My colleague Steve Metzger recently attended the 2019 PGA Show. He reports on the trends in personal mobility vehicles from established and new players. In addition, he discusses the mainstreaming of lithium batteries and related implications. The following is a summary of key insights from the article.
The personal mobility market in the form of personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) is attracting an increased level of product development.
The major fleet golf car manufacturers, Club Car, E-Z-GO and Yamaha are turning their attention to PTVs and other non-golf markets.
New models incorporate a greater variety of features and more automotive style features
The Sirius PTV from Star Electric Vehicles is the most likely candidate to seriously challenge offerings from Club Car, E-Z-GO and Yamaha.
Club Car introduced lithium battery powered models and other manufacturers are considering the technology as well
Both Trojan Battery and ReLion Battery presented lithium batteries targeting the aftermarket for PTVs, golf cars and light-duty utility vehicles
Lithium battery market penetration has implications for the recycling of fleet golf cars, used PTVs and future demand for public road access for PTVs
EFI engine technology continues to advance in the face of improving battery technology as market choice will likely increase before a winner shakes out
Potential California LSV legislation could become a model for other states and a market driver
Product engineers may drive the market in the next 3 to 5 years
A recent article speculated that Ingersoll-Rand’s acquisition of Precision Flow Systems could pave the way breaking up the conglomerate. Club Car is one of the pieces that seems a poor fit with the rest of Ingersoll-Rand. If this is the case, then Polaris Industries might be a good suitor.
The Pros for Acquiring Club Car
A strong international brand
Club Car has a number of characteristics that match previous Polaris acquisitions. First, Club Car is a leading brand, if not, the leading brand of the three major golf car manufacturers. Second, it is an international brand. Third, Club Car participates, in part, in a fragmented industry. Therefore, Polaris would have an opportunity to use their resources to establish a more dominate market position. While the golf car fleet market is primarily a three company affair, Club Car, E-Z-GO and Yamaha, the non-fleet personal transportation vehicle (PTV) and light utility vehicle markets are more fragmented markets. Fourth, a large installed base of vehicles forms the basis for a substantial parts and accessories business. This was a key reason for the Polaris purchase of Taylor-Dunn.
Club Car complements Polaris vehicle portfolio
A large portion of Club Car vehicles sold are electric and would fit well with the Polaris EV portfolio. Other EVs in the Polaris portfolio include GEM, Goupil, Taylor-Dunn and Aixam. Polaris could spread their battery and EV powertrain development costs over a larger number of vehicles. In addition, Club Car’s end markets and distribution network would complement current efforts by Polaris. Their PTVs would complement the street legal GEM vehicles and their light utility vehicles would complement the more heavy-duty Rangers.
In addition, the golf manufacturer’s dealer network would expand Polaris’ footprint. While there is some overlap with the GEM and Taylor-Dunn dealer networks, there would also be a large number of additional dealer locations in the US and internationally. Furthermore, these dealers could be used to expand the GEM and Taylor-Dunn distribution. Club Car end markets such as golf courses, resorts, colleges, airports and other institutions would also take Polaris into new markets or broaden their vehicle offerings where they overlap.
The Cons for Acquiring Club Car
Is there enough growth?
Polaris looks for acquisitions in growing markets and/or traditionally strong but neglected brands that they can leverage. In the case of Club Car, the fleet golf car market has been declining for a number of years. The PTV and light UTV markets are growing but not at really high rates and are a smaller part of the business. Club Car isn’t necessarily a neglected brand but is somewhat lost among much larger Ingersoll-Rand businesses. In contrast, Polaris might be able to focus more attention and resources and make a strong brand even stronger.
Another acquisition to swallow
Polaris has already made a number of acquisitions in the past year, adding Boat Holdings and the Marquis-Larson Boat Group to start a new boating business. Acquiring Club Car would require more management time and focus to successfully integrate the business into Polaris. In addition, the purchase would likely add additional debt to their balance sheet. Polaris management might want to finish integrating their recent acquisitions before adding another piece and avoid increasing their debt.
What Will Polaris Do?
A strong argument could be made that Polaris should acquire Club Car if it’s for sale. The key questions are whether the management perceives if there is enough growth in the market, and do they think they can use their resources to drive more growth. The combination of the PTV and light UTV markets along with the parts and accessories business may offer enough potential. Timing may also be an issue. Any down turn in the economy, which some are predicting, would hurt Polaris. Discretionary income drives a significant portion of their sales.
Polaris reported another strong quarter and full year with 4th quarter sales of $1.6 billion, up 14% from last year. Full year sales topped $6.1 billion, up 12% from the prior year. The ORV/Snowmobile segment reported sales of $1.1 billion for the quarter, an increase of 7% year over year. The ORV portion declined 2% as the company had a tough comparable with the prior year’s quarter. On a negative note, management expects tariff and trade war costs to total between $110 to $120 million company wide for fiscal year 2019. They will hit the ORV and Motorcycle businesses the hardest. A significant portion of the Q&A on the call revolved around tariff and trade war costs. A summary of the earnings call highlights related to the STOV market follow.
Polaris Earnings Call Highlights
Polaris side-by-side retail sales increased mid single digits % while ATV retail sales decreased mid single digits %
Average selling price for the ORV segment increased by 7% but were partially offset by tariff, logistics, and commodity costs
Polaris gained market share in the side-by-side market for the quarter and the full year
Management believes they are gaining share from Japanese competitors and Arctic Cat, now owned by Textron
Global Adjacent Markets revenue increased 4% to $122 million on the strength of commercial, government and defense and Aixam businesses.
Polaris increased wholegood prices 3.5% for the ORV/Snowmobile segment at the start of 2019 to counter tariff and trade costs
Revenue for ORV/Snowmobile and Global Adjacent Markets segments are expected to increase mid-single digits % for fiscal year 2019
Management does not expect to enter into electric powered markets until there is large consumer demand. Their response pertained to motorcycles but appears to be their general philosophy.