By: Mark Lester
What is sizzle and what is steak when it comes to fuel efficiency? If you’re an avid snowmobiler you know and understand the effect EPA emission mandates have had on sleds the past five years. In advance of the 2009 model year, the OEMs have cleaned up exhaust emissions of many models they produce.
There’s been a degree of flexibility allowed by the EPA as a result of complicated and rather obtuse “corporate averaging and credit” systems for emission compliance. The net effect is this: The sled-builders have done an outstanding job of complying and in many cases exceeding EPA emission mandates.
There’s a bizarre twist to this story. The EPA hit the sno-mo-biz hard with emission targets many felt not commensurate with the short use cycle (season length) and number of sleds in service (when compared to outboards, ATVs and other power products). Considering the reality snowmobiles operate for about 12 weeks in a skewed geographical region, the targets seemed overly strict. The pry bar the enviro-lobby used on the EPA was US National Parks.
West Yellowstone Park, extremely popular with snowmobilers but also home to the largest rental fleet of sleds in the world, was the green movement’s grossly misrepresented example of how terrible snowmobile emissions are. Meanwhile, the good old 6 o’clock news media, consumed with ratings and influence above all else, helped fuel the issue.
I know this sounds cynical. Please understand, although I am not in favor of pollution of any kind, I am in favor of applying effort to causes capable of netting tangible results and, especially, keeping the big picture in focus.
To view snowmobile emissions as a significant contributor to the big air pollution picture, one would need a neutron microscope, figuratively speaking, to get even a tiny glimpse of our impact globally. My late associate CJ Ramstad put his inimitable spin on this topic by reporting snowmobile emissions could be calculated as less than .001 percent globally. Know this: Snowmobile emissions are not the big picture.
This is where the story gets interesting. We’ve observed that most snowmobilers are not obsessed with exhaust emissions. Truthfully, the issues the OEMs have wrestled with have little impact on sled sales or are criteria for what you consider a great sled – a sled you would buy.
What we’ve seen is this: You are buying snowmobiles based on their ability to deliver substantial improvements in fuel economy. The models delivering improvements in fuel economy, without exception, are sleds meeting or exceeding EPA requirements.
If the goal is to clean up the exhaust pipe, engineers have to control combustion and make it lean, whether 2 or 4-stroke. When combustion is leaned out, an engine inescapably uses less fuel in proportion to the volume of air being inducted. Less fuel means more mileage.
We’re staring down both barrels at model year 2009 and for the first time when the discussion moves to miles per gallon, I can honestly say it’s all about steak, not sizzle. The leading technology this year is the Ski-Doo E-Tec Direct Injection system.
The mpg numbers we generated last winter with two TNT 600 E-Tecs were unbelievable. We believe this engine can deliver 25 mpg. Here’s the caveat: Sleds don’t operate on a fixed medium like pavement; not even dirt.
Snow surfaces are radically varying and thus mpg is a moving target. However, it’s very clear sleds generating the highest mpg numbers on a given day will continue to be the best on any combination of days. Straight up, this year the E-Tec is easily the most fuel efficient snowmobile engine available. Steak, not sizzle.
4-strokes? Here’s an interesting twist: Currently Yamaha rules the 4-stroke category, both in sales and mpg numbers. We were unable to collect much data on Ski-Doo’s new 4-Tec 1200 engine last spring, however, there were promising indications this mill is good on fuel.
We believe 4-strokes can get even better mpg in the future if they employ the XP and Nytro lightness template. With Yamaha putting pressure the past four model years on the other OEM’s to build more fuel efficient sleds and the market responding with more 4-strokes, we’re more than a little intrigued by the results Ski-Doo has achieved using 2-stroke Direct Injection. In MY 2009, if mpg is paramount, it looks like the answer is a 2-stroke. Is that strange, or what?
Looking pragmatically at what has happened to the modern snowmobile as a result of the EPA’s fiddling with our sport, we have to wonder if buyers haven’t benefitted in a way we never thought possible at the turn of the century.
There’s little doubt Ski-Doo is setting the bar for a number of important buyer criteria these days. Light appears to be right and the XP is undeniable verification of this reality.