Q&A: Taiga CEO Sam Bruneau
By Adam Quandt
Canadian-based Taiga Motors Corporation launched into a journey to bring electric vehicles (EVs) to the outdoor recreational world at the end of 2015. In early July 2022, Taiga began deliveries for its Orca electric personal watercraft. Shortly after, Boating Industry was invited to Vermont to get some seat time on the all-new Orca Carbon, as well as sit down with Taiga CEO Sam Bruneau.
Boating Industry (BI): Tell me about your journey with Taiga from beginnings to where you are today
Sam Bruneau: So, the company started seven years ago now, end of 2015. The goal was to bring high-performance electric vehicles that could be cost-competitive with the best gas ones out there in this offroad, recreational industry. There’s been a lot of development on cars, trucks and buses, but not much to this day on boats, snowmobiles and ATVs, so that was our focus. We started with a clean sheet and we took a bit of the Tesla approach – we developed all of the technology from the ground up to really be able to deliver the performance we had in mind.
BI: What about your personal journey – what’s your background and what lead you to Taiga?
SB: My background is in electrical engineering. We had three founders at the beginning of Taiga Motors; we started this company right out of university. We had worked on some background projects on electric race cars, but we’re industry outsiders when it comes to outdoor recreation. I think that’s where a lot of us saw the opportunity. We saw the technology coming, we saw that if we took this clean-sheet approach and put several years of R&D into it, we could get somewhere with a product that would be quite compelling.
BI: What launched Taiga Motors into being?
SB: We started with a snowmobile as our first product. We were a team of about 15 engineers in the beginning and it was all about developing the technology all around the snowmobile. We thought it would be among the hardest platforms to electrify – it operates in extreme cold temperatures, it has to be very lightweight, high-performance and competitive within a 2-stroke category. We thought if we have that platform as a benchmark, it will be a technology capable of tackling other applications like personal watercraft and other outdoor recreational vehicles.
The snowmobile was a four-year project and we were able to hit all of our performance targets and then we started working on the PWC project pretty rapidly. We put out our first prototype three years ago to bring the marine platform to market. That transition was pretty quick, thanks to the commonalities between the platforms and that’s what’s going to continue carrying us forward.
BI: With the snowmobile platform officially launching in March, where are things at in terms of setting up dealer networks or other distribution methods?
SB: We have what we call a direct-hybrid model. People can visit our website and configure and order product directly with an online account with us for parts on accessories, but we also work with established dealers for a local touch point for deliveries and distribution. We’re currently building that dealer network. We have about a dozen in Canada and we’re starting to expand more into the U.S.
It’s a win-win model as the dealers get pre-sold units with no floorplan or inventory risk and it allows us to have a local touch-point with various regions. And that will be the same case when it comes to the Orca PWC – some of the dealers will be carrying both the PWC and snowmobile models and others will be focused solely on the PWC as appropriate by region and market.
BI: What’s the plan to introduce the public to Taiga products like the Orca PWC?
SB: The goal is to really show that you can get an electric model in powersports without the draw backs of engine noise, pollution and whatnot. Right now, it’s all about putting butts on seats with our products. You have to experience it, so we’re in the process of putting together some comprehensive demo programs. Keep in mind this hasn’t been done before in this industry, it’s all very new, so we’re out to get out there and open eyes to new opportunities.
BI: As you mentioned the EV space is very new to outdoor recreation vehicles and the boating industry specifically, what’s the potential for partnerships with existing boatbuilders using some of the technologies Taiga has brought to the table?
SB: We’re actually in discussions with a few manufacturers right now and that’s really our goal with Taiga as a company. We just want to help accelerate that shift to EV as much as possible with our own products as well as working with existing manufacturers in the boating world. There are some great builders out there working with combustion engines that are looking for EV solutions and Taiga has something now that’s in volume production that can help change things in the boating industry.
BI: What do goals look like for the Orca Carbon PWC in terms of production for the year ahead?
SB: In its early phases, it’s definitely hard to give production forecasts with current supply chain fluctuation, but we’re ramping up across the year. We’re starting this summer with several hundred units shipped. Our facilities in Montreal have a capacity of 8,000 units total per year between snow and watercraft, so our goal is to ramp up over the next 1-2 years to get to that number.
BI: What’s been the dealer reaction to the introduction of Taiga EV products?
SB: We’ve had great dealer interest so far. Our website is setup so that dealers can apply to carry Taiga products and we’ve had about 1,700 dealers apply so far. We’ve been working to pick dealer partners from those applicants now. What we’ve heard is that many dealers already have customers coming in inquiring about electric options, so they already see the demand and now they need OEMs that can supply it.
BI: What is Taiga doing to ensure service facilities are properly trained for EVs should maintenance issues arise?
SB: From a maintenance standpoint, both the snowmobile and PWC are very similar on everything that’s not the electric powertrain to traditional applications so there’s minimal training required there. On the electric powertrain, that’s where we put a lot of effort to design it so that the electric powertrain will last the entire lifetime of the vehicle without any maintenance. On the off chance something does occur, we’ve take a very bolt in/bolt off approach, so someone isn’t going to fix the motor, we’re just going to come in and swap the motor.
BI: Taiga partnered with a Quebec’s Parks & Wildlife Reserve Agency to provide electric snowmobiles for area patrols, any similar partnerships in the works for the Orca PWC?
SB: Yes. That same organization will actually be partnering with us for a few units of the Orca Carbon for use on water patrols. EVs are a perfect application for organizations like this for use in parks, on lakes or rivers – they’re quiet, there’s virtually no maintenance, it’s the perfect solution.
BI: What’s in store for the future of both Taiga Motors and the Orca PWC platform?
SB: With Orca, it’s all about ramping up production and fulfilling current orders. For Taiga overall, we’re still just focused on continuously improving the technology in all of our products and spreading the word that there are EV options out there and available in the outdoor recreational vehicle space. From dirt to snow and out on the water, we’ll have products for everyone.