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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.