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One bold move on three wheels – February 12, 2007

February 21, 2007
Filed under Features

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Late last year BRP revealed it was building an on-road product that would stray from the norm. No other details were provided, leaving the industry to wonder what the market share leader in the PWC and snowmobile markets would create.
The anticipation transformed into a veritable guessing game when BRP sent invitations for the on-road product’s unveiling. The invitation came sealed in a silver folder that contained a key ring bearing a logo with three marks on it, two of which were positioned slightly forward and angled to the side of a third.
The cryptic logo turned out to be a veritable blueprint for the Canadian manufacturer’s on-road creation: a vehicle bearing three wheels, two in front and one in the back, and a decidedly unique design.
The three-wheeler, dubbed Spyder, not only presents a vastly unique look and a new industry segment — BRP calls it a roadster — but represents a gutsy move into the industry’s largest arena.
Gutsy because there is no history of retail sales success for such a vehicle.
Gutsy to believe a vehicle that doesn’t have the sheer turning ability of a sport bike and costs potentially more could generate enough consumer appeal to make it a retail success.
Spyder’s entry into the marketplace, coming this model year, took, as BRP CEO Jose Boisjoli said in a video presentation about the new product, a company that “had the guts to make it happen.”
“At the end of the day, there is no study that can tell you how many can sell,” Boisjoli said in an interview with Powersports Business at an event attended by a select few media members held a month before the public unveiling, scheduled for Feb. 9 in San Diego. “It’s a guts feeling.
“I’ve been riding Spyder for five years. I’ve seen the evolution from the first generation of prototype to the second to the third to the fourth and now the last generation. I believe the product is right on.”
Boisjoli has more than his gut feeling to tell him that. Spyder has been shown and discussed with 4,000 people around the globe in customer surveys and riding clinics held in the United States and Europe.
“For sure there is a risk,” Boisjoli said of BRP entering the on-road segment with something other than a conventional street bike. “But I don’t think it is a bigger risk than when we launched the watercraft in 1989.”
At that time, BRP said 95 percent of the industry’s PWC sales were stand-up models. BRP’s Sea-Doo opted to focus on sit-down models, and the decision paid off immensely. Five years after Sea-Doo’s launch, 90 percent of the industry’s PWC sales were sit-down models, according to BRP.
The company has been involved with another dynamic sales shift when it introduced its REV platform in its Ski-Doo line. The nontraditional snowmobile platform resulted in a 12-percent boost in market share in just three years, company officials said.
BRP now believes Spyder can create another paradigm, something Boisjoli likens to what Chrysler did when the company took a chance on a type of vehicle that was not considered mainstream: the minivan.
“We’ve done a lot of analysis” on product development and marketing strategies, Boisjoli said. “At the end, it’s a guts decision. And that’s our company. That’s our DNA.”
Spyder will have more than its uniqueness and three-wheel makeup to entice consumers. The roadster carries a number of technological aspects that aim to make riding easier and safer, including a four-computer system that communicates with each other through CANbus, a vehicle network that is used throughout the auto industry.
The network “speaks” constantly with these four onboard computers:
n the vehicle stability system, which controls the vehicle’s anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control. Sensors measure a series of functions 25 times every second to provide needed feedback to the vehicle stability system. So if sensors pick up the wheels beginning to lock up, the vehicle stability system will activate the anti-lock braking system. Or, if the vehicle starts going sideways, the system will direct a specific wheel to cause the sideways movement to stop.
n power steering: BRP calls this “dynamic” power steering because the system constantly measures torque effort and how much steering is required at different speeds and different turn rates;
n an engine management system that controls the electronic fuel injection; and
n a digitally encoded security system, often referred to as an electronic key.
Besides the CANbus, the Spyder has another technology feature that has ties to the auto industry: its reverse gear.
On both of its transmission models, the reverse gear is transmission-based, rather than via the electrical starting motor that some larger touring motorcycles use.
“We’re not a motorcycle. We’re not a car,” said Mihai Rasidescu, BRP’s vice president of product engineering and R&D. “We’re somewhere in between.”
The transmission choices reflect that. The standard Spyder is equipped with the SM5, a sequential manual five-speed that is standard in many motorcycles. The optional transmission, which adds $1,500 to the price tag, is a clutch-less system that doesn’t have a foot gear selector, but uses two buttons on the left handle of the vehicle to change gears, including reverse.
“We feel Spyder is the next dimension on the open road and obviously there will be additional models to add to this base model,” Boisjoli said.
BRP will role out Spyder in three phases, with 150 dealers primarily in the central and western parts of the United States getting the first shipment. Manufacturing, which will occur at the company’s facility in Valcourt, Quebec, is scheduled to begin in the fall.
“If demand is there, we might take two years” to get Spyder available to dealers throughout the United States, Boisjoli said. “If we have some hurdles, it might take three years.”
Within two to four years, Spyder also will be available in select overseas markets, starting with western Europe.
“We’ve been working on this so long,” Boisjoli said of the project’s birthing time, which includes five years of product development and three years of marketing research. “And now that we’re delivering the baby, we’re very happy.”

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