Can-Am Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
In the last few years, we’ve been seeing more and more of a certain category of vehicles on our summer roads: the Can-Am three-wheelers. When first launched in 2007, they seemed somewhat strange with their “snowmobile on wheels” look.
Today, these machines are totally integrated into the motorcycle scene, and they are enjoying solid growth in a steadily expanding market.
You need passionate people to keep that adventure alive and attractive to a diversified clientele united by a shared enthusiasm. That’s why I wanted to chat with Martin Éthier, BRP’s new global marketing director for Can-Am on-road vehicles.
Zabel: Tell me about your childhood and your first encounters with recreational vehicles.
Martin: I grew up in Saint-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix (Québec’s boating capital), alongside the Riche- lieu River and I have always been into recreational sports. My father had a Ski-Doo Everest 500 (the ancestor of the Summit). He had a three-wheeler ATV, too. I also rode two-wheel motorcycles, but I have always been attracted by three-wheeled ma- chines.
Zabel: And then, a long journey to end up as a di-rector of marketing for BRP.
Martin: When BRP announced the launch of the original Can-Am Spyder, I was not working with them yet. I had pre-ordered a Spyder early in 2007 and then, as luck would have it, I started working at BRP in June of that same year.
I have been active in the world of marketing for 20 years or so, including 13 with BRP (Bom- bardier Recreational Products), where I am now global marketing director for the Can-Am brand and the three-wheel vehicles, the on-road division. My job is to commercialize the machines and what’s great is that in mar- keting, we usually say that we want to sell products, but in our case, we say that we are pursuing a mis- sion. Since 2007, at Can-Am, our goal is to make the experience of riding more acces- sible. To me, this is not just a catchline. Everything we’ve been doing in the last years is related to that goal. It’s a unique mandate to be asked to allow a lot more people to join the sport.
Zabel: You are respon- sible for the exposure of the product and for the Can-Am riding experience worldwide. Where in the world can we find three- wheeled Can-Am’s?
Martin: BRP is present in more than 120 countries and Can-Am vehicles are available in many of these. North America is still our main market but demand is also high in France, Germany, Ja- pan and Australia. When I travel, it’s essentially to meet owner groups and attend trade shows to see our customers. Lifestyles can be quite different from one coun- try to another: that’s the case in Japan, for example, where we’re present since 2015 and enjoying a really strong demand. But no matter the cultural barriers, something keeps us all together: the experience and the fun of riding. You may be from Michigan or from downtown Tokyo, but when you hit the road you are taking time for yourself, time to get away, and that’s the same for all owners, no matter their country of origin.
Zabel: For now, the on-road Can-Am division only offers three-wheeled products?
Martin: Yes, that’s right. But two years ago we came up with different electrically pow- ered prototypes, including a Can-Am Spyder and a scooter. We also presented minimal- ist, urban, task-oriented models such as the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV).
Zabel: What motivates you when you get up in the morning and head to work?
Martin: Two things. There is BRP by itself, the company. We sell fun and experiences.
Getting up in the morning asking yourself how to bring even more satisfaction to our customers, offer a better product, a better experience, that’s simply incredible! The sec- ond thing is making the sport more accessible. All the people working on that goal are looking in the very same direction. What can we do to bring more people to the sport? To remove the hurdles? That’s what motivates me. I wouldn’t like to go to work only to reach specific numbers, percentages, market shares, and so on. Of course, these aspects are an integral part of the business, but our work is to make sure that our customers are happy and that we will be welcoming new ones.
Zabel: And that works?
Martin: In 2020, sales of three-wheel Can-Am vehicles in Québec have been superior to the sales of any other brand of two-wheel vehicles. If we get such good results, that’s in part because of the programs that we are implementing. We are currently experiencing a very solid diversification in terms of people who know and buy our vehicles. Our customer base is widening. Among the people who bought a Can-Am Ryker in 2020, 54 percent had never owned a motorcycle or a three- wheeler before. The vast majority were new to rec- reational sports.
Zabel: What are the spe- cific elements that make your products more ac- cessible than others, or more likely to draw a wid- er customer base?
Martin: First, the Can-Am Ryker is very affordable. The security aspect of our products is also a critical element. Our Can-Am driving education program and driving school network, operating everywhere in Canada and in the United States, are also factors that contributed to the democratization of the sport. Also, the implementation of our Women’s Mentorship Program led to more women buying our products: 36 percent of Can-Am Ryker buyers are women, compared to 20 percent for the motorcycle industry. For 2021, we are committed to giving $100,000 through our Women’s Mentorship Program. There will be numerous initiatives including support for projects coming from members of our community.
(You can present ideas for financial assistance at https://can-am.brp.com/on-road/us/en/discover-can-am/women-of-on-road.html.)
Martin: We want to make our sport accessible for all: women, visible minorities, and LGBTQIA+, to name only a few. That is something very important for us. Influencers and celebrities that get involved with us reflect that vision: Cardi B, Migos, Maluma, Roxane Bruneau. These people share some of our values as they are not afraid to be unique and be themselves.
Zabel: How did the perception of road-going Can-Am products evolve over the years?
Martin: What’s fascinating is that over the course of the last five years or so, the Can- Am on-road brand became very inspirational. The psychological gap between two- and three-wheel vehicles is not as deep as it used to be. We are inclusive, open to all, and nowadays we see more and more Can-Am Spyders and Rykers riding along with motor- cycles, and vice versa. Many owners have both types of vehicles in their garage. We see that the industry and people are changing. We can feel a positive momentum.
Zabel: I guess that part of your customers is people who had stopped riding because of their age or were afraid of motorcycles.
Martin: We essentially have two types of customers: unexperienced riders, and people who had or still have a motorcycle.
Zabel: Tell me a little about your products and what’s coming up in the future.
Martin: The Ryker is the more urban-oriented model of the group. The Rally edition is equipped with specific shock absorbers, a slightly higher ground clearance and it has a Rallye driving mode. The Spyder F3 is more performance-oriented. The Spyder RT is THE touring vehicle par excellence; it has been redesigned last year.
There is a lot of action. For 2021, we want to keep the current momentum and continue greeting new customers. We stay focussed on our inclusivity mission. We will be working with even more influencers and mentors to keep guiding and inspiring people. We will be driven by diversification, consolidation, creativity and improvement. We concentrate on the fine driving experience of Can-Am on-road vehicles.
Zabel: My final question is about COVID. How did the pandemic affect you?
Martin: What we miss most is the personal connection with our customers, our dealers and partners. Last spring, dealers and driving schools were closed. But towards the end of May and beginning of June, everything reopened and since then, the momentum has been excellent. We are humbly conscious that the situation is helping us since people stay home but still need to escape and have leisure activities.
Personally, I also missed driving my three-wheel vehicle. I did ride around a little but I could not go to the White Mountains as I used to do every year. Also, I was supposed to visit clients in Australia—I took a raincheck!
To learn more about the complete range of vehicles and Can-Am on-road programs such as the Rider Education Program, visit can-am.brp.com/on-road/us/en/.