BRP, headquartered in Valcourt, Canada, is a world leader in the design and manufacturing of motorized recreational vehicles such as the iconic Ski-Doo.

We spoke to BRP’s Denys Lapointe, Executive Vice-President, Design & Innovation, about this design-driven company’s take on sustainability, diversity in the design process, and how to remain at the forefront of innovative technologies.

A passion for design

Passion is clearly a recurring theme at BRP, displayed throughout their corporatevideos and in all their communications. They would say it’s part of their DNA. “Passion is omnipresent. When people join us, they are extremely passionate about design and transportation, and they want to contribute to something bigger, which we feel they get an opportunity to do at BRP,” explains Denys.

Concretely, how does it manifest itself? Denys remembers interviewing some young graduates from Strate School of Design where one candidate asked: “Will it be possible for me to ride? Because if I can ride I’ll come for free.”

As the interview unfolded, I came to understand just how central the “riding” is to this group. In fact, the design team has its own fleet of vehicles, available to anyone at any time. They also send groups out on missions, where they travel around and ride with customers and distributors. There is a real sense that to design better you must know your product and know your customer. There are no shortcuts.

A diverse design team

If you think being able to go out and ride whenever you want sounds like fun, the way he describes the individuals in the team would make anyone want to join. At last count, nearly a quarter of the team comes from outside the country, including from Asia, Europe, the US and Mexico.

“The diversity may seem difficult to deal with at first, but it is quite the contrary,” says Denys. “The fact that people come from all sorts of companies with all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of education, it just forces us to challenge our own internal paradigm, and be more open to cultural differences. They all bring in some new things that we haven’t thought about in terms of process and tools, so we’re continuously challenging ourselves.”

This diverse, talented group are also encouraged to work on personal projects and express their creativity in other ways. For example, a few of them have formed a band within the design team and they play at every Christmas party.

But as much as the team has fun, they take their work very seriously. “We have this relentless competitive spirit. We like to be on the podium, but we also like to climb to the top step.”

Design-driven, sustainable, innovative

In order to do that, BRP believes in the power of being a design-driven company. “The design team is equal forces with our engineering and marketing counterparts within the organization, forming a sort of triad, where consumers are at the centre of all the discussions and the decisions that we make,” says Denys. “Design can have an influence on the overall direction of the organization.”

Sustainability is another key objective for the design team and the company as a whole. From quieter, cleaner engines to concerns about fuel efficiency, and the safety aspect of their vehicles, sustainability is top of mind from the get-go.

The Sea-Doo Spark, launched in 2013, has a recyclable hull and deck.

“In the mid-nineties we introduced the first neighbourhood electric vehicle, which was fully electric. Until recently we were also manufacturing ATVs, or side-by-side vehicles, with electric power packs,” says Denys. “However the market was not very strong for electric powered vehicles, but we’re currently working on all kinds of projects that will address this in the future.”

One way to ensure they are always at the bleeding edge of technology and innovation is to have close ties with educational institutions and a strong R&D programme.

In addition to sponsored projects with schools like the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, the University of Lapland in Finland, and the Université du Québec à Montréal, BRP co-created the BRP Advanced Technology Centre withUniversité de Sherbrooke.

The Centre focuses on sound dampening and vibrations research, electric systems and electric power packs as well as research into aluminium materials.

“The Centre is linked to the University of Sherbrooke, and of course we have a unique approach whereby the Centre brings together BRP employees, professors, and students. The three combined influence each other in creating new technologies.”

Other similar centres exist. There’s the one linked to the Rotax plant in Gunskirchen, Austria, in collaboration with the University of Graz, one in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, where they do advanced research for outboard engine technologies, and one in Valcourt, next to BRP’s Design and Innovation Centre.

“We work with all these advanced research centres, working on advanced product architecture, dealing with ergonomics and biomechanics, and of course the design aspect,” explains Denys. “We’re working hand in hand, together, trying to reinvent the future.”

A habit of success

Denys has been with the company for just over thirty years now. Asked about what projects or experiences have most stood out for him, he is quick to say that it’s all a team effort. But pressed, he recounts his time as a junior designer, participating in the rebirth of the Sea-Doo watercraft.

The Sea-Doo was initially introduced in the 60s, but the timing wasn’t right. Reintroduced in 1988, it became a runaway hit.

“We created all kinds of new products: the first sit-down, the first three-placed watercraft, the first watercraft with a suspension system, and so on. And this fuelled tremendous growth. And for me, as a young designer at the time, I was propelled into management very quickly. It was my first key milestone within the company.”

He describes another key project as being when his boss asked him to implement the successful Sea-Doo design philosophy in the Ski-Doo division, which was third in the marketplace at the time. That’s how the REV was born.

“The REV in the snowmobile market enabled us to regain 13 points of market share and once again become the number one player in the marketplace. And we achieved this even though the market was a declining market. That was a huge achievement.”

Then there is the launch of the Can-Am Spyder three-wheel motorcycle. It started with a simple question: ‘There’s only 5% of the population in North America that actually uses a motorcycle. Why not create something for the other 95% of the population?’

Launched in 2007, the Can-Am Spyder is BRP’s first on-road vehicle.

“Since our launch we’ve been very successful attracting and drawing all kinds of customers who had never thought of owning a motorcycle before. So I’m particularly proud of that achievement with my team.”

What’s next?

As for what’s next, Denys remains tight-lipped. BRP is, after all, a publicly traded company. He only mentions the many surveillance cameras at the Design and Innovation Centre that keep an eye on their top-secret work.

One thing’s for sure, whatever they come up with, it will be designed with passion.