Calling it a move that’s been “in the making for years,” the maker of Ski-Doo, Sea-Doo and Can-Am says it will invest $300 million to electrify its product lines using in-house technology, with the first models ready for the market in 2023
One of the world’s largest makers of power sport vehicles is going full throttle toward an electric future with a pledge to offer eight different, electrified models for each of its equipment lines. In addition to offering electric options to customers, Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP), is also opening an Electric Vehicle Development Centre in Valcourt, Que. — the location of its corporate headquarters southeast of Montreal — to focus on the “energy side” of its battery development.
The initiative carries a $300-million price tag and is expected to yield over 160 new jobs (110 in Quebec) as BRP makes bullish moves to expand its team of EV experts in Canada, Austria, Finland and the U.S., where a sister branch of the electrification team will be concentrating on other elements of BRP’s electric motors. BRP is developing all of their electric technology in-house.
“It’s been in the making for years. We always said it was not a matter of ‘if’ electrification would happen, but ‘when’ and the when is starting now,” says Bernard Guy, BRP’s senior vice-president of global product strategy in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “We are very excited to unveil more of our plans because we’re definitely making some public moves.”
By 2026 BRP will offer one electric model of all their power sport lines for a total of eight distinct vehicles in Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft, Can-Am on-and off-road vehicles, Alumacraft, Manitou, Quintrex boats and Rotax marine propulsion systems and engines products.
Pivoting a legacy company
It’s no small feat for any company to transition to electric, but with a 50-year history firmly rooted in combustion vehicles and $6 billion in annual revenue, the pressure on the outcome of such a critical business decision is huge.
BRP is not only pivoting its fleet, but it is expanding and growing an entirely new branch of the business with its moves into battery module development and research. Adds Guy: “It’s quite an endeavour. It requires us to transform as an organization — hiring engineers in different fields of expertise, growing our own expertise over the last five or six years. We are looking for a lot of talent to go through this transformation.”
The critical first step was identifying the right battery technology for BRP’s unique lines of products. Just deciding whether to buy off the shelf or build in-house took years of research to determine.
“It’s not like planning a basic automotive skateboard platform. We are talking about electrifying models of snowmobiles, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, side-by-side vehicles, three-wheel on-road vehicles, fishing vehicles, pontoon boats and carts,” says Guy.
“We realized we couldn’t find the performance and the cost at a size appropriate for all our architectures on the market. So, we rolled up our sleeves and basically started from the ground up in trying to come up with a modular architecture that will allow us to electrify all these product lines without making a specific unit for each one of them, which would be completely cost prohibitive.”
What’s driving BRP?
“We’ve been in power sports for more than 50 years and we are a very innovative company. We do that by staying in very close touch with our customers,” says Guy. And the feedback from BRP’s customers and prospectives was clear: there is an appetite for electric power sport vehicles, but in the right application.
“[The models] all have their very interesting challenges. The biggest challenge is actually to target the right segment more than the technology,” explains Guy. “It’s important to find the right segment that would be interested in this technology and electrification. Not necessarily all usages of our products are ready or even possible to be electrified.”
Guy points to electrification still being a future goal for off-roaders who require their vehicles to last in the bush for many days. Unfortunately off-road charging infrastructure is not an available amenity in back country, which means long haulers still need gas engines.
However, for other power sport enthusiasts, driving electric is not only a viable option, but often a more highly enjoyable one — even for industry veterans who thought they knew it all about riding.
“I’ve been in power sports for more than 30 years and [electric] completely changed my perspective. We saw that the experience was worth sharing,” says Guy, who has been able to test out BRP’s prototypes, though he won’t confirm which as the products are still in development. But Guy did indicate BRP’s new electric products are worth taking for a spin.
“On water, on road and on snow, riding electric is quite an experience. [Customers] are rediscovering, almost, what the experience of riding is.”