While a record number of electric vehicles hit the roads in 2019, a niche area of mobility is about to be transformed as a clean solution for the great outdoors makes its international debut.
The Canadian start-up Taiga Motors, based in Montreal, was set up in 2015 by the engineers Samuel Bruneau, Gabriel Bernatchez and Paul Achard.
The team met while at university and began to experiment with their own electric powertrain for a race car. Their attention soon turned to winter sports – and they’re now ready to introduce the world’s first electric snowmobile.
“The two-stroke engines on conventional snowmobiles are up to 50 times more polluting than average cars,” says Bruneau, the company’s CEO, following recent visits to Scandinavia which is a key market for the all-electric winter vehicle.
Silent ride, no smell
Apart from cutting emissions to zero, the Taiga Motors snowmobile will eliminate both noise pollution and the unpleasant smell of exhaust that often clashes with pristine winter environments.
"The silence and fresh air experienced when riding electric snowmobiles for the first time will help grow the sport of snowmobiling, which has been shrinking over the past years due a shifting consumer base of adventure seekers that don’t want to compromise on sustainability."
“Our electric snowmobile enables a completely different riding experience that is more connected to the elements. It’s like skiing in powder but with 100 horsepower at your disposal,” Bruneau adds.
Taiga Motors’ electric snowmobile comes in three different models. It has been designed to outperform the polluting two-stroke engine in any usage scenario, from private recreation and safaris to snow patrol and mountain rescue.
Sweden: ideal testing ground
In the run up to this year’s season for winter experiences, Bruneau and his team have sealed a partnership with SkiStar, Sweden’s largest operator of ski resorts. They will test the zero-emission snowmobile across SkiStar’s alpine destinations and begin electrifying their fleet in 2020.
“We are preparing for full production and roll-out of our electric snowmobiles in 2020. As a Flagship Partner, SkiStar will evaluate several units of the snowmobile at their ski resorts and help us with feedback,” he explains.
“Sweden has a strong community of snowmobile riders who enjoy their traditional snowmobiles. Taiga wants to use a collaborative approach to promote a transition to sustainable snowmobiling without diminishing enjoyment of the sport.”
Zero pollution, no noise or gas smells, and no engine maintenance or spark plug changes. The upside of going electric is unmistakable and Taiga Motors estimates that owners will save around 2,000 dollars per year in operational costs.
But what about battery range and charging infrastructure?
“The snowmobile’s range will be 96-140 km and it uses the same connectors as any electric car,” Bruneau points out. “You can use existing infrastructure or charge from a wall plug. We’ re also looking to install fast charging points at strategic locations, so riders can stop for lunch or coffee and go back out on the trail after twenty minutes.”
The engineering challenge
Unlike cars and other sports vehicles, snowmobiles require high sustained power in tough winter conditions. This means that batteries and engines can easily overheat as snowmobiles tend to go full throttle for several minutes or even an hour at a time.
Thermal management, says Bruneau, has been a major challenge in the development phase.
“We’ve had to do a lot of ground up development on battery, heating and integration systems. We’ve also built a powertrain that uses standard battery cells in order to tap into the fast-growing automotive supply chain.”
In this context, too, Sweden has provided inspiration for the company’s growth.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of suppliers, partners and the government to help us as a start-up company. Sweden is a key market for us and there is a collaborative atmosphere in e-mobility. People are very open-minded when it comes to environmental solutions.”