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March 13, 2008

Lean And Clean

Ski-Doo aims to keep No. 1 spot


So, when you’re No. 1, what do you do to not lose that coveted—and lucrative—spot?

Simple.

Don’t screw it up.

After seeing what No. 1 Ski-Doo has going for 2009, we’re thinking it has no intention of losing any ground to the other snowmobile manufactures and indeed has ratcheted things up a notch.

And the Canadian company is keeping the heat on the competition with the release of a couple of new engines.

Two engines. That’s it?

Yea, but it’s what those two engines represent, especially in the mountain segment, which gets us all excited.

We detailed the Rotax 1200 4-TEC four-stroke elsewhere in this issue so we’ll focus on the 600 H.O. E-TEC here because that’s going to be one of the engine options this year in the Summit X (with 154-inch track only) and Summit Everest (with 146-inch track only) packages.

Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency started developing emissions regulations for snowmobiles, it’s always been a question in the back of our mind as to what might happen to our beloved two strokes, admittedly not as clean as four-stroke (but not as dirty as some pundits might have you believe). Fortunately there’s such a thing as fleet averages, which basically means you can have some clean engines and some not so clean engines as long as the average of all those engines meet a certain criteria.

Well, the E-TEC and the technology behind it may make that law of averages obsolete, at least for Ski-Doo.

Lean And Clean

Ski-Doo’s new marketing theme should be “Lean and Clean.”

What makes this new engine all the more appealing and exciting for western riders is something we heard at the Ski-Doo sneak peek in January in Canada.

“We feel strongly that lightweight, clean two-strokes with their serious weight advantage are here to stay, especially in the performance segment,” François Tremblay, director of marketing, Ski-Doo snowmobiles, said.

Here at SnoWest we consider the mountain segment to be part of the performance segment.

That’s why what Tremblay is saying is music to our ears.

It was Tremblay who also pointed out the focus of developing the E-TEC was crystal clear. He said the E-TEC, which replaces the 600 SDI, is for the rider who wants a lightweight sled with great power.

So what’s so special and cool about the new E-TEC?

How about:

·        The EPA is already familiar with this engine (we think that’s a plus on the good side). Ski-Doo and Rotax first developed the E-TEC’s direct injection two-stroke technology in Evinrude outboard engines. Yea, the same Evinrude that is owned by Bombardier Recreational Products, the parent company of Ski-Doo. That technology won the Clean Air Technology Excellence Award from the EPA.

·        Ski-Doo raves about the E-TEC’s fuel economy, which hits 21 mpg and uses 15 percent less fuel than the SDI. And, Ski-Doo claims, a whole heap less fuel than some other manufacturer’s 600s. We’re anxious to see what that means in the mountains. It’s one thing to be able to go an extra 50 or more miles on a trail, but will we now be able to bust powder a little longer?

·        You’d expect this from a four-stroke, but Ski-Doo claims with the E-TEC engine, most owners will have to add oil just once per season (if you average about 1,200 miles of riding during that season). That’s about half the oil consumption of an SDI. Rotax was able to accomplish that feat due to the precision of the system’s electronic oil pump and computer mapping.

·        Ski-Doo has done some homework on this claim and states that the 600 H.O. E-TEC is the “cleanest two-stroke snowmobile engine by a wide margin.” There are a lot of reasons (read: tons of technology) for the lower emissions but a primary reason has to be because the fuel is injected directly into the cylinder under extremely high pressures. We can quote you the numbers from the EPA (see the chart) but the ultimate proof is how your riding gear smells after a day of riding. As we mentioned in the accompanying Ski-Doo article, there was no nasty two-stroke after smell on our riding gear after dialing up some miles on the machine.

·        Okay, sometimes technology comes with a price—and we’re talking about a weight penalty here. There is some added weight with the top injectors, about a pound or two on each side. But, because E-TEC is batteryless, unlike the SDI system it replaces, you save the weight of the battery and it’s almost a wash. And then you figure Ski-Doo is putting the Summit 600 in the Rev XP chassis this year, we can live with a pound or two. Check this out. The 2008 Summit 600 SDI with a 144-inch track weighes 479 lbs. The 2009 Summit 600 H.O. E-TEC with a 154 tips the scales at 435 lbs. The spring only Summit 6’s number is even more impressive—422 lbs. You can attribute that serious lost poundage to the switch from the Rev to the Rev XP. With the spring only package a portion of the additional weight loss comes from the shock package (Kayaba HPG take apart aluminums front and back on the spring only). It’s pretty tough to argue with those numbers. Yea, so while the engine is a touch heavier (but cleaner), moving to the Rev XP chassis makes the sled end up lighter overall.

·        Platinum tipped spark plugs, which, come with a 6,600 mile/3 year warranty. One of Ski-Doo’s engineers practically dared anyone to foul one of these plugs. Sounds like it’s just about impossible. One reason for this is the plugs use one long spark instead of several shorter sparks, which greatly reduces the opportunity for the plugs to foul.

There are a truck load of features on the E-TEC engine, far more than we can cover in the few pages we have here. But there are a couple we want to touch on.

First is the fuel system. There is a fuel pump in the fuel tank that brings fuel to the injectors. Some of that fuel isn’t being burned but is used to cool down the system, specifically the ECM, and then is recycled back to the fuel tank.

The injectors are positioned adjacent to the spark plug in the cylinder head. Injecting fuel into the combustion chamber as the piston is compressing requires high pressure, which is delivered by the E-TEC electronic injectors at about 500 psi. That pressure helps atomize the fuel.

Then there’s this whole Stratified and Homogeneous technology. The Stratified mode is when the engine is first started up and running at idle. Idle is about 1200 rpm. Ski-Doo and Evinrude engineers explained that in this Stratified mode, a tight cone of fuel is injected into the cylinder, using a third less fuel than at higher rpm and it’s injected right before the spark. The fuel combusts before it gets a chance to disperse. All that means is during that mode this 600 uses the fuel of a 200cc engine at idle. It’s also at idle that the machine sounds like four-stroke—very quiet.

3500 rpm

It’s at about 3500 rpm that the Homogeneous mode kicks in. Here that tight cone of fuel is injected into the cylinder where it mixes with air for a split second before being combusted by the spark. Hence the name Homogeneous or mixed.

While the E-TEC is cool, it’s not the only thing going on in the Summit lineup. One change worth noting is that, across the lineup, all Summits will now come with the PowderMax tracks. Last year, consumers had a choice between the Challenger and the PowderMax but most chose the PowderMax so Ski-Doo made it standard equipment on the Summits.

A sidenote to that note. Ski-Doo is offering a new value sled option in the 600 class, the Summit Everest with Ski-Doo’s 500SS engine. The track on this machine is 15 (not the 16 we’ve become accustomed to with Ski-Doo) by 146 by 2 inches deep and uses the PowderMax design. This Summit Everest, we think, is meant to compete with the likes of Polaris’ RMK Shift, which are also value-driven. We were told that this 600 is priced more like a 500, although retail prices weren’t available as of press time.

Ski-Doo officials made no effort to hide the fact they want a bigger piece of the 600cc class pie and with the 600 H.O. E-TEC and the 500SS, that could happen.

The 500SS is the 600cc engine that was available before Ski-Doo released the 600 H.O. and is the same engine you’ll find in some MX Z and GTX models. AT 105 hp, it’s a few notches below the 600 H.O. E-TEC in the ponies department but it will come in the Rev XP chassis, another bonus for Ski-Doo in the 600cc battle.

The 800R returns pretty much the same as in 2008 and you can get that engine in the spring-only X package or in season in the Everest.

With what Ski-Doo is unleashing for 2009 will it be able to hold on to the No. 1 spot?

We wouldn’t bet against it.



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