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

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

 

NHTSA: New Sound Requirement For LSVs

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

The all new 2016 GEM e2.

New NHTSA regulations will require LSVs like the GEM e2 to emit sounds at low speeds to alert pedestrians.

New National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations will add a sound requirement to hybrids and electric light-duty vehicles to make them easier to perceive. The requirement mandates that hybrids and electric cars with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less must emit an audible sound when traveling at speeds of of approximately 19 miles per hour or less and when moving forward or in reverse. The regulation will apply to low speed vehicles. According to NHTSA,

“The new federal safety standard will help pedestrians who are blind, have low vision, and other pedestrians detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are traveling at low speeds, which will help prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once all hybrids in the fleet are properly equipped….Manufacturers have until Sept. 1, 2019, to equip all new hybrid and electric vehicles with sounds that meet the new federal safety standard. Half of new hybrid and electric vehicles must be in compliance one year before the final deadline.”

At first glance the regulation does not cover golf cars, even tough in many areas they are allowed to operate on local streets. From NHTSA’s point of view a golf car is not a street legal vehicle, and therefore not regulated as a motor vehicle. LSVs, on the other hand, are street legal and regulated. A gray area may be modified golf cars which may meet LSV requirements but are not purposely manufactured as LSVs. I spoke with Thomas Healy in NHTSA’s legal office and a key determining factor is the speed of the vehicle. If a vehicle’s top speed is not more than 20 mph then it is not considered a motor vehicle. However, a golf car modified to meet Federal LSV requirements and modified to have a top speed over 20 mph may technically fall under this new regulation.

I also spoke with a dealer that sells LSVs to both colleges and consumers. The colleges like the idea of these vehicles having sound as a safety feature, since they are often navigating a campus environment crowded with pedestrians. A key reason colleges purchase LSVs rather than golf cars are the vehicle’s safety features. On the other hand, according to the dealer, consumers do not like the idea of constantly hearing a noise, especially at night. In fact, one of the reasons they like electric powered LSVs is their quiet operation. The irony is the regulation could incentivize LSV owners to drive faster, maintaining a speed over 19 mph as much as possible to avoid emitting the sound.

I also spoke with a public safety officer at The Villages in Florida. They have thousands of golf cars and LSVs and many miles of multi-modal paths. He stated that the lack of noise from electric powered vehicles did not stand out as a significant safety issue. In part, he suggested that the level of awareness among residence is a mitigating factor. With the large number of golf cars and LSVs operating in the community, as well as the multi-modal paths, residents have a heightened awareness of their surroundings and the dangers while traveling on foot. He also suggested that a safety sound emanating from so many vehicles could prove to be very annoying.

Learn more:  NHTSA.org (Press Release)

Learn more:  NHTSA Quiet Car Rule (PDF)