For fans of backcountry snowmobiling, the turf is rapidly shrinking. After a prolonged battle between snowmobilers and environmentalists, Yellowstone National Park in 2015 started requiring vehicles to pass strict tests for noise and air pollution before being granted access. Several European countries widely restrict the use of snowmobiles to designated trails, Canada closes certain areas to protect endangered species, and bans are also now popping up in places like Idaho and Pennsylvania.
In Quebec, Canada, the birthplace of the snowmobile, Taiga Motors believes it can push back the growing opposition to the popular motorsport. Taiga is developing the world’s first commercial electric snowmobile that has the same speed and performance as a combustion motor snowmobile. There are now conversion kits on the market that allow individuals to build their own electric skimobiles, however, none of them are yet able to match the performance of combustion powertrains.
“Even here, we hear stories every winter about snowmobile trails that are endangered because area neighborhoods are complaining about the levels of noise,” says Paul Achard, co-founder of Taiga Motors. “Because we’re using an electric powertrain, we’re eliminating 75% of that noise upfront. You hear our snowmobile a little bit when it takes off, but once it gets roughly 300 feet away, you really can’t hear it anymore. It's pretty much a stealth vehicle!”
After successful testing of their alpha prototype in 2017, Taiga Motors will be unveiling and taking orders for the first electric snowmobile in 2018 and plan to begin delivering vehicles the following year. The 120-horsepower machine will have a 100-kilometer range. Although no prices have been announced yet, the Taiga snowmobile is expected to retail in the same range as competitors’ 4-stroke 1200 sleds.
“What separates us from the pack is we're the only company to offer an environmentally sustainable snowmobile that allows users to enjoy the great outdoors without spitting fumes everywhere and making lots of loud noise. Our product is more in line with the values of the traditional outdoorsman,” Achard says.
Benefits of Designing in Onshape
To design their electric snowmobile, Taiga Motors chose Onshape, a modern professional 3D CAD system that unites modeling tools and design data management in a secure cloud workspace.
“If we were using SOLIDWORKS or Autodesk, we’d need either remote server storage or our own physical server. And then we'd be using some kind of PDM system for version control to make sure people aren't editing parts over each other. From my experience, that's just a huge pain to deal with and a serious investment in time,” Achard says. “I remember even just CADing by myself, sometimes I had trouble keeping my CAD in order and things would crash.”
“With Onshape, since it's all cloud-based and there’s only one version of your design kept in one place, everything is easy to find,” he adds. “Unlike with my previous CAD system, if I want to find a part, I can just search it in the search box. It finds it immediately. It doesn't find 7,000 different versions of the part. I know exactly which one is current, which one's up to date.”
"I've gone from a scenario where I really had to think about file management every time I used CAD, to it being a non-issue – and I can just move on to something else in my life."
Because Onshape runs on multiple redundant servers, users never experience CAD crashes. If an engineer’s computer crashes, he or she can just move to another computer, tablet or phone and not lose a keystroke or mouseclick of work. “Our previous CAD system would crash fairly regularly on me, so I definitely had plenty of pull-the-hair-out-of-my-head moments,” says Achard. “It’s pretty nice not to have to worry about that anymore.”
As a startup company, Taiga Motors was initially attracted to Onshape’s affordable subscription price.
“Comparing apples to apples, if we had purchased four more licenses of our old CAD system, we would have needed their second tier, which goes for about $6,000. So that’s $24,000 right there, plus the extra cost in hardware. So Onshape saved us $25,000 to $30,000 over a year, allowing us to invest in software for our electric motor simulation, and all our mechanical, structural and dynamic simulations,” Achard says. “For us, this is a huge deal. I’m not exaggerating when I say we count every dollar here because every dollar saved is a dollar we don’t have to raise.”
Modern CAD with a Quick Learning Curve
Onshape is intuitive to learn for anyone with a parametric CAD background, regardless of the system.
“When you’re building a design team of 10, you don't really have the luxury of spending a month on CAD training. People had experience with SOLIDWORKS, NX, Autodesk, or CATIA. Even though no one knew Onshape before we hired them, they picked it up right away,” Achard says. “The transition was super easy. Some of us took the live training, while the rest of us did the online courses. People could quickly learn the software on the fly.”
“From a learning perspective, I’d say the basic modeling is very similar to SOLIDWORKS. But in many ways, Onshape works on a different philosophy. There’s a bit of a learning curve for working with multiple parts in Part Studios versus just having individual part files, learning how to use in-context design tools and version control. But at the end of the day, everyone now seems pretty comfortable with how things work,” he adds.
Onshape offers self-paced introductory and advanced courses in the Onshape Learning Center, where engineers can quickly experience new features and modern workflows that differ from their old CAD systems.
Getting Closer to Nature
The Canadian snowmobile startup got its name from the taiga forest, also known as the boreal forest, a cold-weather habitat that spans much of Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Mongolia. Achard and his fellow co-founders – Gabriel Bernatchez and Sam Bruneau – did not grow up around snowmobiles. But they are all avid skiers who love the outdoors and see snowmobiling as a way to get closer to nature.
“We’ve all fallen in love with the sport,” Achard says. “Backcountry snowmobiling is a way to fully experience inaccessible places you’d never otherwise have a chance to see. It’s easy to appreciate the appeal.”
“The bottom line is we like to think of ourselves as a pioneer in our field, but we also want to be a pioneer in the way that tech startups function nowadays,” he adds. “We want to seriously evaluate new ways of doing an engineering design and Onshape is a big part of that. I like working with a company that’s really trying to do CAD the way it should be done in the year 2020, as opposed to how it was imagined in 1991 when I was born.”