long time for an FEA engineer, and we found John and he’s very instrumental in the success of this engine. He’s a 7-day-a-week guy. He loves working on his computer on FEA.
SPAULDING: The guy won’t go home.
HALLSTROM: Yeah, you come down here on a Sunday to grab your computer or whatever, and more times than not that man is sitting there.
SG: Does he do FEA for everything at Arctic Cat, like the Wildcat and such?
SPAULDING: No, he’s our design group FEA engineer for engines. He’s from China, he was in Canada for many years. He worked for a university to teach FEA. He worked for Team Industries for awhile in Bagley as an FEA designer. He was down in the Detroit area doing consulting work for a university and their FEA program.
EIDE: [pointing at photo] This is Andy Olson, engineer.
SPAULDING: Andy does a lot of our data acquisition for strain and stress. Andy did a lot of engine inspection and teardown and a lot of driving, like a lot of us did.
HALLSTROM: He’s one of those people that we look for a lot now. His hometown is south of Park Rapids. He’s a Minnesota boy, went to school at NDSU in mechanical engineering. There are probably a lot of young guys and gals in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota who may be going to school for mechanical engineering, if they like snowmobiling…
EIDE: He loves to snowmobile!
HALLSTROM: Yeah, I mean you don’t have to go and design computers or washing machines or whatever (laughs).
EIDE: He’s real hands-on.
SPAULDING: Yeah, Andy actually worked here at Arctic Cat as a design engineer prior to joining our group. He was designing components.
EIDE: He’s very multi-talented, he can go to a CAD machine and design something up.
SPAULDING: But he can ride and tear down motors and get critical measurements and get a lot of stress and strain. Data gathering.
EIDE: This is Jeremy Mammen, a design engineer.
SPAULDING: He’s one of our two engine design group engineers. Jeremy usually works from the crankcase up, on those components. So Jeremy was the cylinder, pistons, piston pin bearing, cylinder head, he was the guy on those components, in terms of design.
EIDE: This is Dave Sabo, he is a calibration engineer. He worked on the DSI system early on and knows its function more than anybody. How the fuel is working, where it’s flowing, what it’s doing. You find a little glitch somewhere and he goes out and finds it and fixes it. He’s relentless at it, and takes a lot of pride in his projects.
HALLSTROM: He’s kind of a local homespun technician. He was a field test driver for a number of years back in the ‘80s. He just kind of worked his way into engineering through the shop, basically.
EIDE: He’s a hard worker that goes back to the old Arctic.
HALLSTROM: He just kept on working hard and had his head down and now, he gets on the computer and calibrates with these guys. He’s in the field a lot. You need that, that seat of the pants, you’ve got to drive it and feel it.
SPAULDING: And live it.
EIDE: This is Ira Johnson, he’s the other design engineer.
SG: So is he the bottom-end guy?
SPAULDING: Yeah, crank case, crank shaft.
EIDE: He does the bottom half and Jeremy does the top half.
SPAULDING: Ira was with the very first group of engine designers on the ATV project. He was probably the very first one.
EIDE: This is Kim Chervestad. Kim goes back into the 1970s… 1977? When we were off here from Arctic Cat in 81 to 83 , Kim and I worked for another company and he worked on the first EFI two-stroke, that was in 1982. When we [Arctic Cat] got back in business, Kim came back and spearheaded the first EFI system in the late 1980s that went to production in 1992. He is group leader for fuel systems. We worked very closely on this project and he was very responsible for getting the right injector flow and such for the engine. Dave reports to Kim on the fuel system.
SG: So you’ve got through them as individuals, tell me about the group dynamic. Do you all sit in the same area? Do you know each other’s families? What’s the relationship like?
EIDE: It’s a very tight group.
SPAULDING: Yeah. You know, I work with Mike and John and Jeremy and Ira, they are in our group, and Andy. You know, it’s so nice – there are no issues, with anything, with this bunch here. Everybody knows what we’ve got to get done, and they want to get it done. Mike, I don’t know if you mentioned anything about him, he’s our controller, and he kind of pulls the whole thing together in terms of design schedules and details and supplier relationships and what things have to get rolling. He’s on top of those things.
SG: In terms of working with suppliers, before for engines you had Suzuki. Now, all of a sudden, you have this work that has to get done and you have a bunch of suppliers and every single component has to come from somewhere. Does this fall on this group, or is there somebody in St. Cloud that does the sourcing?
SPAULDING: Once you choose [the suppliers] then it goes to the supply chain part of Arctic Cat. But we all did a lot of legwork on finding what suppliers we wanted.
HALLSTROM: As they developed this thing over the last couple of years, they all put on the jackets and gloves and helmets and rode these things. They didn’t just sit at a computer and desk and design these and then shove it over to somebody else and say, “There, now go ride and report back to me.” This crew here…
SPAULDING: We had our gang, and then we got the word that, OK, this is the motor we’re going to go with. And, boom, we started designing and soon we had a prototype motor – five or six of them – and everybody got to it, we got them on sleds. This group here, with four sleds, we put 30,000 miles on them in four months. Actually, not even that, more like three months. The engineering guys.
EIDE: I remember one spring day on Lake Of The Woods, when the lake was very smooth , I put on 450 miles – the most miles I ever put on in one day in my life, at 60 years old [wry smile]. With the sleds today, everything is so smooth and the engine ran flawless. That was two winters ago.
SPAULDING: We did the same thing this last winter too, but that first winter we ran our first motor, it was our gang that did it.
SG: You’ve been a part of the design of many, many successful motors in Arctic Cats. But were you more excited about the testing and launch of this new motor?
EIDE: Oh yeah, by far.
SPAULDING: I sure was. I’ve been excited for many motors that we’ve done over the years, but this one was special.
EIDE: This one was special – we sensed it from the whole team.
SPAULDING: When you thing about it and you look at that gang, it’s quite a fete.
SG: A lot of people over the years have made a big deal out of the fact that Bombardier, Yamaha and now even Polaris are massive corporations, while Arctic Cat is a bit smaller. Some have even played up an underdog mentality for Cat. Is that overblown, or do you feel that?
EIDE: I don’t see that at all.
HALLSTROM: And, at the end of the day, Ski-Doo and Polaris aren’t anywhere close to being as big as Yamaha (laughs).
EIDE: It makes us stronger if anything.
HALLSTROM: I think, when it comes to the snowmobile world, everybody is on more of a level playing field. You know, Yamaha is so ungodly big on all of their stuff. Polaris is very big with their side-by-sides and that. But their snowmobile business is really…
SPAULDING: It’s really the same sort of people doing the same thing.
HALLSTROM: We have about the same number of dealers, we all have about the same amount of product. Staffing-wise, we all are somewhat in the same neighborhood.
EIDE: If you look at the development or the engineering work that you do on a snowmobile, the guys up north [referring to Polaris in Roseau, Minnesota], they do it like we do it. They are up on the lake running, and we see each other go by.
SG: So, from your perspective, what then makes Arctic Cat different than the other guys?
SPAULDING: I think the experience that we’ve got and the people that we’ve got, and the guys that have been around a long time. You can’t compare Roger [Skime] to anybody, and Larry Coltom, he’s still around, he’s in our development group. Tubby Lund, Joey, Donn, Roger…
EIDE: The racing and performance heritage, and the passion, and the experience and quality of people that you’ve worked with forever.
SPAULDING: You know what was so different? When I came here, my first project was the triple FIII motor, and what became the production 600 triple. I had the motor developed and the exhaust and so forth, and then it went out in the field. And I’ll never forget – I don’t know if it was you, Donn, or somebody else who commented that Roger wondered why I wasn’t out there on that thing running it. That concept of having your hands on the whole works, on the whole package, is not what I had come from in my previous experience. That what’s been so different, beginning then and up until now, what’s so nice for me and everybody else here. You need to understand about the whole sled and not just the motor part. You’ve got to make the whole thing work, and that is a freedom you don’t have at other places.
SG: Are there any specific hurdles you came across when designing this particular engine?
EIDE: As far as the engine project, to me, and we talked about when we first started, we got the go-ahead at the end of August, and we knew that it was important that we get our working prototypes on the snow and tested before we lose the snow the following spring. So that was our prototype year, and we got a little bit of a late start and was a hurdle we had to overcome. We had to complete the designs, get the prototype parts, get them here, get the engines assembled, do some dyno work on them, and get durability testing done before we ran out of snow. That following April, we received our prototype engines and we got in the field right away. And, again, it was that time of year when we took this team [pointing at photography] and we all teamed up on the sleds and tested on Lake Of The Woods for about 2 weeks until the last ice cube went out. Then we went to Colorado with them for a couple of weeks, then came back here and regrouped, and then we went to Cooke City for a couple of more weeks. So we had basically three stages of approximately 2 weeks each on them…
SPAULDING: Yeah, and then Andy and I and a couple of guys went to Thompson [Manitoba] in between there.
EIDE: We knew the prototypes had to come through with flying colors, or else we’d miss a year. And they came through. I can’t say enough how the team stepped up and conducted all of that that spring, otherwise we would have been a year later with this. That was the spring of 2011. We were happy with what we saw.
SG: Before this stage, when you were putting the injection system on other, known engines, it sounds like it always worked, it was just a degree of how well it worked?
EIDE: We had to make sure you didn’t have a major problem where we blew a crankshaft or broke the cylinders or melted a piston or stuff like that. There are always little areas here and there that you find, but nothing that was a big setback. It was really the timing, where we wanted to have it ready in three [model] years. We were already pushing close to the fall, we had to get the design parts going and the proto parts going.
SPAULDING: Yeah, it was a challenge. If even a couple more weeks had gone by with no activity, we wouldn’t be talking about this motor this year, it would have been next year.
EIDE: The snow kind of runs our schedule; when you lose it in the spring. With an ATV, you can develop all year, but the snow, we only had until June to qualify our prototypes.
SG: That 600-700 class, to me, has always been a sweet spot for Arctic Cat – through the ’90s with the ZR 600s and then getting up to the F7, and certainly before and after those machines. To not have a consumer 600 the last couple of years, it just seemed anti-Arctic, because that’s such a good ditch motor, and you guys have always been great ditch sleds that are so fun to run. Was that gap in your lineup hard to accept, or are you guys so wrapped up in development of what’s coming next that it doesn’t play that much to you?
EIDE: We chose the 600 engine to develop, because the former 600 was getting old. With the 600 Sno Pro race engine being as powerful as it is and the DSI system proved to be a good match for it.
HALLSTROM: Yeah, obviously we sold a lot of 600s and 700s and things like that, but the 500s were also big to us. When Suzuki made a decision to no longer develop one [a 600] and we weren’t getting a new 600, yeah, we knew we had to stand on our own two feet. Absolutely. But it is what it is, you deal with what you’ve got to work with.
SG: We kind of addressed earlier, but I want to give you one more shot at it: So you’ve got the loudmouth who’s on all the message boards or wherever saying, “Yeah, it sounds great, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy a first year engine. Blah, blah, blah.” So pretend I’m that guy, and I’ve just hit you with that sentence at the Big East show in Syracuse. Convince me – in other words, tell me how you’d convince that guy – that you’ve done your work on this thing.
SPAULDING: Well I’d answer it by saying we were in-tune right from the very beginning with every engine that we’ve put in an Arctic Cat. We’ve taken everything we’ve learned, from all of those years, combined it with the technology we now have, to design our own engine. We put all of that into this engine. There isn’t anybody that can say that Arctic Cat engines are not very durable and aren’t very tough. That can’t be said, because it’s a fact that they are recognized as very powerful, durable motors.
HALLSTROM: Guys like that that go onto message boards and talk [smart] probably haven’t done their homework. That man there [pointing at Spaulding] did the ZRT 600 triple, the F7 Firecat engine, the powered-up Suzuki 800. You look at all of the engines that Greg has been a part of, and all of the engines here have fallen under Donn’s realm. If their track record doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what in the hell would. You get a lot of loud mouths, but I don’t know how much those guys ride. They like to get behind their computer and scream on a forum.
SPAULDING: You’re always going to have people like that on forums for any kind of product, because they just like that kind of drama. That’s their form of entertainment. I’m sure people will ask those questions.
EIDE: We picked the lay-down engine design, that was to us a no-brainer. We could have re-invented an engine and come out with whatever kind of engine. But we chose the lay-down engine because we knew its versatility and its durability. We talked about it, we were tempted to think out of the box and do something fancy, but uh-uh, no. We said, we’ve got to retain that same Suzuki type quality and durability and we were happy with and knew and understood the laydown engine concept and reputation. [The original laydown design] came out of a 640 watercraft engine back in 1996 or ’97. We had to use those motor parts because it had the intake and exhaust on the same side. Snowmobile engines at that time didn’t do that.
SPAULDING: And we welded up a 440 stand-up race motor and fabricated a 440 laydown that we could actually run on the dyno.
HALLSTROM: We had a lot of those at the 50th [anniversary celebration in Thief River Falls]. Andy and those guys had displays at the 50th celebration, which was really neat.
SG: So when you’re going through the development process with this group that you said is so tight-knit, is there ever a situation where this guy is saying you should try something and this guy over here is saying there is no way that will work, and then some other guy over here is saying something else will work. Is there going to be natural conflict and back-and-forth in a situation like yours?
SPAULDING: There hasn’t been any of that with our group. As an example, Donn and I have been in the field a lot, we understand the entire snowmobile. Maybe some of the other guys don’t, but they continue to learn and they’re listening. Yet, the guys like Ira and Jeremy who are degreed designer maybe have experiences that I haven’t come across yet, so I’m listening to them. It seems like it’s an equal give and take on all sides, at least in this group. I’m sure [conflicts] happen, because it has for me in the past at other times. Even at Arctic I’m sure it’s happened at other times, but not from this group.
HALLSTROM: We talked at St. Cloud about the differences between our system and E-TEC. You know, there’s so much hype about E-TEC. We’re a little bit different. We feel that, where the emissions levels are now, that we’re competitive and in some areas we have an advantage on E-TEC.
SPAULDING: Oh, I think in quite a few [areas]. For one thing, it’s not as complex, it’s not as heavy, it doesn’t generate as much heat.
HALLSTROM: When we go out into the field and ride, and look at fuel economy, between us and E-TEC it’s so darn close, it’s remarkable. For the end user, it gets the same mileage basically as an E-TEC or within a half mile per gallon. And most people aren’t going to see that difference because the gas you use varies so much by the way you ride. I mean, if all four of us went out on the same sleds, we’d all get a little bit different mileage. There’s no doubt.
SG: I realize you guys aren’t going to open up the books and show me what’s in development for the next three years – I get that. But in general, a big deal has been made about the fact that the Suzuki engines are going away and Arctic engines are coming on, and now you have the Yamaha partnership for the four strokes. So, you guys aren’t getting any less busy that the 600 it out, right? Things have to be pretty busy with the engine development group, I would presume?
HALLSTROM: Well, now we get to control our own destiny.
SG: So, has that made the work load for the engine group go way up as you guys go through this bubble of have to replace all of the Suzuki engines?
SPAULDING: Well, things have rolled along as it has in the past, and you can look into the future and see that we’ll have engines in two and four stroke.
EIDE: Had we had a lot of problems during the development cycle of this engine and tension between the team, that might have been different. But it wasn’t that way, it was the complete opposite. We didn’t have a lot of problems and the team was cohesive and anxious and had a lot of passion. We will follow it through very closely to St. Cloud this fall. All these members will.
HALLSTROM: If you go back 20 years or 15 years – the tide might have started to turn 10 years ago – but when the ZRT triple was built, there was some NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] work done, but not the magnitude that it is done now. Emissions? I mean, how many years ago Donn was it that emissions wasn’t even a category? Then the EPA became involved and stricter sound levels and all of this. Engines are a lot more complex now in their development. People keep saying, “Why do snowmobiles keep getting more expensive? Why can’t you make a $5,000 snowmobile?” Well, you just look at the engine alone – it’s not that old gas-guzzling two-stroke that needed a lot of spark plugs. They are very high tech, they are fuel efficient, and they are more consumer-friendly.
SPAULDING: Typically when you’re developing some part for a motor, you’re on the dyno and you’re developing this motor. And you do some test and change some parameter or whatever to test it for more power, and you test it, you’ll probably spend and equal amount of time to make sure that that change kept [the engine] clean than if you will seeing if it made more power. You can almost say you’ve doubled the development time in the development of a motor because of the desire to make it clean and efficient, which is what everyone wants, obviously, and relates to so many things. But it dramatically increases the development time.
SG: As opposed when you were developing the ZRT motor and it was about horsepower, horsepower and more horsepower, making it live, and oh yeah, can we have some more horsepower?
SPAULDING: Yeah, make it durable and make it have a lot of horsepower. The rest? Well, it’s OK if it’s a little loud, and if it smokes for the first 20 second on startup, that wasn’t so bad – things like that. But now it’s a different situation.
SG: Off-topic: What do you guys do when you’re not working or thinking about snowmobiles? What are your hobbies? What’s your relaxation time look like?
HALLSTROM: Then Greg works on vintage snowmobiles [laughs].
SPAULDING: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve got a little sideline where I’ve got a little reproduction business for vintage snowmobiles. They are all new parts, but they are exactly duplicates.
SG: How about you, Donn?
EIDE: Well… In the wintertime it’s nice to go in the machine shop and do stuff after hours. But, when the weekend comes, um, I have a lake home I retreat to, whether it’s winter or summer. In the summer I do some pontooning, in the wintertime I’ll go snowmobiling at the lake home or ice fishing.
SPAULDING: I also build a few vintage race motors – I really like that. That’s fun.
HALLSTROM: They don’t have to meet emissions [laughs].
SPAULDING: And they aren’t very quiet either.
EIDE: Joey, that sled you raced a couple of years ago [in vintage classes], your 440 liquid… That 440 was first put in production in ’78. As a 440 ZR 6000, the motor was 72 pounds, and 68 horsepower. Now we’re 67 pounds and over 120 horsepower. So basically the horsepower to weight ratio has almost doubled in those years.
SPAULDING: Yeah, and then when you think far back. There was that 760 JLO twin – almost 800cc. And what did that thing make 35, maybe 40 horse? And that thing was frigging huge. And now our current 800 weighs 73 pounds? I could almost guarantee that old 760 weighed double that. The new motor makes better than 150 horse.
EIDE: That’s why two-strokes are still the engine of choice for snowmobiles.
SG: Are you two personally involved with the four-strokes in Cat snowmobiles?
SPAULDING: I’m not.
EIDE: But it falls under my group, yeah. We’ve got a four-stroke group and a two-stroke group.
SPAULDING: At some point, now that the new 600 has gone through design and it’s in the sleds and you’ve got all of these other people that have worked on it too. If there was ever an opportunity to name them… You know, Jeff Tweet and Mike McCardell, and Steve Broten, Larry and Bart, Larry Coltom… those guys have spent a ton of time on there, too.
JOEY: Yeah, those guys, and dynos, in the shop, there is more yet behind those guys. Dyno operators and fabricators, Steve Broten builds pipes for Greg, Glen Kaufler, Ole Tweet’s son, Jeff, is a dyno operator. You have the expertise of Larry Coltom, which is totally invaluable and he works for Greg and actually does some clutching. But he also does more than that – he rides the sleds and works with Greg on calibrations of the fuel system along with the clutching.
SG: When the first sleds are rolling down the line, or before the bulk of the engines are shipped from St. Cloud, do you think there will be any group picture or celebration? Will there be a point where the engine group pops champagne bottles or goes out for beer or a dinner or something to celebrate this first Cat snowmobile engine creation? Is there going to be a commemorative celebration with your group, either formal or informal? Or is it really more about internal pride for the members of the group?
EIDE: I don’t know, it depends on how much Brad [Darling] wants to do.
SPAULDING: I mean, some of us, if we’re down in St. Cloud helping out, which we have been, we’ll probably go out for a beer.
EIDE: The St. Cloud facility is such a state of the art facility equipped with all the tools and great personnel to build this engine. We’ll be there and for sure will have a group picture.
HALLSTROM: I think that’s our nature and our culture. We’re not real grandiose when it comes to stuff. We’ve got to be prodded sometimes to do stuff like that. Maybe we should – you know, a lot of times we do get accused of not tooting our horn loud enough. The gang here, you know, we just kind of take it for granted. We just get ’er done. Some companies will probably do way more fanfare and celebration with what they’ve got. But, I don’t know, I guess that’s just part of our Scandinavia upbringing and background (laughs).
EIDE: Right now, on everyones’ mind, you can tell and sense the urgency to follow through and produce it. They’ve talked about it and we’ve talked about it – the success now is going to be based on producing them all perfect. That’s our goal.
SG: In terms of testing your new engine. Whether it’s in terms of hours or miles or dyno time – do you have a way to quantify what kind of testing it’s been through before it gets to production?
SPAULDING: Oh, I don’t know – we could probably try to come up with an accurate number, but I can tell you it’s over 200,000 miles in two and a half winters. That’s only in the field, that’s not counting any dyno or in-house durability testing.
EIDE: And, what, maybe 80 to 100 engines have been done? From protos to production units.
SPAULDING: And they’ve been tested by a whole bunch of different people and driving styles.