GEM Recalls Certain 2016-17 Models

The 2016 GEM e2.

Polaris Industries recently announced a recall of certain model year 2016 and 2017 GEM electric vehicles because lug nuts on the front wheels can loosen and the front wheels potentially detach. The recall pertains to certain GEM E2, E4, E6 and ELXD models with steel wheels. As many as 1,254 vehicles may be affected. GEM will notify owners and is currently finalizing a remedy.

Given their recall troubles in the side-by-side market, this is unwelcome news for Polaris. While the number of vehicles affected pales in comparison to the massive RZR and Ranger recalls, it is a sizable chunk of their total annual sales of GEMs. Only a few thousand GEMs are sold annually. The 2016 model year GEMs represented a major relaunching of the line. Earlier this year there was another recall for these vehicles related to the drive mode switch.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

The following information is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

April 26, 2017 NHTSA CAMPAIGN NUMBER: 17V279000

Front Steel Wheel Lug Nuts may Loosen
If a wheel separates from the vehicle, it can increase the risk of a crash.

NHTSA Campaign Number: 17V279000

Manufacturer Polaris Industries, Inc.

Components WHEELS

Potential Number of Units Affected 1,254

Summary

Polaris Industries, Inc. (Polaris) is recalling certain 2016-2017 GEM E2, E4, E6, and ELXD electric vehicles, equipped with steel wheels. The lug nuts on the front wheels may loosen, potentially resulting in a front wheel detaching from the vehicle.

Remedy

GEM will notify owners. The manufacturer has not yet finalized a remedy plan, nor provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact GEM Consumer Service Department at 1-855-743-3436. Polaris’ number for this recall is L-17-01.

Notes

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

8 Affected Products
Vehicles

MAKE MODEL YEAR

GEM E2 2016-2017
GEM E4 2016-2017
GEM E6 2016-2017
GEM ELXD 2016-2017

Bad Boy Off Road Rebranded Textron Off Road

Vehicles like the gas powered Stampede 900 will now be sold under the Textron Off Road brand instead of Bad Boy Off Road.

Textron Specialized Vehicles recently announced the rebranding of their Bad Boy Off Road brand of vehicles to Textron Off Road. The rebranding is designed to take advantage of Textron’s association with strong engineering and manufacturing through their long established brands in aerospace, defense and automotive such as Bell Helicopter, Cessna, Beechcraft, Lycoming and Cushman.

The Textron Off Road brand of side-by-sides currently features the gas powered Stampede and Stampede XTR, the all-electric Recoil, Recoil iS and Recoil iS Crew and the hybrid Ambush iS.

“We are changing our brand from Bad Boy Off Road to Textron Off Road to better reflect the detailed design, precision engineering, manufacturing expertise and high performance for which Textron is known, across a number of major industries,” said John Collins, vice president, consumer for Textron Specialized Vehicles. “Our new name is more indicative of the level of performance, quality and innovation that we build into our side-by-sides, and demonstrates how serious Textron is about its future in the powersports market.”

The rebranding makes sense for Textron for a number of reasons. The Bad Boy name is fairly well known in the hunting segment of the utility vehicle market, but this is more of a niche market, and before being acquired in 2010 by Textron there were some quality issues associated with the brand. In 2016 Textron rebranded Bad Boy Buggies to Bad Boy Off Road so there has not been a lot of time to build brand value, and thus not as much to lose in rebranding at this time. While the Textron brand may not be as well known in the utility vehicle market, the company’s collection of more well known manufacturing brands generates higher brand awareness in general. In addition, utility vehicles from Cushman and E-Z-GO fall under the Textron umbrella and certainly are known in commercial UTV segments and, by association, Textron has some awareness there as well.

A bigger question than whether rebranding is good for business, is how the Textron Off Road product lines integrate with recently acquired Arctic Cat products. While their distribution networks are more likely complimentary than duplicative, the question is how their individual vehicles fit together. Textron Off Road’s electric UTVs are a nice compliment to Arctic Cat’s gas powered vehicles, but how does their Stampede line of UTVs fit with Arctic Cat’s Prowler, HDX and Wild Cat vehicles.

If you look at a comparison between the Stampede 900 EPS, Arctic Cat HDX 700 XT EPS and the Arctic Cat Prowler 1000 XT EPS, they have similar price points and features and specifications. One could imagine the Stampede line could be turned into more of a value-oriented brand with lower price points. Value UTVs have become a competitive segment of the market as better quality imported brands and lower priced offerings from established brands target value consumers. However, Stampede’s initial marketing campaigns have been aiming higher than value-oriented customers. Another option might be to target specific market sub-segments, perhaps, in conjunction with geographic targeting based on the Stampede’s distribution network. The greater the differentiation between the various Textron brands, the better chance Textron has of convincing dealers to carry several Textron UTV brands, and of leveraging the distribution channels of their different brands.

Vehicles under the Textron Off Road brand will be available in April, 2017.  Learn more:  Textron.com

Club Car Fit-to-Task UTVs Target Commercial Segments

The Club Car Carryall 500 Facilities-Engineering Vehicle

The Carryall 500 Facilities-Engineering Vehicle is one of the pre-configured Fit-to-Task vehicles being offered by Club Car.

Club Car Carryall 700 Food Service Vehicle

Club Car Carryall 700 Food Service Vehicle

Club Car Transporter Ambulance

Club Car Transporter Ambulance

Club Car recently launched their new Fit-to-Task series of vehicles for the commercial/work segment of the utility vehicle market. The series of vehicles offers customers application specific vehicles already equipped with accessories and options designed for a particular application.

The company displayed four of the vehicles in March at the NMFT Conference and Expo in Baltimore, MD including the:

  • Carryall 500 Facilities-Engineering Vehicle with dual locking tool boxes, a dual ladder rack with tie-downs and a 2″ receiver.
  • Carryall 700 Food Service Vehicle with a van box, 68-tray rack system, a 10-shelf rack system, glass racks and drip edges.
  • Carryall 700 Housekeeping Vehicle with an L-shaped van box with interior LED lights and locking doors, drawers, shelves for towels, linens, etc and room for a full-sized vacuum cleaner, mops, brooms and other supplies.
  • Transporter Ambulance with hand-carry stretcher and mounts, fold-down rail for patient area, storage boxes and seating for three.

Club Car will be rolling out additional Fit-to-Task vehicles including:

  • Facilities-Engineering Vehicles with Van Boxes
  • Security Vehicles
  • Bell Service Vehicles
  • Grounds Maintenance Vehicles (Including a big & tall model)
  • Refuse Removal Vehicles (Including a high-dump model)
  • Snow Removal Vehicles
  • Other Ambulance, Room Service and Housekeeping Vehicles
  • People Movers
  • Long-bed 4x4s and more

These vehicles continue Club Car’s focus on the commercial and work market segments. Over the last few years as the market for fleet golf cars has declined and stagnated, E-Z-GO and Club Car have had to look for new avenues of growth. Textron (E-Z-GO) has chosen to expand their portfolio of small vehicles to reach new markets as evidenced by their recent acquisition of Arctic Cat. Club Car has chosen to further penetrate commercial and work segments in which they already had a strong presence.

Over the past several years Club Car launched new base vehicles like the Carryall 500 and 700, a UTV support team program for rental customers, their Corporate Solution Program for fleet management and maintenance, and utility vehicle accessory packages. In their marketing material they are touting their diverse commercial vehicle offerings and expertise in fleet management of small, electric vehicles. As evidenced by some of the Fit-to-Task vehicles and their website, Club Car is focusing on specific market verticals such as education, government, rentals and resorts.

Demonstrating the global nature of the small, task-oriented vehicle market in terms of both product and marketing approaches, Tata Motors earlier this year announced a series of application specific variants of their ACE mini-truck.

Learn more:  Prweb.com

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Self-Driving Vehicles = Growth For STOVs?

Google Prototype self-driving low-speed vehicle.

My colleague recently penned an article exploring the nexus of self-driving cars and golf car-type vehicles. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Hardware costs are dropping precipitously and may soon be within striking distance of being affordable for golf car type vehicles.
  • Golf car manufacturers are already exploring the technology and in some cases conducting testing.
  • Other companies are using GEM vehicles as self-driving test vehicles.
  • Gated communities with low speed vehicles provide a lower complexity environment that is more conducive to self-driving solutions.
  • Self-driving technology could expand potential growth avenues in non-golf car markets, an area of focus for golf car manufacturers

The article points to gated communities and urban fleets as potential market segments for deployment of self-driving technology. There are also other potential market impacts not addressed in the article that this technology can have.

For one, self-driving technology could provide an impetus for LSVs sales in the personal transportation sector. Purpose made LSVs have not quite reached their potential in this segment due to the relative cost of LSVs compared to the available market alternatives such as used golf cars, golf cars modified to be LSV compliant, customized golf cars and new golf cars. Put simply, not enough customers have found the additional price of LSVs to be worth the additional benefits. LSVs for personal transportation have done best where local regulations have favored them such as where golf cars or modified golf cars are not allowed on public roads but LSVs are, or where night time driving or other driving restrictions require LSV compliant technology.

Self-driving technology could be a differentiator for personal transportation LSVs. Since they are higher priced, LSVs are likely to feature self-driving technology before traditional golf cars. While it is possible existing golf cars could be retrofitted with self-driving technology, it may prove cost prohibitive and, more importantly, likely to encounter regulatory issues. It’s one thing to slap on some lights and an auto-style windshield, it’s quite another to install the software and hardware components necessary to create a self-driving vehicle, not to mention supporting the system with updates moving forward.

Regulatory issues brings to mind another consideration in regard to self-driving technology, medium speed vehicles (MSVs). While a few states in the US allow medium speed vehicles, at the Federal level NHTSA has never created a MSV classification and, in fact, has strongly opposed the idea on safety grounds. A MSV would require prohibitively expensive safety features akin to a highway capable vehicle.

Can self-driving change this dynamic? It is a possibility worth considering. In January, 2017 NHTSA completed their investigation (PDF file) of Tesla’s Autopilot and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) system, which was initiated following a fatal crash of a Tesla with a tractor trailer in Florida. Their conclusion was that, “A safety-related defect trend has not been identified at this time and further examination of this issue does not appear to be warranted.” However, for the purposes of this discussion, the most important finding of the report was related to Tesla vehicles before and after they had Tesla’s Autopilot Technology Package (ATP) installed at purchase or through updates. “The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.”

This is an astonishing drop, and even more so considering it does not take into account whether Autopilot was in use. Therefore, this improvement is likely a conservative finding. The question is straightforward. Can MSVs use self-driving technology to make them safe enough to pass NHTSA’s regulatory rigor? Why rely on a package of older and likely more expensive safety technology to improve MSV safety when a potentially cheaper and possibly more effective solution is on the horizon. It may soon be time to revisit the possibility of creating an MSV classification, which could open up a range of potential growth markets.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

How Will Textron’s Arctic Cat Acquisition Impact The STOV Market

Textron E-Z-GO Logo

Textron’s recent acquisition of Arctic Cat raises some interesting questions about the acquisition itself and how other companies in the market may react. In particular, what does the acquisition mean for Club Car.

One question is whether or not Textron will continue investing in the Bad Boy Off-Road brand. Except for the electric powered Bad Boy Off-Road UTVs the brand’s product offerings are redundant given the more popular Arctic Cat product lineup. One can argue that the dealer networks are sufficiently different that the brands can effectively reach different customer bases and not cannibalize each other’s sales.  A quick perusal of the Bad Boy dealer network indicates that most of their dealer s are golf car related with some power sports dealers. Moving forward, Bad Boy how much resources are put into product development, and what type of vehicles they develop should indicate the direction the brand will take in the context of Arctic Cat acquisition.

Another issue is the potential clash of corporate cultures between Textron Specialized Vehicles and Arctic Cat. Textron is a large conglomerate with over $13 billion in sales annually and a particular corporate culture while Arctic Cat is a much smaller company coming out of a powersports background. How well these companies will mesh will be interesting to see. Keeping Arctic Cat as a stand alone operating unit can mitigate any cultural problems to a certain degree. However, any future financial difficulties at Arctic Cat could generate more intrusion from Textron management regarding Arctic Cat operations.

Club Car is targeting the commercial market with the Carryall 700 and other vehicles.

A more intriguing question is how the acquisition of Arctic Cat might impact Club Car, which is now the only large stand alone fleet golf car manufacturer. While Yamaha Golf Cars are separate from their UTV and ATVs business, they are both part of their Power Products division. Similarly Textron has developed their Textron Specialty Vehicles division that combines a range of small, task-oriented vehicles from airport tugs, to fleet golf cars to off-road ATVs and UTVs.

Ingersoll-Rand and Club Car has taken a decidedly different approach. Rather than collecting other categories of vehicles, they have opted to focus on building out the sales of golf cars for personal/golf use and commercial oriented utility vehicles that are based off of their golf car platform. Management confirmed this approach when asked about the Arctic Cat acquisition during their recent fourth quarter earnings call.  According to recent financial results Club Car has been successful with positive growth in the commercial/utility segment while the fleet side continues to lag. However, the business is relatively small compared to the overall size of the company which had $13.5 billion in sales in 2016, and Club Car is part of their smaller Industrial segment.

This raises the possibility that Club Car may be an inviting candidate for divestiture. But who might be interested in buying Club Car? One possibility is Honda Motor. They already have a range of motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and scooters. An acquisition of Club Car could further diversify their vehicle portfolio. In addition, golf is a popular sport in Japan so there could be some degree of personal affinity among the management towards owning a leading golf car company. Club Car would offer a premium brand and a different distribution channel that might be useful for moving other Honda products. It would also add some electric vehicle expertise to Honda as well as additional global manufacturing capabilities.

Another possibility is Polaris, which has been acquiring small vehicle brands over the past several years. Polaris tends to acquire leading brands in a particular segment and many consider Club Car to be the leading golf car brand. Besides the premium brand, Club Car would bring some other positives to the table:

  • Global brand and distribution
  • China based manufacturing facilities as well as Southeast US facilities and supplier network not far from Polaris’ new Huntsville, AL facility
  • Large volume of electric vehicle sales that can be used spread costs of new battery and electric powertrain development.
  • Entry into the golf car segment
  • Largely separate distribution channel from existing products but similar enough to cross-sell some other Polaris brands
  • Good presence in commercial small vehicle market that Polaris has been targeting

The one drawback is that, from previous presentations, Polaris management considers the golf car segment a low growth segment. In large part this is due to the stagnant fleet golf car market which is the major portion of the golf car segment. However, E-Z-GO’s recent introduction of lithium battery powered fleet golf cars represents a potentially significant shift in the market. If lithium battery golf cars can disrupt the fleet market, this might create a more appealing market to Polaris. Providing an opportunity to leverage their expertise in electric vehicles, increase electric vehicle unit volume to lower costs and find a growth avenue in an otherwise stagnant fleet market. Despite recent headwinds from recall issues, Polaris still has the financial resources for such an acquisition. It will be interesting to see if they move in this direction.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Star EV Launches Sirius Luxury Golf Car

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

The new Sirius electric vehicle from Star EV

The new Sirius electric vehicle from Star EV at the PGA Show.

At 2017 PGA Merchandise Show electric vehicle manufacturer Star EV revealed their new luxury golf car model, the Sirius. The Sirius has a 4kW AC motor, 350 A Curtis AC controller and has a top speed of 19.5 mph or 25 mph for the LSV version. Other features include:

  • Electronic locking trunk
  • USB port
  • LED illuminated dashboard
  • Self-canceling turn signals
  • Large bagwell
  • Optional golf ball holder inserts
  • Optional 2-in-1 Combo Seat

Star EV showcased the standard Sirius model with the Combo Seat and a customized version showing off the company’s available accessories such as multiple wheel options. While the models at the show were standard 2 and 4-passenger vehicles, the Sirius line will expand to include 6 and 8 passenger models. The Sirius will be available at Star EV dealers later this summer.

It will be interesting to see what the pricing for the vehicle will be compared to other offerings in the market. I don’t believe it will be at the level of a Garia, but where will the Sirius sit in the market, given the features and price, relative to offerings from Club Car, E-Z-GO and Yamaha?. This could be the start of a trend towards offering more “luxury” models if the larger manufacturers follow suit.

For those interested, Sirius is the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky and is derived from the ancient Greek word for “glowing” or “scorcher”, according to Wikipedia.

Learn more:  PRweb.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

Polaris GEM Issues Recall

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Polaris GEM e2

The 2016 GEM e2 is part of the recall.

GEM, owned by Polaris, has issued a recall for 2016-2017 e2, e4, e6, and eL XD models because the drive mode switch can send an incorrect signal, causing the vehicle to go in the opposite direction than intended. This is a fairly large recall for GEM in relation to their annual sales. It seems few Polaris brands can escape recall issues of late.

The following information is from NHTSA.

Campaign Number: 16V884000

Manufacturer Polaris Industries, Inc.

Components ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

Potential Number of Units Affected 1,644

Summary

Polaris Industries, Inc. (Polaris) is recalling certain 2016-2017 GEM e2, e4, e6, and eL XD electric vehicles manufactured May 29, 2015, to November 18, 2016. The drive mode switch can send an incorrect signal, causing the vehicle to go in the opposite direction than intended.

Remedy

Polaris will notify owners, and dealers will replace the drive switch, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in December 2016. Owners may contact GEM Consumer Service Department at 1-855-743-3436. Polaris’ number for this recall is L-16-01.

Notes

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Should Autocycles Be Next For STOV Manufacturers

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Arcimoto SRK

The electric powered Arcimoto SRK is expected to be available later this year.

I have come across a number of articles recently focusing on autocycles and I thought this might be a potential product development direction for STOV manufacturers.

First, what is an autocycle? It is basically a three-wheeled vehicle such as the Slingshot by Polaris, or offerings from start ups such as Elio Motors and Arcimoto. There is no standard definition for an autocycle in the US or other countries. In the US, an autocycle is typically classified as a motorcycle, although not always, as Polaris discovered with their Slingshot. They have had to work with some states to develop legislation to allow their vehicles on the road. (See how the classification for the Slingshot varies by state.)

The benefit of being classified as a motorcycle is that the vehicle does not have to conform to more expensive automobile safety standards. This benefit is key to providing STOV manufacturers with a new product opportunity. In particular, I believe Polaris and the golf car manufacturers are well positioned to produce a more practical neighborhood electric vehicle that can provide a good value proposition in relation to street legal golf cars (new or used), low speed vehicles and lower priced highway capable cars.

Now Polaris already has the Slingshot, but this is more of a recreational vehicle designed for those interested in a motorcycle like experience with a greater sense of safety and requiring less driving skill. The Slingshot is highway capable, features a gas engine and pricing starts around $22,000. The not yet in production Elio Motors autocycle is also gas powered, highway capable and has a base price of $7,300. The electric powered Arcimoto SRK is expected to be available this year, has a top speed of 80 mph and starts at $12,000 for the 12kWh model which provides a 70 mile range. Like Slingshot, the Elio and SRK provide seating for two but they are placed front to back rather than side to side as in the Slingshot. All three feature two wheels up front and one in the rear.

While all three of these vehicles are capable of highway speeds, I propose that there is a real market opportunity for a medium speed vehicle (MSV). The medium speed, say up to 40-45 mph, would make the vehicles more practical to use for personal transport than golf cars or LSVs which top out at 19-25 mph. STOV manufacturers have pushed for a MSV designation but NHTSA has not been willing to budge on the costly safety standards for four-wheeled vehicles. This is why the motorcycle/autocycle classification is critical to this opportunity. A MSV autocycle would be a more viable second vehicle for many households and a more versatile neighborhood vehicle for those in gated or retirement communities.

The vehicle should also be electric powered to maximize the environmental benefits and also take advantage of electric motorcycle incentives where available. An electric autocycle would provide a significantly less expensive electric vehicle option to green consumers than the currently available electric cars. A MSV would also require a smaller battery pack than a highway capable electric autocycle, further reducing costs. Of course, a highway capable option could be made available but that would start driving up the costs.

Besides the aforementioned startups, who is positioned to develop these type of vehicles? Polaris is an obvious choice. They already have experience designing, engineering and producing an autocycle and they are innovators. They also have been acquiring electric drivetrain technology (Brammo) and electric vehicle brands such as GEM, Goupil and Taylor-Dunn. It is a vehicle that could potentially fit nicely into their portfolio of the brands that are sold internationally. The biggest challenge for Polaris would be distribution. A MSV autocycle would probably not be a good fit for their powersports dealers, as the customers would be more transportation than recreation oriented. Their brands such as Goupil, Taylor-Dunn and even GEM are geared more towards the commercial customer. Polaris might have to partner with another company to access the right distribution channels.

This brings us to the golf car manufacturers. They have the expertise in developing and selling electric vehicles, but not necessarily the three-wheeled variety and have been more focused on lead acid battery packs. One could argue that they also haven’t been that innovative. They do however have the right distribution network. Their customers are already coming to them for personal transportation solutions.

A MSV autocycle could find a home in Textron’s (maker of E-Z-GO) Specialty Vehicle division which encompasses a wide range of small, task-oriented vehicles. They have also been striking out into new territory with new ATV and UTV products under the Bad Boy Off-road brand. Another option is Yamaha Golf Car, although they are the smallest of the big three manufacturers. This leaves Club Car. As a subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand they certainly have the financial wherewithal to develop a vehicle on their own, and they may be the best fit for a partnership with Polaris. Unlike Yamaha and Textron they do not compete directly with Polaris in the recreational UTV space. They are also considered by many to be the highest quality brand of the three and have over 600 distributors, dealers and factory branch locations.

It will be interesting to see if the autocycles from Elio and Arcimoto prove to be popular and encourage other manufacturers to join the fray.

Learn more:  Arcimoto.com

Learn more:  Eliomotors.com