Road Use Regulation Roundup: June 2018

golf cart signThe following is a summary of some of the road use regulations for golf cars, LSVs, ATVs and UTVs that have been passed or are being considered at the state, county and city levels since January, 2018.

Some trends in this latest regulation roundup:

  • This roundup saw more legislation related to allowing LSVs on roads as opposed to golf cars and ATVs/UTVs but it is too early to tell if this represents a long term trend and reversal of previous legislative trends favoring golf cars and UTVs.
  • Of special note is legislation in California that is focusing on the development of a regional multi-city plan for LSV transportation. I believe this is the first time a regional approach has been covered in the roundup.
  • Most of the legislative activity occurred in the Midwest and Southeast.

Highland Village, TX – The City Council approved an ordinance allowing the use of NEVs, LSVs and golf cars in the city with certain restrictions.

Myrtle Beach, SC – The City Council passed an ordinance requiring businesses that rent golf cars to get $10 tags on each vehicle.

Glendale, MO – City officials passed an ordinance allowing golf cars to be used on city streets provided they have certain safety features.

Bay St. Louis & Waveland, MS – The state passed legislation that allows the use of LSVs on certain city streets.

Oxford, MS – The owner of a local LSV taxi service requested that the city lower the minimum driving age of such vehicles from 21 years old to address a driver shortage. They lowered it to 20 years old.

Audubon, IA – City Supervisors will likely pass an ordinance allowing the use of ATVs/UTVs on county roads if they have certain safety features.

Newport, RI – The City Council passed an ordinance allowing the use of electric LSVs on local roads.

SanDiego, CA – State legislation is being considered that would allow the use of LSVs on a county wide basis. The legislation, backed by North County cities, would allow for the implementation of regional LSV transportation plans.

Cincinnati, OH – The City Council passed an ordinance creating a three year pilot program for the use of LSVs in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods.

Augusta, GA – The City Commission is considering an ordinance that will allow the use of personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) in the central business district. They would initially be used to provide prearranged tours as opposed to taxi service, and could eventually lead to PTV permits for individual owners.

Sanibel Island, FL – The City Council denied the application for the opening of a seven vehicle LSV rental business citing concerns about traffic, safety and the concept being inconsistent with city planning aimed at reducing auto ridership.

Planned Development Communities As Incubators For Future Mobility

Eli Zero NEV

The new Eli Zero NEV from Eli Electric Vehicles is expected to reach market in late 2018 and is positioned as an urban transportation solution and future mobility concept.

My colleague Stephen Metzger recently wrote a piece on how gated communities could serve as an excellent incubator for testing future mobility systems. These systems include on-demand vehicles, self-driving and autonomous driving technology, ride-sharing systems, and new public transport options. Future mobility concepts typically feature electric vehicles being used in urban environments. He argues that the urban environment presents a myriad of obstacles and complexities for future mobility to overcome and solve, but gated communities offer a simpler but still useful testing ground for future mobility concepts.

Some of the advantages for gated communities include:

  • A better planned transportation environment into which mobility concepts can more easily be introduced
  • Population already using or conditioned to small, electric vehicles like golf cars and LSVs
  • Portion of the population that cannot drive themselves and could benefit from greater mobility

The article concludes with some examples of new small, electric vehicles with an eye towards future mobility that are entering or trying to break into the market.

Learn more:  Smallvehicleresource.com

 

Tropos Motors Unveils Electric Utility Vehicles

Topos Motors ABLE FRV f

The Tropos Motors ABLE FRV fire response vehicle.

Tropos Motors, a distributor of Cenntro Metro low-speed electric vehicles and trucks, is now manufacturing their own vehicles under the ABLE brand. Their first vehicles include the ABLE FRV, a fire response vehicle, and the ABLE EMS, an emergency medical service vehicle. The latter comes in an open or contained configuration.

The ABLE FRV features a 125 gallon skid unit tank, electric rewind Hannay series reel and Scotty Around the Pump class A foam system with 5 gallon foam cell. The electric powertrain includes a 10 kW/13 hp motor and a 72V DC power system with gel lead acid batteries. The rear wheel drive vehicle can put out up to 752 ft. lbs of torque. The ABLE FRV has an adjustable top speed of 25 mph to 35 mph for on road use and 40+ mph top speed off-road. Other specifications include:

  • Power steering
  • Four wheel disc brakes
  • Reinforced ABS bodywork
  • 14″ alloy wheels
  • Halogen headlights and LED signal lights
  • 157 inch turning radius
  • 78″ height that allows access to most parking garages, factories and warehouses
  • Kimtek Firelite Transport Deluxe
  • 9 hp electric start water pump
  • 100 foot Mercedes Boostlite hose
  • 20 foot suction hose
  • Fully enclosed tool box area
  • 1/4 turn ball valves
  • Power Hose Retract
  • AM/FM bluetooth USB stereo
  • Heater/Defroster
  • Back-up camera
Tropos Motors ABLE EMS

The new electric powered ABLE EMS from Tropos Motors.

The ABLE EMS can carry one patient on a full-size, standard ambulance stretcher and one EMS attendant in the bed area. The bed area has a lockable storage box, can accommodate a range of stretcher locking mechanisms and features additional security straps for rugged terrain use. Like the ABLE FRS the electric powertrain includes a 10 kW/13 hp motor and a 72V DC power system with gel lead acid batteries. The rear wheel drive vehicle can put out up to 752 ft. lbs of torque and has a top speed of 25 mph to 35 mph for street legal use or 40+ mph for off-road use. Other specs and features include:

  • 2-person open or enclosed cab
  • Power steering
  • Four wheel disc brakes
  • Reinforced ABS bodywork
  • 14″ alloy wheels
  • Extended rear bumper
  • Halogen headlights and LED signal lights
  • Kimtek MEDLITE Transport
  • 3-position jumper seat with seatbelt
  • Railing stainless grab bars
  • Diamond plate flooring
  • Sliding rear window
  • 2 lbs ABC fire extinguisher
  • 692 lbs payload capacity

The ABLE product line features the Tropos Motors Easy-Swap bed platform system that allows for the customer to switch between different bed packages and customize the vehicle to their specific applications. Easy-Swap bed packages include the:

  • Pickup package with an all aluminum pickup truck style bed with three drop down sides, corrugated flooring and 1,100 lbs payload capacity.
  • Trades package with “Rack-it” brand lumber rack, strap tie downs, aluminum diamond plate flooring, built-in lumber bed side inserts and 1,100 lbs payload capacity.
  • Cargo package with an 123 cubic foot enclosed cargo box with curb side hinged swing door, fully gasketed doors with stainless steel latches and hinges, aluminum diamond plate flooring and 1,100 lbs payload capacity.

Learn more:  Troposmotors.com and PRnewswire.com

Eli Electric Vehicles Launches Eli Zero NEV

Eli Zero NEV

The new Eli Zero NEV from Eli Electric vehicles is expected to reach market in late 2018.

Eli Electric Vehicles is launching a new NEV, the Eli Zero, with the intention to”…fundamentally shift how people engage with modern communities and urban environments.” The company, which is co-headquartered in Long Beach, CA and Beijing, China where the vehicles are manufactured, is now taking reservations for the Eli Zero. The plan is to deliver the first 100 vehicles by the end of 2018. The first 100 customers reserving a vehicle will receive a discount of $2,200 off the expected MSRP of $9,900 to $10,900. The vehicles are targeting the urban mobility space. The base model is expected to have a 55 mile range and the Plus model with a larger battery will have an 85 mile range. The Eli Zero will be using Samsung 18650 lithium cells in the battery pack. Like all NEVs the top speed is limited to 25 mph. Key features of the Eli Zero include:

  • 2-passenger seating plus cargo area behind the seats
  • AC asynchronous motor
  • 48V system
  • 6.0 kWh or 8.3 kWh battery packs
  • Toyota MCU
  • Vehicle Management System that monitors data, malfunctions and energy optimization
  • High-tensile aluminum frame
  • Doors made from a single sheet of thermoplastic-reinforced tempered glass
  • 877 lb/904 lb curb weight for the Base/Plus models
  • Four wheel disk brakes
  • Regenerative braking
  • Cruise control
  • Wide field of vision from the drivers position
  • 24 ft. turning circle
  • Driver proximity detection system to automatically unlock doors
  • LED signal lighting
  • Sunroof
  • Anti-theft system
  • Press to start
  • Multi-function dashboard control dial and LED dashboard display
  • Bluetooth
  • Radio
  • Heat and AC and Defrost
  • Adjustable driver’s seat

Learn more:  NewAtlas.com and Eli.world.

SVR’s Take:  The Eli Zero appears to be a step above the current NEVs on the market in terms of technology and design. The question is whether that is appealing enough to enough consumers. NEVs have consistently fallen short of market expectations in the consumer segment even though a strong argument can be made for their use based on efficiency, appropriateness for urban mobility, size and impact on the environment. An issue in the urban environment is that if a consumer can only own one car will they make it an NEV limited to low speed roads when they can spend several thousand dollars more and have a more versatile highway capable vehicle.

In gated, summer or other communities with widespread use of lower speed vehicles, NEVs are typically the most expensive option. Other available options include used golf cars, refurbished golf cars and new golf cars which can all be customized to a fairly high degree for the same price as an NEV or be equipped with less and cost significantly less. A large swath of that market elects to own less expensive golf cars. From my experience, NEVs have been most successful in these types communities where local regulations are most restrictive regarding the use of golf cars. Perhaps the design and tech of the Eli Zero will have enough appeal to make it a primary choice in a wider range of communities.

In the urban environment NEVs will more likely have a greater appeal where their is a shared fleet of vehicles. In this situation the consumer isn’t making an ownership choice but a ride choice. Do they really need to ride in a highway capable vehicle for a short intra-city trip or will a NEV, likely for a lower cost, be more than sufficient and better for the environment?

Marc Cesare, SVR

Garia Golf Car Inspired By Mercedes Benz Style Premieres

Garia Golf Car Mecedes-Benz Style

The Garia Golf Car inspired by Mercedes-Benz Style is now available in limited edition release.

Garia aluminum rims

14″ black aluminum wheels with diamond-cut elements add style.

outdoor touchpad

The 10″ outdoor touchpad display is paired with bluetooth connectivity.

Under the moniker “The coolest golf car ever”, Garia premiered their Garia Golf Car inspired by Mercedes Benz Style at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. Priced at $73,000, the two-seat Golf Car is the height of luxury and available for a limited edition release.

What makes a $73,000 golf car? You can start with unique styling unlike any other golf car that is a product of Garia’s partnership with Mercedes-Benz. This includes 14″, five spoke, black aluminum rims with diamond cut elements, uniquely designed headlights, carbon fiber accents, as well as Garia and Mercedes-Benz Style logos prominently placed around the vehicle.

The vehicle is handmade including hand-stitched leather “lounge” seats and Mansory carbon fiber parts like the black leather lined roof.The electric powertrain features a 10.24 kWh lithium battery pack good for a 50 mile range and a 70 km/hr top speed that can be limited to 25 mph to meet LSV regulations. For electronics the Golf Car features a 10.1″ outdoor touch screen that displays the scoreboard, bluetooth connection with hands-free streaming, and speakers in the roof and seat interior. Other amenities include a built-in refrigerator, water-proof leather, grab handles, dual size cup-holders and a tray for golf balls and tees. If you are interested, a $1,000 deposit is required to place an order. Learn more: Garia.com

SVR’s Take:  While I’m sure Garia would be happy to sell a bunch of these golf cars that’s not really the point. They are trying to fortify their image as not only a luxury golf car manufacturer but as THE luxury golf car manufacturer. In addition, the design pushes the concept of the golf car away from traditional golf cars and more towards automobiles. With the future of transportation alternatives in flux, this could be helpful in positioning Garia vehicles more towards the personal transportation end of the spectrum as opposed to the golf car end. If niches develop for lower speed urban transportation would you want a vehicle that looks like a golf car or an automobile? From a more current standpoint, elements from the Golf Car will likely find their way into some of Garia’s other lower-priced but still luxurious golf cars.

Marc Cesare, SVR

Road Use Regulation Roundup: January 2018

golf cart sign

The following is a summary of some of the road use regulations for golf cars, LSVs, ATVs and UTVs that have been passed or are being considered at the state, county and city levels in 2017.

Some trends in this latest regulation roundup:

  • After Ohio state officials passed a LSV law municipalities in the state are now passing local ordinances.
  • A number of municipalities are considering or now allowing the use of LSVs for taxi services.
  • Many of the regulations being passed or considered involve both golf cars and LSVs as opposed to just LSVs.
  • Some of the regulations being considered or passes involve allowing UTVs, ATVs and/or mini-trucks on public roads.
  • Some municipalities are reviewing ordinances because of various safety concerns related to the use of golf cars, UTVs, etc.

Malinta, OH – The village council discussed an ordinance allowing golf cars to be operated on public roads.

Bowling Green, OH – The Bowling Green City Council approved an ordinance allowing golf cars to be used on certain low speed city streets with a speed limit of 25 mph or less. The vehicles must be registered and titled,  and possess state-mandated safety equipment.

Garden City, KS – The Garden City Commission passed an ordinance to allow utility vehicles to operate on certain city streets. A previous ordinance allowing mini-trucks on the streets inadvertently left out utility vehicles.

Sanibel-Captiva Island, FL – The City Council denied a permit to allow a business to locate a low-speed vehicle rental service because of a concern over having adequate parking space.

Waterloo, IA – The Waterloo City Council will allow the use of side-by-sides in the Riverview Recreation Area’s off-road vehicle park which previously only allowed motorcycles and ATVs. Some citizens were concerned about the mixing of larger vehicles with the smaller motorcycles and ATVs, and the amount of damage the side-by-sides could do to the trails.

Toledo, OH – The Toledo City Council approved the use of golf cars and LSVs on designated public streets through the end of 2018. Under the ordinance LSVs can include mini-trucks and UTVs that travel up to 25 mph.

Ormond Beach, FL – County officials posted signage along John Anderson Drive to indicate that golf cars are restricted from using the road. The signage is for unlicensed golf cars as golf cars in the state can be classified as LSVs if they meet certain requirements.

Hammock, FL – County commissioners are discussing the issue of golf car use on local roads after numerous residents raised the issue. Residents are concerned about golf cars using bike paths, the ability to cross a state highway to gain access to more roads and the cost of street legal requirements.

Elba, AL – Following numerous complaints, the Elba Police Chief had to address the use of unauthorized golf cars and UTVs on public roads. They are allowed on roadways but must meet certain requirements and be registered, and drivers must be at least 16 years old.

Auburn, AL – The city council passed an ordinance allowing the use of low speed vehicles to operate as cabs on certain city streets. The council was approached by an entrepreneur who is interested in starting an LSV taxi service.

Birmingham, AL – The Birmingham City Council is considering an ordinance that will allow taxi services that use low speed vehicles. The ordinance is based on one from Tuscaloosa where the company Joyride is operating such a service.

Bay St. Louis, MS – The city council wants greater enforcement of regulations regarding the use of LSVs, citing underage driving, parking on sidewalks and adults drinking while driving. The golf cars must be street ready and the drivers licensed and insured.

Ocean Springs, MS – Ocean Springs is considering an ordinance that will allow the use of golf cars and LSVs on streets with a speed limit of 30 mph or less.

Kentucky – A bill was signed that allows the commercial use of LSVs to make deliveries. UPS is planning to use the vehicles during the peak holiday season while the Teamsters Local 89 union, which represents many UPS employees, opposes the move citing lower pay for the LSV drivers and concerns about safety.

Jamestown, RI – The city council passed an ordinance that will allow golf cars, UTVs, ATVs and mini-trucks to be used on designated roads.

Jamestown, RI – Town officials are considering an ordinance that will allow LSVs on local roads.

Southport, NC – The board of alderman are reviewing a golf car ordinance amid concerns about the age of drivers, the use of alcohol while driving, safety requirements and the use of golf cars with four rows of seats.

Fort Myers Beach, FL – The city council is considering a permit that will allow, Nickel Ride, a free low speed vehicle taxi service to operate in the town.

Eustis, FL – Eustis Commisioners are considering an ordinance that will allow golf cars and lows speed vehicles in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.

Carolina Beach, NC – The city council passed an ordinance clarifying the use of golf cars on local city streets. The vehicles will not be allowed to cross streets with speed limits above 35 mph and must have seat belts, headlights, taillights, turn signals and a mirror.

Highland Village, TX – The Highland Village City Council is looking into allowing golf cars and low speed vehicles to operate on certain local streets.

Peachtree City, GA – Peachtree City updated their regulations regarding the authorized use of golf car paths. The update is meant to clarify the rules and allow for better enforcement.

Cloquet City, MN – Cloquet City Councilors passed an ordinance that allows the use of ATVs and UTVs on cerrtain local streets. The vehicles need a permit and the driver needs a license or ATV safety certificate.

 

STOV Self-driving Tech

Yamaha Viking VI autonomous driving

Yamaha Viking VI with autonomous driving technology.

Driverless technology and autonomous driving have been garnering plenty of attention and press lately. The vast majority of the focus has been on highway capable vehicles, but the small, task-oriented vehicle market (STOV) is active in this new area of innovation as well.

One recent example is Yamaha’s development of a fully autonomous Viking VI utility vehicle using their Autonomous System X1 technology. The screenshots from a video of the vehicle in action provides an idea of the technology at work.

Yamaha Viking VI

No driver but some additional screens.

Yamaha Viking VI

Some of the imagery tech the autonomous Viking VI uses.

Yamaha Viking VI

The autonomous Viking VI maneuvering around an obstacle on the trail.

The system combines GPS, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit). Publicly available aerial imagery and digital elevation maps are used to plan the trip, and simulations from a terrain model are used to find the best local path. In addition, camera images are used to detect traversable ares in an off-road environment. The video of the Viking VI in autonomous action is impressive.

May Mobility self-driving GEM

GEM configured by MAy Mobility for self-driving.

Another example are two GEM vehicles being used by May Mobility to test self-driving technology in the city of Detroit. The testing will be conducted from Oct. 9 to 13 in conjunction with Bedrock, LLC, a real estate firm. The six seater GEMs are configured with May Mobility’s software and sensors and be used to transport Bedrock workers to and from various company locations. The vehicles will operate for three hours a day, travel only on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, and have a driver on board to take control in emergency situations if necessary. Learn more:  Startribune.com

In our recently released STOV market study, SVR argues that self-driving technology could produce a significant boost to the STOV market in the coming years. The lower speed environments may provide a safer environment to initially implement self-driving technology. A number of self-driving test vehicles are being used as shuttles along readily defined loops with limited variation. Gated communities are another low speed environment with limited variability that could provide an easier entry point. The largest potential though resides in a large scale movement towards new urban mobility platforms. In congested urban areas the speed limitations of LSVs are less critical as is the lower vehicle range. On the plus side is the smaller size, zero emissions and lower noise of the vehicles. Self-driving technology has the potential to facilitate large scale deployment of low speed vehicles in urban environments.

 

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

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

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