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Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) electric snowmobiles slated for delivery in 2024 will begin production in their Valcourt plant in the fall of 2023.Courtesy of manufacturer

It’s been 64 years since Bombardier launched its first two-passenger Ski-Doo snowmobile for the masses, ushering in an era of adrenaline-pumping winter motorsports characterized by purring engines and speed. Now, the manufacturer it spawned is pitching something new to those seeking recreational nirvana on the snow: Silence.

BRP Inc. DOO-T will begin shipping out its first electric vehicles, Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobile models, later this year as part of a wider, multiyear push to offer electric models in all of its product lines by 2026, the company said in a statement late Monday. A few hundred units will be delivered first to outfitters and tour operators such as Lapland Safaris in Rovaniemi, Finland, with power and range optimized for guided snowmobile excursions up to 50 kilometres.

The 50-horsepower snowmobiles are similar in appearance to existing gasoline-motor versions but without the engine noise. Maximum speeds will be limited electronically to 60 km/h for operators and to 40 km/h for consumers renting the vehicles, according the company. That’s about the same speed as the first recreational Ski-Doos Bombardier had in 1959.

“You push the throttle and you hear nothing … We worked a lot to make it as silent as possible,” BRP chief executive José Boisjoli said in an interview, adding there is noise from the sled’s track but BRP has limited it. The result is a product he says will help the company lure clients more interested in communing with nature than with their machines.

“You’re less focusing on your vehicle and a bit more on the scenery and the environment,” Mr. Boisjoli said. “It’s definitely a different riding experience that I think will please a lot of newcomers.”

Valcourt, Que.-based BRP is spending more than $300-million on a push to bring battery-powered models to market, reflecting its belief that there will be a demand for cleaner powersport vehicles in the years ahead.

The company is starting with targeted shipments for its snowmobiles because they are among the most complicated products to electrify due to their winter operation and their drag.

Putting them in the hands of outfitters will provide a “controlled environment” to test their performance and operator needs ahead of a wider retail rollout later on, Mr. Boisjoli said.

Next year, BRP will deliver electric motorcycles and a new electric hydrofoil board called the Sea-Doo Rise directly to dealers. It’s developing the entire power pack for its EVs, including batteries, engines and starters, limiting its dealings with partners in part to preserve profit margins.

BRP currently builds off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, personal watercraft and three-wheeled motorcycles that are all gasoline-powered, chiefly at factories in Canada and Mexico. It recently also jumped back into boat manufacturing with the acquisition of three manufacturers that make aluminum fishing boats and pontoon watercraft.

The company is pushing into electric vehicles just as a crop of new rivals has sprung up. Among them is Montreal-based Taiga Motors Corp TAIG-T, which said last March it delivered its first Nomad all-electric snowmobiles. “We are just getting started in pushing the boundaries of what our technology can do and are laser-focused on ramping up snowmobile deliveries,” Taiga CEO Sam Bruneau said at the time.

One big question is how strong demand for all-electric vehicles will be. The company has surveyed consumers multiple times in recent years and found that although the overwhelming majority expressed interest in electric versions of powersports vehicles, that interest ebbed when they were asked whether they were prepared to pay more for an electric model or accept one that has a lower-distance range.

Hunters going on long trips in the woods are less likely to be customers for electric vehicles because of limited charging infrastructure along the way, but ski resorts and cottagers using snowmobiles limited distances might be very interested, Mr. Boisjoli has said. Any move by governments to impose tighter environmental regulations on the industry, as many of them have done for the auto sector, would influence volumes, he has said.

Government comes into play in another way as well. BRP is weighing how to expand beyond powersports and boats into different product markets such as urban mobility and service vehicles, including electric bicycles. One trend in Europe is people switching their second cars for e-bikes and governments have helped this process by introducing subsidies for e-bike purchases, Mr. Boisjoli said.

Last August BRP bought an 80-per-cent stake in Pinion GmbH, a developer of mechanical gearboxes for traditional and electric bicycles, saying it wants to leverage Pinion’s technology to spur the development of new electric human-assisted products. A month later, the company opened a new design and research centre in France’s Sophia Antipolis technology park focused on concepts aimed at urban mobility and service vehicles.

Spun out from Bombardier in 2003, BRP has a roughly 30-per-cent share of the $34-billion global powersports market and only a sliver of share at the moment in the $36-billion marine industry, according to a recent research note by National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen. The company has identified about $70-billion in untapped market opportunities in the broader mobility space that are in the initial stages of investigation, the analyst said.

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