MONTREAL – Denys Lapointe is a big believer in the design philosophy at Bombardier Recreational Products, a leading maker of recreational vehicles and power-sport engines.
BRP traces its heritage to snowmobile inventor J. Armand Bombardier and prides itself on a culture of creativity, says Lapointe, vice-president for design and innovation.
He’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the international business conference known as C2MTL, to be held in Montreal in May. He’ll appear alongside such international names as movie director/producer James Cameron and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.
For a $2-billion company that makes snowmobiles, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, three-wheel motorcycles and more, product design is critical. The process rests on three elements: innovation, functionality and what he calls “the WOW factor.”
“If they are rightly balanced in everything we do, that will increase our chance of having commercial success.”
The culture starts with the individuals who are part of the design team in Valcourt. BRP recruits at some of the best design schools in the world.
“Even if we’re located an hour and a half east of Montreal in a small town, 20 per cent of my staff is international.
“It’s always important for us to stimulate them. So these individuals get to travel and spend some time in places like the Milan furniture show. Or they will go to the car shows in Detroit and Tokyo — any place where they can learn and see things that inspire them in their day-to-day activity.”
The company also encourages them to spend time riding with customers and dealers to get a sense of what consumers want. “We come back with a better picture of who the customer is.”
Around 75 people work in the design and innovation centre in Valcourt. It’s technically part of the research and development operation, but in practice it stands apart.
That independence keeps the designers away from the daily grind of the business. It ensures the company’s creative minds aren’t disturbed by what Lapointe calls “the black hats” — people who aren’t part of the creative culture.
“People are always being negative about ideas. That’s one of the things you want to avoid. You don’t want someone coming around and saying: ‘What’s that? That will be hard to produce.’
“You need to fuel ideas and protect them.”
Even if designers are assigned to specific products, the organization allows them to pitch new ideas on anything they want. “If they are working on ATVs or on Spyders, they can (still) contribute to watercraft.”
The Can-Am Spyder Roadster is an example of a vehicle that was built from scratch, creating a new product line at BRP. The three-wheeled motorcycle originated at the company’s annual design forum in 1996, developed “from a white sheet of paper.”
BRP recently launched a new personal watercraft, the Sea-Doo Spark, which also was a clean-sheet design. “We wanted to reinvent and energize the personal watercraft industry with something totally new,” Lapointe said.
“The challenge was to bring down the price so you could buy two for the price of one. We challenged every single component on this thing and we’re now able to produce a watercraft for under $5,000 in the U.S. market.”
The product is timely, since the economy is tougher and consumer budgets are stretched. “What we wanted is to literally reinvent a new category and go and attract new customers. We are aiming at Generation Y, the young family achievers who have now graduated from college and are starting to buy things for their weekend activities with family and friends.”
The lighter, smaller Spark is environmentally friendly, Lapointe said, at a time when fuel prices are high and consumers are more concerned about reducing their environmental footprint.
“By rethinking the product architecture, we came up with a fully recyclable personal watercraft — the first ever. We’re also using the most efficient Advanced Combustion Engine. For fuel efficiency and low-emission performance, it’s the best engine out there,” he claims.
Lapointe promises new innovations down the road, but won’t tip his hand. “We are always looking for the next paradigm in the product segments we do.”