The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently detailed recalls for two different Polaris UTVs, the Ranger EV and the 2019 RZR XP 4 Turbo S. The Ranger EV recall covers model years 2015 to 2019. Polaris previously announced the RZR XP 4 Turbo S in January, 2019 during the government shutdown.
Ranger EV Recall Details
According to the CPSC recall information an incorrectly wired chassis harness on the Ranger EV can cause a bad throttle control signal. As a result, there can be an unexpected acceleration. The recall involves approximately 3,900 vehicles sold from February 2014 through January 2019. The 2015 to 2019 model year vehicles were available in avalanche gray and pursuit camo. There have been eight reports of unexpected accelerations including one incident resulting in injuries. Accordingly, consumers should immediately stop using the vehicles and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. In addition, Polaris is contacting registered owners directly.
RZR XP 4 Turbo S Recall Details
The Polaris RZR XP 4 Turbo S recall includes model year 2019 vehicles which were sold in blue and red. Potentially, the brakes can fail and cause a crash. To date, Polaris has received 11 reports of brake failures, resulting in one crash and one rollover incident. Accordingly, owners should immediately stop using the vehicles and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free repair. In addition, Polaris is contacting registered owners directly. The CPSC did not estimate how many vehicles are involved in the recall. Dealers sold the vehicles from December 2017 through January 2019.
Smallvehicleresource.com maintains a list of small, task-oriented vehicle recalls.
The Rungu Juggernaut MDV Overland is a new three-wheeled e-bike designed for off-road use and as an alternative to ATVs. The e-bike can tow up to 300 lbs and has a 350 lb payload capacity. The drivetrain is a Bafang 1000 Mid Drive with a removable 52V 15 AH Li-ion battery. The dual battery option provides 34 miles of unassisted range. The MSRP is $5,499 but the standard model with one battery is $3,399.
Electrek Rungu e-Bike Review
Electrek.com posted a largely positive review. Some key takeaways from the review.
The bike handles a variety of difficult terrain well from soft sand to ruts to stony ground
Climbs obstacles very well
Performs much better than a two-wheeled fat tire e-bike and more like an ATV but weighs less than 100 lbs
Easy to learn how to ride
Braking power and three-wheel stability handled extremely steep downhills very well
The advent of lower cost lithium batteries and improved electric motors is ushering in a new era of mobility. While much of the focus has been on urban mobility, the Rungu e-bike is an example of the technology making inroads elsewhere. Will the Rungu make significant inroads into the ATV market? Probably not, but it may be able to establish a sizable niche. Producing at higher volume could reduce cost and they could become a formidable substitute. Another possibility is that the Rungu creates a whole new vehicle category.
From a strategic point of view, the Rungu symbolizes a larger threat to the STOV industry. The threat of an industry that may be too complacent and lack vision. As a whole, the industry has not shown great interest in new mobility concepts. although well positioned, STOV companies run the risk of ceding this opportunity to startups and entrants from other industries. Over time, these companies can leverage the manufacturing volume and brand awareness built in new mobility markets, to pursue traditional STOV markets. Is it that far fetched that a company might target urban mobility and then the golf fleet or gated community markets and then head off-road or on campus? Or that Rungu might develop more capable and less expensive e-bike alternatives to encroach further into off-road vehicle segments?
Panasonic is partnering with electric compact utility vehicle manufacturer Tropos Motors to improve vehicle performance. Tropos Motors manufacturers the Able and Able XR electric compact utility vehicles that are low speed and electric powered. The Able features a 72V system with a 13 hp motor and gel lead acid batteries for a 50 mile range. In contrast, the Able XR uses lithium batteries in a 96V system with a 13 hp motor and a range of up to 160 miles.
Compact Utility Vehicle Niche
The electric compact utility vehicle (CUV) is part of the “right-sizing” trend in commercial vehicles. Smaller than a full-size pickup but larger and more capable than a modified golf car, CUVs are designed to be the right tool for the job. Or, in many cases, multiple jobs. In particular, they are useful on college and corporate campuses and urban environments where their smaller size is an advantage and a high top speed is less critical. Like many CUVs, a user has the option of limiting the Able models top speed to 25 mph. Therefore, with the proper safety options, they can be classified as street legal low speed vehicles.
Tropos Motors Capable and Versatile
The Able lineup has 1,100 lbs of payload capacity for the street version and 2,000 lbs for the campus version. Similarly, the towing capacity is 2,000 lbs and 3,000 lbs. Clearly they are capable of hauling and towing for a wide range of applications. Like many CUVs the Able lineup is versatile with their Easy-Swap system of bed packages to perform a wide range of on campus tasks. The bed packages include a pickup style, boxed van for hauling cargo, trades/maintenance configuration for carrying tools, a special sweeper package and a trio of emergency services packages.
Green and Cost Efficient
By virtue of their electric powertrains, electric CUVs can help organizations meet their sustainability goals while limiting air and noise pollution on campus. These smaller vehicles usually have a lower cost of purchase. Furthermore, the electric drive train also produces a lower cost of operation.
Currently, Tropos Motors is a relatively small manufacturer but landing Panasonic as a partner is big deal. What could be an important factor in the growth of this niche is the decreasing cost of lithium batteries. Partnering with Panasonic gives Trompos Motors access to a high volume lithium battery manufacturer. The trade-off between the range, performance and reduced maintenance of lithium batteries and their higher costs is key. As the price comes down, a wider set of applications become possible and less frequent re-charging is needed. The latter may also translate into less charging infrastructure needed. Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com
Optimus Ride, a self-driving startup company with roots in MIT, will be expanding their autonomous shuttle service next quarter to New York and Northern California. In both cases the service will be operating in a more controlled environment than public roads. In New York, Optimus Ride will operate their shuttle service on private roads in the 300-acre Brooklyn Navy Yard. The private development features light and heavy manufacturing and is home to about 8,500 workers. In Fairfield, CA the autonomous shuttle service will be deployed at Paradise Valley Estates. The Estates are a private, 80-acre, retirement community.
Optimus Ride NEVs
Optimus Ride uses GEM e4 and e6 models for their vehicles which are LSVs and therefore limited to a 25 mph top speed. They were first deployed in Weymouth, MA by the Boston-based company. Last year another 15 cities in the state announced an agreement to serve as a test bed for the autonomous shuttle service. Learn more: Theverge.com
The use of NEVs in a controlled environment as a testbed for autonomous vehicles is not surprising. SVR has previously discussed the advantages of using LSVs in gated communities for self-driving technology. These environments are more controlled than public roads with a limited, clearly defined set of low speed roadways. In addition, the older populations who may not be able to or want to drive can potentially find the greatest value in the service. At the same time, the gated community offers a challenging environment for testing the technology. Similar to public roads, there is a mix of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, albeit on a smaller scale. The low-speed roadways offers a cost advantage as well, since an electric LSV costs far less than a highway capable EV.
Recent vehicle news from Asia spurred some thoughts on the opportunity urban mobility presents to small, task-oriented vehicle (STOV) manufacturers.
Urban Mobility Changing
Battery Swapping Autorickshaws
The first article reports on the use of battery swapping to power electric autorickshaws in India. Battery swapping removes the very expensive battery component from the upfront purchase price and reduces long term operating costs. In addition, the electric part moves toward a more climate friendly and less polluting transportation system.
The current thinking by some is that smaller two and three-wheeled vehicles provide the best economic case for battery swapping. In contrast, larger vehicles require larger batteries. This means more expensive and complicated swapping stations, and higher up front investment costs for the battery supplier. While this an India based example, the advent of e-scooters, e-bikes and startups offering three wheelers indicate market potential in the US.
Fuel Cell Powered Small Vehicle
This week Yamaha Motor announced the public testing of a prototype fuel cell vehicle for a vehicle sharing service. The vehicle looks like less than a typical automobile but more than a golf car. The technology advances new concepts in urban mobility as well as initiatives in Japan to promote hydrogen based fueling. Though the fuel cell provides greater range and less refueling needs, the more important part of this test for STOV OEMs is the vehicle form. The vehicle size and level of complexity should be a good fit for their capabilities.
Is Urban Mobility Too Small for Traditional Auto OEMs?
These transportation technologies represent a new opportunity for STOV manufacturers to leverage their existing manufacturing and technology expertise into new vehicle markets. The traditional automobile manufacturers are less likely to view these markets as an opportunity. Although, in the long term they could represent a threat to their dominance or at least reduce their addressable market. They are already pouring billions of dollars to enter the highway capable EV market. However, they must balance investment between highly profitable and traditionally popular ICE vehicles and lower margin and riskier EVs. Smaller, alternative energy vehicles are even farther down the list. In addition, their work force arguably did not join their companies to produce small, urban vehicles.
Urban Mobility Attracts Diverse Providers
Entrants in the urban mobility space include startups like Arcimoto and traditional small vehicle manufacturers serving Asian and to a lesser degree European markets. Startups have the advantage of creating purpose-built vehicles specifically for new mobility markets. However, they lack the manufacturing expertise, financial resources and distribution networks. Traditional foreign small vehicle manufacturers know their home markets, and have the distribution, financing and manufacturing assets. However, they do not have a strong presence in the US market.
Other potential entrants include the likes of bike sharing companies as well as Lyft and Uber that have moved into ride sharing with e-scooters and e-bikes. However, these company’s expertise is not in manufacturing. They provide the platform for people to access mobility. One can argue that the platform itself does not provide as a wide moat as the manufacturing and technology assets. The strengths and weaknesses of these potential providers and the dynamics of the urban mobility market suggest an opening for existing US STOV manufacturers.
Best Positioned US STOV Market Leaders
Among the current leading UTV, golf car and LSV manufacturers companies Polaris, Textron and Yamaha appear to be best positioned to pursue this new opportunity. Polaris owns Aixam, the leading European quadricycle brand as well as the GEM, Goupil and Taylor-Dunn electric vehicle brands. These brands provide them with electric vehicle technology as well as a range of distribution networks. On the other hand, the DNA and profit driver of Polaris is off-road motorsports. They may see relatively greater returns on investment in their traditional markets.
After the acquisition of Arctic Cat, Textron is similar to Polaris and now has an expansive small vehicle portfolio. Their DNA is more golf car and PTV, and therefore likely better suited towards urban mobility. However, the integration of Arctic Cat has been bumpy and they were slow to recognize the original UTV opportunity. As a piece of a larger conglomerate, their Textron Specialized Vehicle division may not be entrepreneurial enough or have the freedom to pursue this opportunity.
Yamaha has both off-road and golf car type offerings as well as e-bikes, but are not well coordinated. These businesses are in separate business units. In addition, their golf car portfolio has been emphasizing gas powered technology rather than electric technology. Yamaha’s existing mobility concept testing along with having one foot in the Asian market and another in the US should be an advantage. However, their slow re-entry into the UTV market after problems with the Rhino side-by-side speaks to a more cautious corporate approach.
The STOV OEMs appear to have many of the necessary requirements to pursue the urban mobility opportunity. The question remains whether they believe in the opportunity and if they are willing to take the risk.
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.
My colleague Stephen Metzger recently attended the 2019 PGA Show in Orlando, FL. Two trends stood out from his journey through various exhibits. First, the on-going development of feature-rich and customizable personal transportation vehicles (PTVs), particularly through automotive-type features. Second, the mainstreaming of lithium power.
PTVs to the Forefront
The manufacturer announcements at the PGA Show and the current PTV shopping experience points to a clear emphasis on PTV market. Both large and small manufacturers are driving this trend. This is part of an overarching effort by manufacturers to pursue growth in the non-fleet golf car markets. They are targeting the utility and personal transportation segments as fleet sales have declined and then stagnated.
Customization with automotive features
Manufacturer websites now allow for easy and quick customization with the simple click of a few buttons. Build your own functionality adds accessories and provides transparent pricing in seconds. Many of these accessories are automotive-style features like LED lighting, high-end audio systems, premium upholstery, and bodywork accents. In addition, these trends are evident not only in offerings from major vehicle manufacturers but from new and smaller manufacturers as well as aftermarket accessory providers.
Lithium Powers Up at the PGA Show
The mainstreaming of lithium powered vehicles is the second key trend evident at the PGA Show. E-Z-GO the first major manufacturer to significantly move to lithium did so two years ago. Now they are expanding their lithium powered lineup beyond fleet models and some PTVs to include select utility vehicles. More significantly, Club Car announced their own lithium powered fleet vehicle, the Tempo, and likely will offer their Onward PTV with a lithium option later in the year. Missing from the lithium powered party for now is Yamaha Golf Car.
Lithium Market Implications
The move to lithium powered vehicles will likely produce significant changes in the STOV market. Greater range, charging times, and lengthier warranties on battery packs are key improvements. Consequently, they will affect the fleet vehicle cycle, electric powered UTV capabilities and PTV functionality. One effect that should not be underestimated is the maintenance free nature of lithium battery packs. Proper maintenance of lead acid batteries continue to vex individual owners and fleet managers. Maintenance of lead acid batteries continues to be a challenge despite being used for decades and the introduction of advanced watering systems and other technologies. Poor maintenance can lead to a less efficient powertrain, and potentially a large bill for a new battery pack.
For more detail on new products and trends at the PGA Show read my colleague Stephen Metzger’s article.
Textron Specialized Vehicles Launches Hauler 800 ELiTE Electric UTV
Textron Specialized Vehicles launched the Cushman Hauler 800 ELiTE electric powered utility vehicles. Samsung SDI lithium technology powers the ELiTE series. The Cushman Hauler 800 and 800X will feature the lithium battery pack. Textron is targeting golf course superintendents with these models.
The Hauler 800 and 800X ELiTE powertrains feature a 48-volt AC drive with a 11.7 hp (peak) motor and two zero maintenance lithium ion batteries. In comparison, the existing electric Hauler 800 and 800X have a 48-volt AC drive with 4.4 hp continues motor and six deep cycle batteries.
Textron’s initial introduction of the ELiTE lithium batteries in fleet golf cars was successful. As a result, utility vehicles used on golf courses are a logical extension of the program. Furthermore, from a macro market perspective, Textron is the first major manufacturer in the STOV market to make a strong push with lithium powered vehicles. While others have offered lithium batteries as an option on some vehicles, Textron is the first to incorporate them into key models.
Where is the Competition on Lithium Batteries?
Polaris diverse lineup sprinkled with lithium models
With the 2017 acquisition of Arctic Cat, Textron Specialized Vehicle business became an even more direct competitor with Polaris. Polaris has been active in the electric vehicle market for years. They invested in Brammo, and acquired Goupil in France and GEM and Taylor-Dunn in the US. However, to date, Polaris has not made a big push into lithium powered utility vehicles in the US. GEM vehicles have an option and the European based Goupil offers two lithium battery pack options for many models. Polaris briefly offered their Ranger EV with a lithium pack but the model was significantly more expensive. Their volume in fleet golf cars provides Textron with an advantage over Polaris when introducing lithium powered models.
Club Car enters the fray
At the recent 2019 PGA Show Club Car introduced its lithium powered fleet vehicle, the Tempo. According to sources, they are likely to introduce a lithium powered version of their Onward PTV later in the year. Like Textron, Club Car will have the advantage of production volume through fleet sales. They likely will follow suit and offer lithium powered utility vehicles in the future. A smaller manufacturer likely to follow the trend is STAR Electric Vehicles.
Using the 2019 PGA Merchandise Show as a launch pad, Yamaha Golf-Car Company unveiled their new light utility vehicle, the UMAX Rally 2+2. Aiming for a broad swath of the market, the company is marketing the vehicle as crossover model for work or play. The vehicle’s “rugged” styling is less golf car and more closely aligned with the rest of the UMAX line. The UMAX Rally 2+2 features a lifted suspension, front brush guard, wide fender flares and a convertible rear seat. In addition, customers can choose between a electronic fuel injected gas engine or AC electric powertrain.
UMAX Rally 2+2 Features & Specs
Additional features and specs include:
Powertrain Options: Yamaha 402cc, single cylinder EFI gas engine or 48V, 6.7 hp AC electric motor with 350 amp controller
Rear coil suspension system with individual coil springs with dual compressions for standard or heavier loads
Front bucket seats
Basket storage area behind the front seats
Sealed under-hood storage compartment
In-dash storage pockets with anti-slip rubber mats
HybriCore steel chassis
Tru-Trak II fully independent automotive-style strut front suspension
Mechanical drum front and rear brakes
15 mph top speed
This model will be available at authorized Yamaha dealers in Spring 2019.
Similar to many other UTV manufacturers, Yamaha is building out their utility vehicle line to drive sales growth. Marketed as a ‘work or play’ vehicle, this model is also trying to tap into the growing PTV market. The UMAX product line now includes four different models with most offering an option of gas or electric powertrains. Essentially, the UMAX Rally 2+2 adds a crew version to the lineup. The product line is versatile and can appeal to a wide range of commercial and consumer end users. The line offers varying levels of cargo and passenger capacity as well as light off-road capabilities.