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New Directions: Reading Between The Lines At The 2020 PGA Show

Published: 2/28/2020 Author: Stephen Metzger Category: Trade Show Reports

While there was much to see at the 2020 PGA Show, what was not seen may be the real story.  What I am alluding to are the implications of these four, quite observable factors:

  • The spotlight on personal transportation vehicles (PTVs), not fleet golf cars;
  • Automotive features as standard aspects of PTVs;
  • Lithium battery power;
  • The wide range of different types of wheeled vehicles at the show.

            All of the above, taken together, suggest a new generation of diverse vehicles going well beyond the golf market.  In general terms the emerging market that trends will play into is that of urban/suburban mobility.  (Interestingly, there are no exhibitions or trade shows for small vehicles, to my knowledge, that focus on this market.)  To a significant degree at this point, you have to read between the lines to discern manufacturers’ intentions and what may be in their as yet undisclosed corporate strategies.

            From  the interviews below with key  company  executives the way forward can be assessed, even though the  particulars remain obscure.

Strategic Positions of the  Big Three

            The Big Three of golf car manufacturing and sales, that is, Club Car, E-Z-GO, and  Yamaha are  moving their product offerings cautiously, but surely, toward broader markets.

Club Car Looks to Vehicle Connectivity, Building on the Success of the Onward

            In speaking with Robert McElreath, Vice President, Vehicle Connectivity, it is clear that Club Car is looking ahead to new market opportunities.  According to McElreath, telematics, which allow vehicles to connect with each other and with base stations for purposes of location, servicing, and fleet allocation will become increasingly important as the market for small electric vehicles expands in a variety of areas, including the urban and suburban markets.

            Moreover, Club Car is closely monitoring developments in municipal and other markets to see where the next step in personal transportation vehicles takes place—and Club Car sees telematics as an important component of the market’s evolution.

Text Box: Club Car Onwhard now available with lithium batteries.  More enhancements likely, getting away from the “golf cart” look.

            As McElreath noted, “This is a quickly developing market and product opportunity where new technologies, including telematics, are likely to play an important role in new product develop-ment.  This is all part of the trend of incorporating automotive features in our utility and PTV lineup.” 

            The market success of the company’s Onward model has clearly laid a foundation for the next step in product development and has made a significant innovation investment to bring to market what the company views as “a best in class” electric vehicle architecture.  Club Car sees this investment as positioning the company for continued long-term growth.  

            Dan Dykstra, Club Car’s Consumer Portfolio Leader, puts it this way:  “The new architecture in the Onward HP and Onward HP Li-Ion is the reason for the exhilarating ride.  This technology allows us to provide a personally customized experience and makes possible some very exciting functionality.”

            Dykstra further explains,  ”One simple example is that our new smart architecture detects when the vehicle is slowing down and automatically lights up the brake lights, even when the brake pedal isn’t being pressed.  There are many “peace of mind” and just plain fun features on the way.”  Moreover, he says,  “Club Car Connect for Consumer is coming soon and pairs an exciting consumer focused digital experience with our industry leading golfer experience for enjoyment in the neighborhood and on the course.”

The Central Role of Lithium Power

            Lithium battery power is an exciting technology with high power density and low weight, and ass the technology continues to be enhanced and prices continue to drop, the capabilities of the vehicle will evolve.  Questions remain, particularly in the near term, as to the degree current market awareness of the benefits of lithium and the timing of market acceptance when lithium becomes the standard—and displaces traditional lead acid.

            In this process of awareness and acceptance, dealer networks will play a key role, especially in the PTV market.  In an interview with Mark Messick, Onward Product Manager, Messick emphasized the need to fully apprise dealers of the advantages that lithium power has, as compared to what consumers are most familiar with, that is, lead acid.  He noted, “While dealers are quick to catch on to new sales and profit opportunities, it is certainly the responsibility of Club Car, as the manufacturer, to help in every way we can in the promotion and development of the lithium-based product market.”

E-Z-GO Positions Itself as the Industry’s Technology Leader

            In a discussion with John Collins, Vice President Consumer, he stated, “We believe we are the technology leader in the industry.”  As examples, he  cited,

  • E-Z-GO’s introduction of lithium power to the fleet and PTV market; 
  • The IntelliBrake system; 
  • First with AC Drive technology; 
  • Currently the only 72-volt powertrain on the market;  and 
  • Now introduction of the quieter, more efficient EX1 gas engine.

            With regard to the low-speed vehicles (LSVs), Collins acknowledged that local regulations and local dealer situations tend to govern the market.  He noted that, “In many cases our 2Five is over-compliant.”  Over-compliance in a local market usually means extra cost to the consumer when some of the features are not needed in order to drive on public roads.

            That being said, E-Z-GO Textron is aware of the possibilities for new markets and products.  As Collins put it, “Looking ahead to developments in urban/suburban mobility, we are carefully monitoring the evolution of the market.”  Given E-Z-GO’s track record of introducing new technologies and products, industry observers, as well as competitors, will be keeping close watch for the company’s next moves.

            Regarding the new EX1 gas engine, Matt Zaremba, Director Design Engineering and Strategy for E-Z-GO Textron, touted the product as having a unique design, developed internally at E-Z-GO that optimizes power, low pollution attributes, and engine quietness.  The EX1 is an electronic fuel-injected engine, optimizing miles per gallon and producing the lowest emissions of any golf car on the market, according to Zaremba and company promotions.

Text Box: E-Z-GO lithium models, Elite and Express.  The power to get beyond the gates.            The design also features a Smart Engine Management system that monitors the electrical system, shutting off accessories when they’re not in use, helping to make EX1 the industry’s most efficient engine.  Because the engine design includes an integrated starter/generator, the EX1 work like a hybrid engine, auto starting and stopping as needed for fuel economy.

            Zaremba makes the further point that unlike the typical gas engine for golf cars, sourced from the likes of Kawasaki and others, the EX1 is specifically designed for golf car-type vehicles.  Promotion of the EX1 at the Show and on the Club Car site emphasize the golf market, and it is apparent that this engine will be giving golf courses the option of an environmentally friendly alternative to electric-powered fleet vehicles.  On the other hand the EX1 will be available on the Freedom, RXV, and TXT models and  thus have a presence in the PTV market.

            From the perspective of its product portfolio, E-Z-GO is maintaining a balance between gas and electric and continuing to appeal to consumers with a gas preference with a significantly upgraded product.

Yamaha Bides Its Time

Text Box: Yamah’s new fully independent rear suspension for the Drive2 vehicles.        The most conservative of the Big Three, Yamaha has yet to field a lithium option in either its fleet or PTV series.  Given conversations with reps at the booth, however, one comes away with the 

IRS

distinct impression that a lithium-powered vehicle may be coming soon. One indication of this was the introduction of a new, fully independent rear suspension, which is a first for the golf and PTV industry.  The fully independent design assures better road ability and handling.     

            Frank Savakis, Regional Manager for the East Region, pointed out that the greater stability also lends itself to lithium batteries, which, in being so much lighter than lead acid batteries, the typical PTV or golf car loses the ballast effect of these much heavier batteries.  Thus, when Yamaha does introduce lithium into its product line, the superior design of the rear suspension, should enhance overall performance.

Automotive Features Spotlighted 

            Another aspect of product evolution is the incorporation of automotive features, particularly in the driver/passenger space of the vehicle.   No longer, in many models, are such accessories as heating and cooling devices or sound systems simply add-ons or an aftermarket attachment.  Rather, this equipment is molded into the interior design of the vehicle.  Touchscreen LCD panels have become part of the interior design as well, giving driver and passenger access to a wide range of information or entertainment options.  New federal regulations, in fact, prescribe that LSV certification include backup warning signal and a rearview camera.

            The impact of these options (or new standard features) is to weight the choice between PTV and automobile in favor of the former.  This assumes the transportation system is conducive to using low speed vehicles, which is the case in most gated or planned communities.  In suburban communities using PTVs will depend on local ordinances and practice and may take an activist approach to initiate LSV inclusion in municipal transportation plans.

            Product evolution has yet to produce an enclosure solution that will take the PTV to the next level of automotive comparability.    Doug Ballenger, Dealer Development Manager for Tomberlin, indicated that his company was giving the enclosure issue serious thought and he ventured that the question that arises with regard to doors, is should they be half-doors or full doors or somewhere in between?  In a way of paraphrasing the issue, is the PTV an open air, fair weather vehicle with easy ingress and egress—or should it be more weather resistant and at the same time less open air and more restrictive?  The open air version answers to the PTV’s golf car roots and a traditional market in mild climates.  The enclosed solution readies the PTV for the urban/suburban mobility market.

Text Box: The Cheeta Runner, fully-enclosed low-speed vehicle (classfied as a mobility scooter.Cheeta Runner            With regard to the latter market, John Wong, President of Cheeta Company, may have an answer.  Picture to the left is the three-passenger Cheeta Runner, a fully-enclosed LSV.  Not only fully-enclosed but comes with all the bells and whistles to include heating, air conditioning, turn signals, and backup camera.  Note the wide doors which allow easy access to both front seating and to the rear light haulage space.  The price tag is $6,100 

 

            According to Wong, Cheeta Runner was inspired by the SMART CAR and is classified as a low-speed electric vehicle (LSEV) International, but in the US, Cheeta qualifies as a mobility scooter under 18mph, requiring no registration and no Insurance (a good example of the mechanics outpacing regulations).  

            Small Chinese made vehicles have found it tough-sledding against the established Big Three brands.  With a price tag of $6,100 at retail, however, there will be takers (buyers) and performance reviews will probably tell the tale of future potential.

The Big Three and the Urban/Suburban Market Development:  An Industry Turning Point?  

            Club Car, E-Z-GO, and Yamaha come to the PGA Show—as do manufacturers with smaller market share such as STAR and Evolution Electric Vehicles—because the golf industry drives their revenue and has done so historically.  Thus, even though their main revenue component is now PTVs, not fleet golf cars (see SVR’s recently published study, Small Task-Oriented Vehicles in the Age of Lithium), their vehicle offering remain golf car derivatives—and these vehicles are used well beyond the confines of a golf course. 

            Given the statements of those executives interviewed at the Show, it is safe to say that both major companies and an array of start-ups will be closely monitoring the emerging urban/suburban mobility market.

The Urban/Suburban Mobility (U/SM) Market:  Is It for Real?

            Answer:  Clearly, absolutely the answer is, yes.  Already in cities and municipalities across the country enterprising companies are fielding fleets of e-bikes, scooters, and shuttles that have formed alternative modes of getting from point A to point B.  Example:  Lime, based in San Francisco has put fleets of dockless bikes into dozens of cities, not only in the U.S. but abroad as well

            Have they all these alternative modes of transportation been successful?  No.  Some new entrants have had to withdraw from the market or withdraw installations in particular communities or municipalities.  Others have not withdrawn from the market but have repositioned themselves.  Lime, for example, has withdrawn its bikes but is replacing them with electric-powered scooters.

            Another company, Circuit, was the subject of a conversation with Brian Rott, CEO of Cart Mart. The company offers last mile shuttle services now in 21 locations across the country.  The primary shuttle vehicle is the GEM e6.  Brian, whose company has now expanded to five dealerships, is a GEM dealer and supplies the vehicle to Circuit.

            As Brian explained, Circuit and similar companies are early participants in what has been dubbed the “microtransit” market, which could be viewed as a component of the urban/suburban mobility market.  The fact that Lime features scooters and Circuit uses enclosed mid-sized electric vehicles for the same purpose; i.e., moving people efficiently from point A to B in urban and suburban environments, gives you some idea of the breadth of wheeled vehicle solutions that function in the market currently—with, no doubt, different varieties to come.

Telematics, the Complementary Component to Alternative Transportation Systems

            Telematics will play a key role in the U/SM market.  Virtually all these new systems involve ride-sharing, and where you have ridesharing, it is imperative to know where vehicles are, whether multipassenger or single rider, and their operating condition.  Rott, ever the entrepreneur, has founded a company called DRiEV Technologies which incorporates his vision of a fully interconnected transportation system.  

            As previously noted, executives from Club Car and E-Z-GO gave their perspective on the U/SM market, clearly indicating that they see it as a market with potential—and which, via in some cases their already developed communication systems for golf fleets, will necessarily have a complementary telematics component.

            One of the implications of the emerging U/SM market is that vehicles and their attendant systems will become increasingly more complex.  This has further implications for companies’ dealer networks, which will be called up on to service the new systems and vehicles.  Thus, a major investment in training and skills upgrading will be in store for manufacturers.

Scooters Have an increasing Presence at the PGA Show

            The cohort of scooter companies at the Show was substantial, eclipsing by far the representation of this type of vehicle appearing in previous Shows.  Scooters are a commonly observed vehicle in the U/SM market, and while they are appealing to the golf market at the Show, it is readily apparent they are ready to participate in other markets beyond golf.

 

Text Box: The Phat 19 AH electric scooter—golf plus other uses.            Among those in  this category is Phat Scooters, headquartered in Tempe, AZ.  This a robust scooter, powered by a 72volt, 13 or19AH battery, nestled in the floorboard of the vehicle.  As the brand name suggests, the tires are, indeed, fat, and so have a low psi footprint, quite acceptable at the golf course.  The golf model is outfitted with a golf bag holder, cup holder, scorecard holder, phone holder, and cooler, and is pictured to the right.    

 

            While playing to the golf market, Phat has a broader market in mind.  In fact its vision is that “Phat Scooters® provide a new found electric freedom anywhere the road or path less traveled takes you.” (From the company website.)   Look for Phat scooters in your local community and on city streets.  

            Another scooter vendor at the Show was Skoosa™ scooters, based in San Diego, CA.  Again, the model at the PGA Show demonstrated the product’s suitability for golf, but the vision is much larger, if a bit hyped:  

“This is intelligent and iconic design.  It will go down in history as one of the great micromobility solutions.”  (From the company’s website.)  Like Phat, the vehicle has wide tires, is lithium powered (LG battery cells), with relatively quick recharge time, and a 40 mile range from a state of full charge.

Motorized Caddies:  Yet Another “Beyond Golf” Vehicle           

            Just as PTVs need to outgrow the moniker of “golf carts”, so do motorized, or powered caddies need to do the same.  These handy vehicles, most three-wheeled, but some four-wheeled have a plethora uses in the U/SM market from toting tool chests and kits of carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to transporting the groceries of senior citizens.

            A good example of the basic diversity of uses for the powered caddy was the Trikke product from Yates Enterprises.  This is a lithium powered three-wheeler that, in this case you can stand on.  Or, if you prefer to walk, the vehicle can be remotely controlled and follow you around a golf course or a city block.  The Trikke is pictured toting a golf bag, but the product actually at the Show was designed for security purposes and marketed to police departments around the country.

            In the category of “just wheels”, the Club Booster from eWheels™ is exactly just that.  It essentially is an adjustable axle, containing the lithium batteries, with wheels on either side.  It can be adjusted in length to fit any non-powered caddy, with clamps to secure it to the caddy frame.  And, voila, you’ve got power.

Text Box: The Cub Booster from eWheels

Club Booster eWheelsBoth the Club Booster and the Trikke feature in-hub electric motors, a design now widely used in many e-mobility vehicles and may be a forerunner to their use in U/SM PTVs at some point.  Hub motors have certain advantages for control and optimizing for driving conditions.

Urban/Suburban Mobility:  An Emerging Market Looking for a Trade Show

            All the vehicles featured in this article are, of course, suitable for the golf market, but are also adaptable to solving the problems of urban/suburban transit in the age of lithium and the new era of electrification.  Paradoxically, that while the U/SM market will be much larger than the golf market, there is no trade show which specifically caters to the wheeled vehicles of all types that will populate this emerging space.

            The profit motive, such as it is, will undoubtedly close this gap in the near future.

 

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