A new powersports company may have spurred on a flurry to produce electric snowmobiles, which had previously been written off by major manufacturers as impossible. The nascent company, Taiga Motors, announced its lineup of production EV snowmobiles in 2019. Taiga went public afterwards, merged with an SPAC, and raised $146 million, according to an Outside report.
Shortly after Taiga’s merger (and influx of cash), big companies like BRP and Polaris announced that electric snowmobiles were feasible after all. BRP is reportedly spending more than twice the funds Taiga raised, about $300 million, to add EVs to its lineup. And Polaris partnered with Zero to electrify its drivetrains.
Taiga, in turn, tells Outside that it doesn’t see the big makers as competitors but as companies that provide different options. The difference being these other options are allowed to release way more pollutants into the environment.
Outside reports that gas-powered sleds give cars a run for their money when it comes to harmful emissions. Based on a certain perspective, at least:
Two-stroke snowmobiles [...] are on average allowed to emit 105 times more carbon monoxide than a car. The average two-stroke limits for nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons are 843 times higher than for a car. Taiga cofounder and CEO Sam Bruneau calls it “startling” that two-strokes are still allowed to be mass produced.
Unlike automobiles, snowmobiles and jet skis aren’t required to include a catalytic converter, which removes pollutants from emissions. (Side-by-sides contain a catalytic converter yet are still more polluting than cars.) Bruneau believes the emissions disparities reflect a misperception that snowmobiles aren’t a big enough market to damage the atmosphere.
The market Outside alludes to sees over 120,000 snowmobiles sold per year globally, and North America accounts for nearly 80 percent of all sales.
Because of their small market, snowmobiles aren’t regarded as harmful to the environment. When you combine this with the combustion-or-bust mindset of the snowmobile community, it’s obvious why electric sleds were dismissed.
But Taiga says it can convince snowmobile riders, or “slednecks,” to go electric by giving them high performance regardless of altitude:
Taiga developed three models: a utility sled (Nomad), a backcountry sled (Ekko), and a crossover (Atlas). They average about 550 pounds, slightly heavier than a two-stroke, but they accelerate faster and deliver 180 horsepower at any altitude, a significant advantage over combustion sleds, which lose 30 percent of their power at 10,000 feet elevation (a two-stroke starts at about 165 horsepower at sea level).
The performance comes at the cost of range. Taiga’s sleds can only go up to 95 miles per charge depending on model, and still cost thousands more than their combustion-powered counterparts. Taiga’s cofounders say their EVs will save riders money (in fuel and maintenance costs) within two years.
EV startups almost always give off a fly-by-night vibe, but when one of them actually develops and commercializes an electric version of a vehicle that’s stubbornly seen as combustion-only, it’s enough for legacy manufacturers to reconsider their stance. And this is a good thing.