Whether it's engines for two-wheel vehicles, entry into the karting sector or the production of Sea-Doo engines, Rotax has proven time and again throughout its long history its ability to open up new applications and vehicle categories with pioneering powertrain systems. In 1999, Bombardier makes All-Terrain Vehicles its next target market, putting its trust in the reliability and performance of Rotax engines, even for this demanding category of vehicle. Bombardier's first ATV model is thus introduced to the market at the turn of the millennium. The simple and robust Rotax Type 511 engine is at the heart of the ATV Traxter model. The combination of four-wheel drive, wet-running centrifugal clutch and 15-speed countershaft transmission operated by rocker switches on the handlebars, is intended to handle all types of terrain. And all with outstanding comfort – on the Traxter, the climb-through in front of the driver’s seat makes it very easy to get on. The simple operation and robustness of the Rotax engine comes with a price tag, however. Complex and costly manufacturing leads to high production costs, which impacts negatively on market success. The Rotax team is obliged to develop more efficient alternatives. The situation is on a knife edge, and when the management once more wants to pull the plug on ATV development, the crucial idea comes from Michael Gumpesberger, who at that time works in the Rotax R&D division. A completely new beginning – defective previous designs are discarded – gives rise to the belt-driven 400cc engine. This powertrain remains the basic design for ATV engines to this day.
In a 2019 interview, Michael Gumpesberger reminisces, “We managed to persuade the MD to invest a lot of energy in this development. We began series production of the Outlander 400 model with its liquid-cooled, belt-driven Rotax engine, and it was highly successful. Today’s models, like the Rotax Type 427 engine, still derive from that. It was the basis for of a whole series of engines. It started with a single cylinder, which was reduced from 400 to 325cc. Rotax had to market it to all segments. Then we added a second cylinder, and so on. We called this range of engines ‘Flex 2’. And that was how we got into ATVs.”