Bombardier Recreational Products or BRP is a Canadian company (once part of Bombardier) that traces its roots back to the year 1942 when Joseph-Armand Bombardier founded L'Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée in Valcourt in the Eastern Townships, Quebec. In 2003, the company that Joseph-Armand Bombardier founded (Known as Bombardier Inc,) sold its Recreational Products Division to a group of investors:
Bain Capital : 50%
Bombardier Family : 35%
Caisse de Dépôt & Placements du Québec: 15%
The newly formed company was named BRP and it included all the activities started 60 years earlier by its founder. As of March 31, 2005 it had 6,200 employees working in 80 countries, including Canada, Austria and Finland, in addition to the United States; its revenues in 2007 are above US$2.5 billion.
From the start the company made truck-sized half-track vehicles, with skis in the front and Caterpillar tracks in the rear, designed for the worst winter conditions of the flatland Canadian countryside. After producing half-tracks in World War II for the Canadian Army the company experimented with new forms of track systems and developed an all-tracked heavy duty vehicle designed for logging and mining operations in extreme wilderness conditions, such as heavy snow or semi-liquid muskeg. They produced it under the name Muskeg tractor. Each track is composed of 2 or more rubber belts that are joined into a loop. The loops are held together with interior wheel guides and exterior cleats, commonly called grousers. The tracks are driven by a large drive sprocket that engages the grousers in sequence and causes the track to rotate. 2 belt tracks were common on early model Bombardiers as well as for muskeg machines. For deep snow use, wider tracks, employing addition belts, are used for added flotation over the snow.
The research for the track base made it possible to produce a relatively small continuous rubber track for the light one or two person snowmobile the founder of the company had dreamed about during his teen years. This led to the invention of snowmobiles as we know them.
The company created the market, and held its own after it was invaded by worldwide competitors in the late 1960s. From the 1940s through the early 1970s Bombardier built the most successful snowcat models ever produced by any snowcat manufacturer. The B12 seated 12 people, and the C18 seated 18. Both were similar in design with long tracks in the rear and skis used to steer the vehicle. The B12 and C18 were very fast for their day, with speeds over the snow exceeding 30 miles per hour. Most historic and most modern snowcats have a top speed of barely 20mph. The Bombardier B12 and C18 were probably the precursors to the more modern Snow coach currently used by resorts for transporting tourists. In their day, the B12 and C18 vehicles were used as school buses, for mail delivery and as emergency vehicles in northern United States and Canada and were best suited to flat land conditions, frozen roadways or frozen lakes. While more than 3000 of the Bombardier B12/C18 variants were produced, there was plenty of competition for Bombardier to contend with in both the North American and world markets. Most of the Bombardier production stayed in North American and it was the most popular series of snowcats ever produced, but it was clearly a niche product. The front ski design was incapable of being used in deep snow and rough ground conditions and this opened the door for the development of dual track and quad track snowcats. Unfortunately the front ski design was not easily adapted to change for other ground conditions, so while it was successful on flat lands, frozen lakes and snow covered roads, it could not compete on rough off road conditions. The combination of the lack of design flexibility, incompatibility with off road conditions, and the advent of modern snowplowing practices of public roadways beginning in the 1950s, and becoming common in remote areas by the 1960s probably led to the demise of the B12/C18 design.
Notable competitors included the Aktiv Snow Trac ST4 from Sweden, Thiokol, and Tucker Sno-Cat from the USA. The Snow Trac was produced, virtually unchanged until 1981 but it was very successful with over 2000 units sold and it was used all over the globe for exploration and commercial purposes as well as the 1972 Winter Olympic games in Soporro, Japan. Tucker Sno-Cat grew to become one of the world's largest builders of these vehicles and currently produces a wide range of large commercial and exploration vehicles from its location in Medford, Oregon, USA. Thiokol produced many popular units, notably the Imp, Super Imp and Spryte models but changed ownership and name several times before going out of business in 2000 as the Logan Machine Company and manufacturer of the LMC brand.
Armand dreamed of developing a fast, lightweight snowmobile that could carry one or two people. In the early 1950s, Armand set aside his dream to focus on developing his company's other tracked vehicles. But by the end of the decade, smaller, more efficient engines had been developed and were starting to come on the market. Armand resumed his efforts to build a "miniature" snowmobile. He worked alongside his eldest son Germain, who shared his father's mechanical talents. Armand and Germain developed several prototypes of the lightweight snowmobile and finally, the first Bombardier snowmobile went on sale in 1959.
The Ski-Doo was originally intended to be named the "Ski-Dog" because Bombardier meant it to be a practical vehicle to replace the dogsled for hunters and trappers. By an accident, a painter misinterpreted the name and painted "Ski-Doo" on the first prototype. The public soon discovered that speedy vehicles that can zoom over snow were a lot of fun. Suddenly a new winter sport was born, centered in Quebec. In the first year, Bombardier sold 225 Ski-Doos; four years later, 8,210 were sold. But Armand was reluctant to focus too much on the Ski-Doo and move resources away from his all-terrain vehicles. He vividly remembered his earlier business setbacks that forced him to diversify. Armand slowed down promotion of the Ski-Doo line to prevent it from dominating the other company products but still dominate the entire snowmobile industry. The snowmobiles produced were of exceptional quality and performance, earning a better reputation than the rival Polaris and Arctic Cat brands of motosleds. In 1971 Bombardier completed the purchase of the Moto-Ski company to expand the Ski-Doo line and eliminate a competitor from the marketplace.
During the 1970s, Bombardier built the Can-Am brand of off-road competition motorcycles designed for motocross and enduro with Rotax engines displacing 125, 175, 248 and 366 500 and 800cc. The bikes competed successfully in professional racing with Gary Jones winning the 1974 U.S. 250cc AMA national motocross championship. In 1983, Bombardier licensed the brand and outsourced development and production of the Can-Am motorcycles to Armstrong / CCM of Lancashire, England. 1987 was the last model year for Can-Am.
In 2007 Bombardier renamed their all-terrain vehicle line of products to Can-Am.
In 2007, BRP announced the launch of a new three-wheel roadster called the Spyder, which will be released in Q4 2007 under the Can-Am brand. This is the first vehicle from BRP to go on the road.
They are currently touring across the world to do trial run for future owners.
In the 1970s and 1980s the company diversified into railway and aeronautical products and became a multinational corporation known as Bombardier Inc.
During restructuring operations in 2003 the original snowmobile and tracked utility vehicle division was spun off as a separate company, though majority ownership remained with the Bombardier family. Though the company is a major manufacturer of two stroke engines and four stroke motors for several industries it is better known for its consumer recreational products. They now make Ski-Doo and Lynx brand snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, Sea-Doo personal watercraft, jet boats, and Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors (through the purchase of Outboard Marine Corporation) and two-stroke cycle engines for inshore motorboat racing. They also produce motorcycle motors, kart motors, and small airplane motors, through their Rotax division.
In late August 2004 they sold the industrial vehicles division to the Camoplast company of Sherbrooke, Quebec. The industrial vehicles division made tracked utility vehicles such as snow grooming snowcats for skiing, sidewalk snow removal tractors and heavy duty tracked transporters, including the descendant of their original Muskeg tractor.
In October 2007, it was discovered that Bombardier had ordered at least some U.S. ATV dealerships to stop selling vehicles to Canadian customers. Bombardier also announced that the warranty on any craft purchased by a Canadian in the United States – even if the purchase was initially made by an American - would be void. Newspaper articles revealed that some models were being sold in Canada for as much as 40% above prices in the U.S.