By Mark Lester
As we emerge from the deepest economic slowdown this generation has seen, there’s an air of cautious optimism swirling around the sno-mo-biz.
Clearly, the snowmobile industry is emerging from the economic storm stronger than any other segment of the recreational powersports industry.
Along with this optimism there are some questions. Two years ago when the economy began to unravel, the industry was under intense pressure from increasing EPA emission standards being forcefully ushered in on a timetable that some OEMs felt was unrealistic.
At the same time, the sport had seen pressure from a couple of poor winters spread across the North American snowbelt. Interestingly, the past two seasons have produced mostly excellent winter weather in all corners of the snowmobiling world.
In the past two years we’ve seen new technology emerge that has diametrically altered the landscape. With clean, light and powerful 4-stroke technology gaining consumer acceptance and super clean, featherweight direct injection 2-strokes spreading in the market there’s reason to believe the EPA boogey-man era may have actually helped, not hindered, our industry.
How so? Clearly, the world is gaining environmental consciousness daily. While I still believe our sport was unfairly maligned by eco-freaks, it remains undeniable, 90s era smoky, inefficient 2-stroke mills were like an infected zit at a beauty pageant – not particularly welcome and hard to market to the masses.
Things have changed so much the past couple years I actually avoid riding behind older non-DI or non-4-stroke sleds so my clothes will remain smelling minty fresh. Clean snowmobile engines are good for us, good for the environment and good for promoting the snowmobile business.
What’s next? While current clean sled engines are having a powerful impact on the market, there are still some issues model year 2012 will present.
Here’s the deal. Ski-Doo meets and can exceed EPA 2012 emission standards right now with its mix of E-TEC 2-strokes and clean 4-stroke engines.
Certainly, Yamaha has nothing to worry about. Since the company has chosen to focus only on 4-strokes, it has been EPA-2012 compliant for some time now. However, there are some interesting twists in the road for both Polaris and Arctic Cat. Watch carefully for new and exciting engine breakthroughs from these two.
Polaris has been hard at work refining its proprietary semi-direct injection Clean Fire 2-stroke technology for about five years. However, SDI technology may not be good enough on its own to clear 2012. We‘ve heard Polaris is working at developing a direct injection 2-stroke that could potentially see limited production exposure in the next year.
Polaris has 2012 clean 4-stroke power right now with its Weber 750 motor in both turbo and normally aspirated versions. We wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another 4-stroke engine in the company’s future product plans as well. Keep in mind, as a result of the EPA’s hard-to-understand “credit” system, there will still be limited numbers of engines in 2012 that are not 2012 clean.
Sixty miles down the road in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, we suspect there’s even more ground breaking engine stuff going on. Arctic has put big stock in the Z-1 1100cc 4-stroke twin Suzuki builds for the company.
The engine has proven reliable, durable and most importantly, capable of producing huge power, evidenced by the Z-1 Turbo’s 175hp thrust. While this particular engine is carrying a lot of weight at Arctic Cat right now we think it’s safe to say the company needs another engine platform, most likely a clean 2-stroke, to meet 2012 and fill in the gaps in its product line.
Arctic Cat has been a champion of big performance and lightness for decades. While a clean 2-stroke makes sense to us, AC may be working with another DI technology different than Ski-Doo’s E-Tec and other proprietary technologies like Mercury Marine’s Orbital system, widely rumored to be on Polaris’ radar.
There’s little doubt, recession or not, time is waiting for no one and neither is the EPA. With the final level of allowable emissions (as of right now) looming for MY 2012, the next two years are going to be exceptionally interesting to observe and participate in.
Look for even more surprising innovation that will produce better power with improved mileage and, oh yeah… cleaner emissions.