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Tech Talk - Straight from Yamaha

Yamaha snowmobile developer interview

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Our approach to product creation

"Protecting the natural environment and creating snowmobiles that bring people fun and fire up the spirit." These are the words that Takuji Nakano always has in mind. Working continuously to realize these goals over the years, Nakano and the other Yamaha people around him have created what we call "The Yamaha Advantage" today. It represents a high standard of excellence and carries an unspoken message from Yamaha.

Development Spirit

At the end of the day, what is most important is the customer. That attitude of putting the customer first is essential to all we do in creating "The Yamaha Advantage"


Back in the years of on-site testing that nurtured the Yamaha development spirit, part of the test riders' survival kit wherever they went, often in remote areas, was the multi-tool, chocolate bars and lighters. The photo shows the vintage knife that Nakano carried in those years


Tape measures, rulers and slide gauges are some of the tools Yamaha engineers always carry with them. Nakano says they are symbols of the curiosity and the ability to think in terms of meters and 10ths of millimeters that an engineer should always have

After joining Yamaha Motor, the first assignment I requested was in test riding. That was because I believed it was an important job that required taking the customer's perspective by knowing how they used the product and what that resulted in. When I started out in that job I did a lot of traveling to gather information and to test our machines. We tested in super-cold conditions in the untouched wilderness of Alaska at -30 degrees C. The reason we went to test in places like that is because there are customers there. Another reason is that as developers we needed to know what could happen in harsh conditions like that.
We experienced a lot of interesting things in those projects. In machine development there can be a tendency to let spec numbers guide the development, but at Yamaha, experiences in the field have given us a strong awareness of how important it is the listen to and value the voices of the end-users in our development projects.
The voices of the customers are not the only thing we place importance on, however. Take our 4-stroke engine models for example. The 4-stroke engine offers lower running cost and is easier on the environment. Many makers tend to focus on features that will have an immediate and obvious advantage that the customer will recognize, such as lightness and power output. We develop the engine parts for those effects too, but we also spend considerable efforts developing added reliability and durability into our parts. These may be efforts that the customer is not immediately aware of, but we know from our long years of development experience the importance of developing 4-stroke engine features to ensure that the engines will last and provide the customers with many years of performance. The reliability of Yamaha 4-strokes is the fruit of that experience and the engineering know-how to build it into our engines.
Today, our information gathering process has become much more efficient and our test facilities more complete, so we don't need to go out into the market to do our testing as much as we did in the past. Nonetheless, our basic approach is still one of tailoring the machines to the real needs of the customers' lifestyles and use environment, rather than building them just to satisfy our own aims. I hope everyone will realize; this is the approach that has created the Yamaha Advantage we have today and will continue to have going forward.

Changing the development approach

There are a many different methods we can use for building performance into a machine. Each of them is a part of "The Yamaha Advantage." And innovation is always a part of it


In 2006, Yamaha became the first manufacturer ever to win the All Japan Snowmobile Championship title with a 4-stroke machine. The following year, 2007, a Yamaha machine became the first 4-stroke in the history of the sport to win a race in the pinnacle WPSA series. In 2008, a Yamaha 4-stroke won the World Championship Snowmobile Derby at Eagle River, Wisconsin. Technologies nurtured in these race efforts were then fed back to our production models to bring about dramatic advances in machine potential

We place importance on tailoring our products to the customers' lifestyles, but at the same time we know that the customers want to see quantitative advances in lightness and power output as well. That is why we also work to give the customers the specs they want in these areas. However, from our long years of experience as developers, we have realized that there are many ways to perceive performance and many methods for building it into a machine. That is why over the past ten years we have been actively looking for innovative ways to develop performance besides raising the spec numbers.
This is an idea I have had since the days I was working as a test rider, but it was experiences in racing that made me take the leap and begin to apply it in our development projects. We became involved in the race scene here in Japan in 2005. Our main motivation at first was to be able to compete against the 2-stroke models of the other makers, so we tried to make our machines as light and powerful as we could. In short, it was an all-out pursuit of high spec numbers. But, we soon realized that increasing the performance specs was also increasing the load on the riders and the stress on the machine. That resulted in breakdowns and poor race results. Part of it was the result of our lack of race experience, but we clearly learned that you can't win races on machine specs alone. At the same time we learned the importance of reducing the load on the rider and building a machine that could provide a high level of performance at any time and keep that performance coming on and on, kilometer after kilometer.
This experience also had a big effect on our production machine development. From our race experience we knew that if a machine was too hard to handle it would tire out the rider and hinder his performance in the long run. We also knew that even the highest performance specs meant nothing if it led to machine breakdown. Those realizations led us to the idea that we should try to build machines that reduced rider fatigue and let them ride faster and with greater efficiency for longer distances. That would not only get them to their goal faster but also make the riding experience more fun and rewarding.
Once we had this new direction, we began asking ourselves what we could do to reduce the rider fatigue involved in steering and handling the machine and what kind of chassis structure could bring out more of the rider's inherent physical and athletic abilities. Then we went about finding solutions. One specific example of what we did was to analyze the muscle fatigue involved in the thumb operating the throttle lever and set the lever spring tension based on the results of those findings. Another thing we did was to develop a better lever shape. In the development, the person in charge worked with clay models to shape a lever that was easier for our riders to use. We also worked on the ergonomics of the riding position with the aim of giving the rider more freedom in handling the machine and thus improve performance through a higher level of rider-machine unity.
We also worked aggressively to make our machines even more dependable. Actually, it isn't very difficult to improve a machine's reliability, if you are willing to ignore performance. However, we have been working to improve reliability without sacrificing performance. Our ideal is to build tough machines that can continue to deliver a high level of performance over a longer time in harsh use environments. These efforts have led to the development of our hybrid frames and pneumatic suspensions in the chassis and the adoption of things like forged aluminum pistons and plated cylinders in the engines. With these features and technologies we have succeeded in creating a total package that maintains high performance while reducing weight and increasing power output. In short, we have created reliability that still enables us to pursue performance and an exciting riding experience for the rider.
Another tool we have is what is called "over-lapping" technology. This is a method of improving performance by means of the functions of several components working together. With regard to the engine, one example is changing the size and pattern of the snowmobile's track in order to bring out the full potential of the engine more efficiently. Over the past ten years we have employed this kind of over-lapping in a number of forms in order to increase performance.
In these ways, we have worked to improve overall performance by approaching it as a mix of human and machine elements and then achieving effects that are the equivalent to increased lightness and power. You could say that this is the true essence of "The Yamaha Advantage."

Toward the Future

Thanks to the Yamaha Advantage we have built up over the last ten years, I believe that we are now ready to pursue purely lightweight, high-output performance


Yamaha's new EPS (electric power steering) system is one of the important technologies that will open up new potential in next-generation snowmobiles, says Nakano. First introduced on the Apex (2011 model), it is now featured on the Vector and Venture series models as well


Nakano is never without his pad of "notes for the future." He writes down whatever impresses him, no matter what the topic. You never know what future snowmobile innovations may emerge from the ideas in this notebook

Today, Yamaha 4-strokes are being compared to the other makers' 2-strokes, but that isn't how it was in the beginning. We started developing our 4-stroke models with a considerable disadvantage in the added mass of a 4-stroke engine compared to a 2-stroke. That is why we worked hard over the last ten years to develop performance that could compete with the 2-stokes. We strove to make advances that only a 4-stroke could achieve. No, I should say advances that only Yamaha could achieve. The result was a series of innovations that gave birth to new value, in the products and in technological advances.
One of these areas of technological advances has been electronic control systems. The EPS (electric power steering) we have developed is one of the systems where these advances are put to use in the most dynamic way. EPS can make the steering lighter and reduce the effect of the various forces from the snow surface to make the overall handling more comfortable. We have also been able to use this system in combination with the skis and suspension to heighten cornering performance and make big advances toward ideal handling that allows the rider to manipulate the machine at will.
I believe that over the next ten years, diversifying electronic control technology will be one of the central pillars of machine development. But, I also believe that in order to achieve further advances and innovation in the areas of performance Yamaha has long been pursuing, we will have to work at the same time to achieve higher levels of integration between the control technology and the machine's analog technology. There are also some new challenges I have in mind. They are the challenges that will be possible because of the achievements of the past ten years and will return us once again to the original aims of snowmobile development: reducing weight and boosting power.
Furthermore, as long as we are able to realize ideal performance as it exists in the minds of the customers, I believe there is also the possibility of new approaches that are completely different from the course that snowmobile development has taken until now. The result of pursuing such approaches may even lead to the birth of a snowmobile that is not in the form of the two-ski, one-track layout of today's snowmobiles.
As I talk now about visions of the future, it is with a full awareness of how difficult it actually is to take a new ideal and turn it into a product. And, it is even more difficult to have the products we create truly excite and move the soul of the customer. On the other hand, the great joy of coming up with innovations that overcome difficult obstacles and the deep satisfaction of having those innovations fully satisfy our customers are unforgettable experiences for those of us who are involved in product creation.
I believe that the most difficult thing for a snowmobile is running on deep fresh powder. But, running in that kind of snow is also the greatest joy of snowmobiling. When you look at it in that way, Yamaha's snowmobile development mission may be thought of as the mission of conquering deep fresh snow. I intend to continue struggling with, and enjoying, that challenge. And at the end of the day, I want to be able to give the customers snowmobiles that protect the natural environment, bring them fun and fire up the spirit.


Profile: Takuji Nakano

Senior Manager of MC Business Operations, Recreational Vehicle Business Unit, Engineering Division
Entered Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. 1983. Nakano has specialized exclusively in snowmobile projects for 28 years. For eleven years he tested snowmobiles and he has served as a development Project Leader since 1998. His first product as a Project Leader was the original RX-1, Yamaha's first 4-stroke snowmobile. In recent years he has been Project Leader for Apex and RSVector series models.

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