Does Future Mobility Include LSVs?

GEM has been the market leader in LSVs for many years.

The falling cost of batteries and rise of autonomous driving technology has launched a new stage in the development of mobility technologies. These advances may be bad news for LSVs. For decades small-task oriented vehicles, and in particular by golf cars, have dominated the EV market in terms of production volume. Long before Tesla, golf car manufacturers produced hundreds of thousands of electric golf cars annually. Primarily for these vehicles were for golf courses, but for personal transportation as well. In addition, the large volume of used electric golf cars coming off of golf courses each year were finding their way into the personal transportation and utility markets. In smaller volumes they produced electric powered burden carriers and general utility vehicles for use in enclosed spaces such as factories and warehouses.

Speed and pricing hurt LSV adoption

Federal regulations in the late nineties lead to the development of Low Speed Vehicles (LSVs), originally referred to as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). The LSV classification created the opportunity to move small EVs out of gated and golf communities and relatively confined driving environments and onto public roads in large numbers. Unfortunately, for LSV manufacturers, the widespread adoption of LSVs for personal transportation has never occurred. In theory, LSVs would be a good choice as a second vehicle. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate and suitable for the short trips typical of many drivers. In practice, they are relatively expensive for their limited functionality, and to many they look like a glorified golf car.

With a 25 mph top speed, LSVs are too slow for real life driving where speeds are often 30-45 mph. Federal authorities, already concerned about LSV safety, are unwilling to compromise on safety requirements for higher speed Medium Speed Vehicles. The additional safety requirements for MSVs would make these vehicles relatively expensive compared to fully highway capable vehicles.

Pricing has always been an issue with LSVs, which typically cost around $10,000 on the low end. They find themselves competing against new, used and refurbished golf cars that can cost thousands of dollars less or comparably priced, but heavily customized golf cars. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest priced highway capable vehicles available do not cost that much more and offer far greater functionality. As a result, the LSV market has never “taken off”. SVR’s research has shown that LSVs for personal use have only gained traction where local laws restrict the use of golf cars on public roads. The trend has been for local governments to allow more golf cars, modified golf cars and even UTVs on local roads.

Where LSV have found some success is on college and corporate campuses. In these environments the LSV safety features are worth the additional expense in the context of insurance and liability. The slower speed is another plus where administrators do not want employees speeding across pedestrian filled campus grounds. The utility LSV has proven to provide plenty of functionality and mobility in these confined environments at a reduced cost compared to pick-up trucks which they often replace. In addition, electric LSVs fit well into sustainability and green initiatives on these campuses.

Electric bikes and scooters offer an alternative

New battery and autonomous driving technologies are unlikely to change the fate of LSVs, and likely will make it worse. Batteries are becoming small enough, powerful enough and cheap enough to create new competitors to LSVs. Namely, a rash of electric bicycles and electric scooters have been entering the market. While costing thousands of dollars, electric bicycles have the potential to chip away at some of the LSV market. Have a short commute on local roads and don’t need to carry much with you. Why not use an electric bike? Need a quick way around urban areas and don’t want to worry about parking? How about an electric scooter.

There are electric bike and scooter sharing programs either already operating or in pilot programs in major cities. These options aren’t ideal in bad weather or for multiple passengers, but they can potentially reduce LSV usage. In fact, they may even provide competition to golf cars and Personal Transportation Vehicles (PTVs) within gated communities.

Autonomous vehicles take a new direction

May Mobility self-driving GEM

GEM configured by May Mobility for self-driving.

Similarly autonomous driving technology may very well reduce the potential footprint for LSVs. Google has used some LSVs for the testing of their autonomous driving technology.  You could argue from a standpoint of safety that the more controlled environment of gated communities could be a good entry point for the technology. But it appears the major players are starting with highway capable vehicles. There have been some instances of LSVs with the technology being tested for limited use scenarios such as shuttle runs. Currently, the relative expense of the autonomous driving technology compared to the cost of an LSV is likely too high. The economics favor installation on premium vehicles or rental/sharing fleets with the flexibility for high volume usage.

Nuro autonomous vehicle

This Fall Kroger will be using passengerless autonomous vehicles from startup Nuro to deliver groceries to customers.

Starship Technologies Delivery Robot

Starship Technologies is rolling out a robotic delivery service on college and corporate campuses this year.

Even in the commercial use of LSVs or their slightly faster cousins in Europe for tasks like urban delivery, autonomous driving technology may undercut the application of these vehicles. There are a number of startups developing autonomous delivery vehicles for operation on streets. However, they are passenger less or even smaller and slower for use on sidewalks. The last vestige for the LSV may remain the college or corporate campus, but even the autonomous shuttle could cut into some of that usage. We may be witnessing the highpoint for the use of LSVs right now.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

 

 

Honda Unveils Swappable Battery for Electric UTVs

Honda Mobile Power Pack

Honda’s Mobile Power Pack recently unveiled at the CES.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Honda unveiled a new swappable Mobile Power Pack battery system as well as UTVs and other products that use the system. As part of this Mobile Power Pack battery ecosystem Honda introduced a portable power system, “Mobile Power Pack Exchanger” and personal charging system.

Honda’s Mobile Power Pack is designed to have a capacity of 1 kWh or higher and envisioned as a method of storing and later using renewable energy produced during off peak hours. To that end, Honda presented several product concepts powered by the these swappable battery packs.

Honda ausnomous 3E-D18

The autonomous 3E-D18 combines Honda’s work in batteries, robotics and powersports.

One such product is the 3E-D18 which Honda refers to as “an autonomous off-road workhorse device utilizing AI”. The vehicle features a Honda ATV chassis with an electric powertrain. By changing the upper part of the vehicle, Honda anticipates the vehicle being used in fire-fighting, agriculture, sports training support or a myriad of other uses.

Honda Electric Pioneer 500

An electrified Honda Pioneer 500 powered by the new mobile power pack.

Honda electric Pioneer 500

A close-up of the Honda UTV showing a pair of the battery packs.

Another product presented was an electric powered UTV based upon their existing Honda Pioneer 500 model. They envision the vehicle being used for urban transportation, small cargo delivery and outdoor recreation. Other products included an electric powered scooter, a wheelchair type vehicle, a robotic cart for indoor use and a AI driven personal assistant called the “Empathy Concept”.  Learn more:  Honda.com

SVR’s Take

We have already noted some autonomous vehicle efforts in the UTV market by Yamaha and Polaris. This concept from Honda is the first to utilize electric power. These vehicles are likely to be used in highly-specialized and high value applications such as military and fire fighting first because of their high initial cost. As the cost of the technology decreases, they should be used in a wider array of applications. These type of vehicles require a range of competencies and technologies that likely relegates their development to only the largest UTV manufacturers or manufacturers from entirely different industries. Smaller or medium-sized players will likely have to look for technology partners to compete in this area.

The swappable battery concept may be a way of addressing range issues for electric UTVs. One can envision a UTV that is used for both work and recreation where work uses do not create a range or battery power issue, but an owner might want to bring along an extra battery pack for trail riding. In a work fleet scenario batteries could be swapped out similar to what is done with forklifts.

Another interesting point is that Honda lists urban transport and small cargo delivery as potential electric UTV uses. Neither of these uses are currently a primary use of UTVs and indicates a potential long-term growth area for the industry, although one that would require some changes to road use regulations.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

New SVR Market Study Predicts Solid Growth For STOVs

In a new market study on the small task-oriented vehicle (STOV) market in the US and Canada, Small Vehicle Resource (SVR), LLC predicts growth over the 2017-2021 period. The market research reveals four trends coming together that will result in market gains of mid to high single digits in the forecast period and an industry value in the range of $15.8 billion at retail including parts and accessories.

  • Growing appreciation in a highly diverse market for the effectiveness of STOVs specifically designed to meet individual segment needs;
  • Increasing competition that will drive new product development as manufacturers seek to strengthen current market strongholds and stake out additional market segments with new and/or expanded product lines;
  • Continuing focus on accessories and attachments to enhance the versatility and value of STOVs, boost revenues and supplant other vehicle types such as pick-ups and tractors for work and full-size vehicles for transportation;
  • Golf manufacturers emphasizing non-fleet markets over the continuing slow/negative growth golf car fleet market.

Steve Metzger, SVR Managing Director, states that, “While the fleet market remains in a downsizing mode, it is a marginal decline. It will remain a significant component of the golf car-type vehicle market. On the other hand, SVR forecasts continued sizable gains in the non-fleet market, including light utility and transporter vehicles and personal transportation vehicles.” Metzger also notes, “SVR anticipates that important new opportunities lie ahead, including self-driving technology applications, as well as potential for a much broader market on a global basis.”

Marc Cesare, SVR Managing Director adds, “The off-road utility vehicle market continues to be a competitive vortex for golf car manufacturers seeking new markets, the powersports industry, and traditional manufacturers of work related utility vehicles. While market growth will be slower than the recent high growth years, it remains solid,” Cesare notes, “ and competition will drive product innovation in both base vehicles as well as options and attachments that improve vehicle performance and versatility.

Approximately a third of the market value is from electric powered STOVs, primarily in the form of golf cars or golf car derived utility vehicles and personal transportation vehicles (PTVs). PTVs are golf cars modified for gated community or low speed public road use and include low speed vehicles (LSVs). Key trends and projections for the market include:

  • In total, demand for electric powered STOVs will increase to over 300,000 vehicles in 2021.
  • The demand for non-fleet golf car type vehicles will more than offset the slight decline in the fleet golf car market, moving from under 50% of the total demand to over 50%.
  • Light utility vehicles produced by golf car and other manufacturers are expected to grow approximately 10% annually to 2021.
  • PTVs will continue to grow low single digits during the trend period and electric powered PTVs will slowly increase to represent nearly 75% of the market by 2021. LSVs will account for about one-fifth of the PTVmarket.

Metzger, states that, “The potential for even greater electric powered STOV growth is there. In the PTV market the combination of market forces and emerging technologies could greatly increase the applicability of PTVs. Increasing urbanization is expected to create congestion and pollution issues, and the search for new transportation solutions. The advent of self-driving vehicle technology along with improved battery technology creates the potential for mobility platforms that can in part be based on small PTVs.” He further notes, “Gated communities with their more controlled environments could prove to be excellent testing grounds and the concepts could then migrate to urban environments that are well suited to low speed vehicle operations.”

The new study, the eighth in the series of studies produced by SVR since 2000, covers utility, off-road, and personal transportation vehicles, and fleet golf cars.

The study is entitled, 2017 Market Report on the Small, Task-Oriented Vehicle Industry: Transition and Growth –Trends from 2012; Forecasts to 2021. 

For additional, detailed information on study content a brochure is available with a table of contents ( Small Task-Oriented Vehicle Study – Analysis & Forecast (PDF)) or contact:

Steve Metzger,  smetzger@smallvehicleresource.com

(914) 293-7577

Nikola Powersports Announces Nikola Zero Electric UTV Specs

Nikola Zero electric UTV

Nikola Powersports has released the finalized specs for their Nikola Zero electric UTV.

Nikola Zero electric UTV Nikola Zero electric UTVNikola Powersports, which had previously revealed a prototype electric UTV, has announced the final specifications and design for their Nikola Zero four-passenger UTV. The specs are quite impressive with a 415 hp and 3,675 lbs of torque base option that can be bumped to 555 hp and 4,900 lbs of torque. The company is also touting the vehicle as a potentially street legal ready vehicle. The Nikola Zero has three battery options:  75kWh, 100kWh and 125kWh. The Zero will have a 200 mile range in 4×4 off-road mode with the largest battery pack. According to CEO Trevor Milton,

The Nikola Zero will be the first UTV to come with optional Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), stability control, anti-roll-over, traction control and torque vectoring. Normally these options are reserved for high-end sports cars and not normally found in UTVs. We have worked hard to make these UTVs street legal, and in many states, you may be able to drive the Nikola Zero UTV to work. Once you test drive the Nikola Zero, you will want to trade in your current UTV. No other competitor UTV can match the Nikola Zero’s performance. We are not talking about a few seconds faster than the competition, we are talking about laps faster, with speeds up to 0-60 in 3.9 seconds with four passengers inside.

Key specs of the Nikola Zero include:

  • 4 passenger
  • 400-volt AC Motors
  • On-Demand 4×4 or 2×4 at any speed
  • Baja style hubs and disc brakes with Motor Regenerative Braking
  • Active descent control
  • 20″ of front/rear travel with 3.0″ FOX Podium Internal Bypass Shocks
  • Electronic power steering
  • 4-Wheel Hydraulic Disc brakes with Triple-Bore Front & Rear Calipers
  • 32″ tires with Method Wide-5 beadlock wheels
  • 14″ of ground clearance
  • 62″ wide and 74″ high
  • 3,500 lbs dry weight
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • Digital gauge
  • 10″ and 7″ displays
  • Options
    • Anti-lock braking
    • Street legal package
    • 555 hp
    • 100 kWh and 125 kWh battery packs
    • 4×4 torque vectoring system
    • Anti-roll protection
    • Traction control
    • Front and rear 4,500 lb. winches
    • Factory audio system
    • Windshield
    • Mirrors
    • Cameras

Some additional information about the Zero:

  • The lithium battery pack ranges from 500 to 1,500 lbs depending on the size and is waterproof
  • Each wheel has an electric motor
  • The solar option will provide about 40 miles per day in range
  • There are several charging options providing charging times of anywhere from 3 to 14 hrs to full charge
  • Over-the-air software updating

Nikola Zero pricing starts at $35,000 and you can currently reserve one with a $750 deposit. A dealer ride and drive event is being planned in December 2017 in St. George, Utah. The company expects to start delivering the UTVs sometime in 2018. Nikolamotor.com

Comment:  These are really big battery packs, similar to what Tesla’s use. This raises questions about whether they can really hit that price point and where do they fit the batteries and cooling system for packs that large. On price Tesla’s battery pack is in the range of $190 per kWh from what I have read with the aim to reduce that by 30% for the new Model 3 which would reduce the cost to $135 per kWh. At $135 the cost of a 75 kWh pack is $10,125 and at $190 the cost is $14,250. This is assuming Nikola Motor can match Tesla’s costs which is unlikely considering Tesla is thought to have the lowest battery pack costs in the market and has much higher volumes than Nikola Motor.

I am skeptical about the price point but the technology is certainly available to build such a vehicle. The pricing has to be considered in the context of the high end UTVs that the Nikola Zero will be competing against which are already in the $25-30k range. This segment of the market is certainly driven by product features and performance and a portion of the segment may be willing to pay a sizable premium if the vehicle performs as advertised.

Another issue is whether consumers in this segment want to switch from ICE to electric powered vehicles regardless of performance. The sound of a high-powered engine is part of the fun, is it not?

The street legal aspect of the Nikola Zero could change the value proposition and make the price premium more palatable. From the local ordinances SVR tracks, more and more municipalities are allowing UTVs to be used on local roads. Granted, these are usually low speed roads, but if you can use the vehicle to also make local trips downtown then it becomes more like a second car.

Possibly the biggest issue is if the company can ever get the vehicle to market. There have been plenty of electric vehicle startups that have had impressively designed vehicles but are never put into production. I would like the vehicle to actually make it to dealers. Then we can see if it can disrupt the market.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

E-Z-GO Launches ELiTE Lithium Powered Fleet Golf Cars

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

E-Z-GO RXV

The E-Z-GO RXV fleet golf car is one of models that will be offered with the lithium battery pack.

E-Z-GO has announced their EliTE series of golf cars, a lithium battery powered offering for the fleet market. The ELiTE vehicles will use Samsung’s SDI lithium technology and provide zero maintenance batteries with a five-year unlimited amp-hour warranty and increased energy efficiency. The technology will be offered in the RXV® ELiTE, Freedom® RXV ELiTE, Freedom RXV 2+2 ELiTE, TXT® ELiTE, Freedom TXT ELiTE and Freedom TXT 2+2 ELiTE. According to E-Z-GO some of the advantages of these lithium powered vehicles include:

  • Zero-maintenance batteries that don’t require watering, terminal post checkups and cleaning like traditional lead acid batteries
  • 59% more efficient than the Club Car Precedent and 52% more than the Yamaha Drive AC
  • Reduced charging time allows for short “opportunity charging” between rounds
  • Reduced energy costs
  • Longer run times
  • Lighter weight can reduce turf damage and soil compaction

These advantages are similar to what SVR heard from LiV Golf Cars, a start-up golf car manufacturer that tried to break into the fleet golf car market with lithium powered golf cars not to long ago. While the technology sounded promising, the company had trouble trying to muscle in on the big boys turf. However, the technology has the potential to be quite disruptive as golf car leases are typically tied to the life of the vehicle’s battery pack.

Economically it makes more sense for a golf course to changeover a fleet than just replace the battery packs. A golf course will typically turn over their fleet when the battery pack needs to be replaced, 3-4 years depending on use. Why spend $600-$1,000 per vehicle for a new battery pack when you can lease a whole new set of vehicles for not much more than your current payments? If the lithium battery packs are kept through their warranty period, 5 years, or even longer, you are potentially doubling or almost doubling the changeover time. Obviously, this has implications for fleet golf car sales volume.

How disruptive lithium golf cars will be depends on whether they perform as advertised and how much more they will cost than current fleet golf cars. If the energy cost savings are significant and the pricing not to high the payback time could be relatively short. In the long term the maintenance free aspect of the battery pack may prove to be a significant factor as well, since maintaining lead acid batteries properly continues to be a challenge. This will probably not manifest itself until the vehicles are out in the market and golf course managers better understand how much less maintenance they require.

The full press release from Textron follows:

E-Z-GO® Launches Innovative ELiTE™ Series Vehicles to Industry

Lithium-Powered Golf Fleet Vehicles Developed in Partnership with Samsung SDI

AUGUSTA, Ga. (January 26, 2017) — E-Z-GO, a Textron Specialized Vehicles business, is proud to yet again revolutionize electric golf cars with the introduction of its ELiTE Series lithium golf cars as a fleet offering. Activated by Samsung SDI lithium technology, ELiTE vehicles offer zero-maintenance batteries with a five-year unlimited amp-hour warranty and increased energy efficiency.

E-Z-GO vehicles are designed and manufactured in Augusta, Ga. by Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc., a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company.

“The E-Z-GO partnership with Samsung SDI resulted in a giant step forward for the industry when it comes to high-efficiency vehicles and zero-maintenance battery power,” said Michael R. Parkhurst, Vice President, Golf for Textron Specialized Vehicles. “ELiTE Series vehicles are the biggest advancement in golf car technology since E-Z-GO introduced the E-Z-GO RXV® golf car, with its groundbreaking AC drive and IntelliBrake™ technology.”

New ELiTE Series vehicles are powered by hundreds of Samsung SDI lithium cells that are loaded into a single battery pack. The battery pack is controlled by an advanced Battery Management System that monitors efficiency, temperature, state of charge and the health of the batteries. These batteries are used to safely and reliably power electric cars, e-scooters, power tools and many other electrically powered vehicles, equipment and appliances.

The revolutionary ELiTE Series vehicles are powered by zero-maintenance lithium batteries that don’t require watering, terminal post checkups and cleaning like traditional lead acid batteries do. This means less time in the shop for maintenance and repairs, and more play time for the vehicles.

ELiTE Series vehicles are 59 percent* more efficient than the Club Car Precedent and 52 percent* more efficient than the Yamaha Drive AC. Charging time is significantly reduced, and ELiTE vehicles allow courses to “opportunity charge,” plugging vehicles in for quick charging sessions between rounds that can rapidly restore significant levels of energy to the battery system, as opposed to the lengthy recharge cycles required by lead-acid batteries.

With less power required to charge ELiTE Series than leading lead-acid competitors, golf course managers can cut energy costs while enjoying the extra revenue that comes from all-day uptime.

The batteries in ELiTE vehicles are also lighter than traditional lead acid batteries. ELiTE Series vehicles batteries are half the size and a fraction of the weight of lead-acid batteries, reducing turf damage and soil compaction due to vehicle weight.

E-Z-GO is confident in the reliable and enduring performance that ELiTE vehicles will bring to courses, which is why the vehicles’ batteries are backed by a five-year, unlimited amp-hour warranty.

E-Z-GO ELiTE Series vehicles were tested at Tijeras Creek Golf Club, in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., where last year, 73,000 rounds of golf were played. The award-winning course is known for its challenging hilly, brutal terrain. Tijeras Creek Golf Club regularly rotates vehicles in the current lead-acid golf car fleet in and out of service daily to allow for ample recharge time.

“From day one, the ELiTE Series vehicles have been going around our golf course anywhere from 36 to 54 holes a day, and during that time frame, we aren’t having to recharge them,” said Rob Heslar, Director of Golf at Tijeras Creek Golf Club. “There’s a confidence factor in the ELiTE Series lithium car for me. I’m not concerned about putting my customers in an ELiTE Series golf vehicle because I know they won’t worry about becoming stranded in an uncharged vehicle.”

The exclusive ELiTE lithium technology will be available in the following 2017 models:

RXV® ELiTE, Freedom® RXV ELiTE, Freedom RXV 2+2 ELiTE, TXT® ELiTE, Freedom TXT ELiTE and Freedom TXT 2+2 ELiTE.

ELiTE Series vehicles will be on display during the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida. Learn more about ELiTE Series vehicles, by visiting www.ezgo.com/elite.

Contact:
Brandon Haddock
Director, Communications
706. 772.5931
bhaddock@textron.com

– See more at: http://investor.textron.com/news/news-releases/press-release-details/2017/E-Z-GO-Launches-Innovative-ELiTETM-Series-Vehicles-to-Industry/default.aspx#sthash.pK3tx7Dp.dpuf

Nikola Motor Reveals Electric UTV Prototype

Nikola Zero

A prototype of the Nikola Zero all electric UTV from Nikola Motor.

Nikola Zero cockpit

A view of the Nikola Zero cockpit.

In May, Nikola Motor, known more for developing an electric powered long-haul truck, also announced that it was developing an impressive electric powered UTV, the Nikola Zero. Now, in September the company has unveiled a prototype vehicle. According to the company, here are some of the key specifications for the vehicle:

  • 100% electric powered vehicle
  • Range up to 200 miles
  • 400 volts
  • Up to 520 hp
  • Up to 467 ft-lbs of torque
  • 72kWh Battery
  • All-wheel Drive
  • Instant torque in < 1 sec
  • 0-60 mph in 3 seconds
  • 20″ suspension
  • 32″ tires
  • 14.5″ of ground clearance
  • Optional 10 degree rear steering box
  • Waterproof motor and gearbox
  • Two 7″ displays or one optional 15″ display
  • Seats 4

A 2-seat version will also be offered according to management. The vehicle will be priced at $37,000 and the target date for deliveries is Q3 2017. A model can be reserved with a $750 deposit. Learn more:  Electrek.co

Comment:  From the pictures, the Nikola Zero appears to also have solar panels on the roof. At 72kWh the battery pack for the Nikola Zero is very large. By comparison the Ranger EV Li-Ion battery pack features a 30v 8.3 kWh battery and a 15v 4.1 kWh battery. The price point also seems to be on the low side given the size of the battery pack. The Ranger EV Li-Ion with a much smaller battery pack sell for a $11,700 premium over their standard  Ranger EV. Given that high performance UTVs sell for $25,000  or more, the price premium of a similar vehicle with a large lithium ion battery pack should place the Nikola Zero at a price point well above $37,000. It will be interesting to see if the vehicle can make it to market. In any case, the vehicle is another indication of a continuing trend of electric UTVs being purposefully built for more demanding applications and uses other than hunting.

2016 PGA Show: Flow-Rite Battery Steward

Continuing the focus on battery maintenance at the PGA Show, the Flow-Rite booth featured their Battery Steward product, which combines a mobile app with scannable labels to help operators manage battery maintenance. While Flow-Rite has been using the technology in the industrial space where the batteries for forklifts are very expensive and so can be the maintenance mistakes, they are just starting to introduce the technology to the golf car market.

A partial screenshot from Flow-Rites Battery Steward app.

A partial screenshot from Flow-Rite’s Battery Steward app.

The company’s website describes four easy steps for using the Battery Steward.

  1. Use your mobile device and identifying labels to create easy-to-follow battery care task lists.
  2. Check off batteries by scanning the Battery Steward identifying label that has been attached to your battery.
  3. Record and analyze important battery maintenance data through the online portal.
  4. Identify neglected, misused, or abused batteries.

The company generates revenue by selling the scannable labels. While the product is clearly aimed at the fleet owner, I wonder if a dealer might be able to use the technology to manage a “fleet” of disparate customer vehicles.  Learn more:  Batterysteward.com

2016 PGA Show: Battery Watering Technologies i-Lite Sensor

Last week I attended the PGA Show down in Orlando, FL, so this week I’ll be posting about some brand new and relatively new developments from the show that relate to the small, task-oriented vehicle markets. I’m going to kick it off with a relatively new product from Battery Watering Technologies, their i-Lite Sensor. The i-Lite Sensor uses an LED light to provide a visual indication when it is time to water the batteries. According to company, if the indication is ignored, the sensor is so smart, it can tell the operator how long the battery went without water.

The LED indicator and wiring is shown sitting on top of the battery. The indicator can be wired into the dash or other area of the vehicle for easy viewing. Green means the electrolyte level is sufficient and red indicates water is needed.

The LED indicator and wiring is shown sitting on top of the battery. The indicator can be wired into the dash or other area of the vehicle for easy viewing. Green means the electrolyte level is sufficient and red indicates water is needed.

A battery from US Battery using the i-Lite Sensor showing the black valve that is inserted into the battery and connected to the watering system.

A battery from US Battery using the i-Lite Sensor showing the black valve that is inserted into the battery and connected to the watering system.

Currently, the product is only available for US Battery products but the company is developing a variant for other brands as well. Some variance with the height of the lead plates in Trojan batteries is an issue. Although, the product may work with some of the Trojan batteries, they cannot guaranty that it will work with all.

The sensor takes a reading from one cell and uses it as a proxy for the whole battery bank. According to US Battery, this method has been effective in the industrial battery market for forklifts. This approach assumes all the batteries in the pack are the same brand and type and were installed at the same time as a complete set.

The sensor is trying to address an ongoing problem with electric STOV vehicles – getting owners and operators to properly take care of their batteries. I consistently hear from dealers, battery manufacturers and watering technology companies that owners/operators are not properly taking care of batteries. This leads to a shortened battery life, an expensive consequence which makes customers angry, can reflect poorly on the battery brand and probably doesn’t endear the dealer to the customer. What is fascinating is how this problem persists despite decades of golf cars using essentially the same battery technology. The i-Lite sensor and single-point watering systems are both steps in the evolution of simplifying the whole process of battery maintenance. In effect they are an attempt to put a layer of user-friendly technology between the operator and the battery pack to improve battery performance.

 

LEO Motors Introduces Electric Vehicles with “Swappable” Batteries

Newly launched electric vehicle from Leo Motors.

Newly launched electric vehicle from LEO Motors. 

Leo Motors  of South Korea, launched a line of electric vehicles with “swappable” batteries. The vehicles include an electric cargo one-seater car, a delivery truck and a garbage truck. The company also introduced two electric fishing boats.

A key differentiator for the vehicles is that customers rent charged batteries from the company’s Battery Swap Centers, thereby reducing their costs. The vehicle lineup includes:

  • E-Dot, a 100% electric cargo one-seater with a cargo space of 7 cubic feet. Its maximum weight capacity is 220 pounds and the cargo space can be replaced with a second passenger seat.
  • LC-1 –  a light delivery truck with low decks and wide ramps for easy loading, and a maximum carrying capacity of 1,100 pounds.
  • LC-2 – Similar to an LC-1 but with an 1,100 pound capacity garbage collection container.

Batteries at Leo’s battery swap stations are owned by the station operators and rented to the electric vehicle owners. This not only significantly reduces the price of the vehicle but also eliminates concerns about battery life span. Leo’s battery swapping machines are carts which replace battery cartridges eliminating the need for expensive large robot arms to handle massive battery packs. Using this shopping cart sized device, a typical 20 cartridge replacement takes 5 minutes. Learn more:  Baystreet.ca

Comment:  It will be interesting to see if the rental battery concept will work. Advanced batteries, such as lithium ion, can be very expensive, especially for LSVs and lower priced utility vehicles where the cost of the lithium batteries compared to the overall cost of the vehicle is very high. A battery rental approach could lower the up front costs of the battery pack.

 

GEM Director John Stockman Talks About the New Model Year

The new GEMs for model year 2016.

The new GEMs for model year 2016.

I recently interviewed GEM Director John Stockman about the changes to the GEM lineup for model year 2016, the vision for the brand and how it fits within the overall small vehicle portfolio of Polaris. Here is an excerpt from the larger article posted in our Buying Guide section:

Polaris has made extensive changes to the GEM lineup for the 2016 e2, e4, e6 and eL XD models. Stylistically the iconic “bubble” design is still noticeable from a side view, but a frontal view reveals significant changes. The new design was in large part based on customer research. According to Stockman, in the neighborhood of 10 different designs were vetted by customers and consumers before a final design was chosen.

Even more important than stylistic changes, were the engineering changes made under the skin in direct response to several phases of customer research, including multiple ride clinics with dozens of customers and consumers, feature and finish related research, as well as feedback from dealers. The research focused the product development process on a number of key areas. One was the comfort of users as they ingress and egress from the vehicles all throughout their day. Towards that end, more legroom and headroom has been created. A past complaint about hot seats was also addressed as well as items as minor as having self-canceling turn signals.

A second issue highlighted by the research was vehicle safety. Stockman states that, “We are hearing more and more from corporate campuses, colleges and universities, hotel and resorts, that they are moving away from the traditional golf carts towards LSVs because of their safety features.” With that in mind the safety features the GEM is known for were kept but also improved. This included better brakes, vehicle handling in evasive situations and seatbelts. “We really focused on making sure that this was the safest LSV you could get”, remarked Stockman.

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I will be following up this article with some impressions from GEM dealers on the changes for the 2016 model lineup. For detailed vehicle specifications for the 2016 and past GEMs, search the SVR vehicle database.