My colleague Stephen Metzger discusses Club Car’s product development strategy in a new article. In particular, he analyzes Club Car’s partnership with AEV Technologies and the resulting offering, the Club Car 411 utility vehicle. Rather than develop the vehicle in-house, which Club Car has the capabilities to do, they decided to go outside. Is management embracing a new approach to product development or is this just a one-off exercise? In addition, an interview with Brian Rott, President Cart Mart in California, discusses how the 411 fits in the market.
Road Use Regulation Summary
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 June, 2019 are summarized below.
- The majority of the ordinances expand the use of golf cars, LSVs, or UTVs on city streets.
- Most of the legislative activity is occurring in the Midwest
Road Use Regulation By Location
Wisconsin – Title fees for low speed vehicles will increase from $62 to $157, similar to other vehicles.
Barnegat Light, NJ – The Council, after earlier tabling an ordinance that would allow the use of golf cars on certain city streets, have decided to not pursue the issue further. A critical issue was that the vehicles would have to cross a higher speed road, which would require an exception to state law.
Brazil, IN – Residents registered nearly 100 golf carts and off-road UTVs since an ordinance passed in February, 2019.
Wakefield, IN – The City Council is considering an ordinance to allow golf cars on certain city streets. The police chief and a councilman are looking at similar ordinances and potentially expanding the ordinance to other types of vehicles.
Paola, KS – Starting in January, 2020 residents will be able to drive UTVs on city streets with posted speed limits that are 45 mph or less. Regulations require that vehicles have lights, turn signals and reflectors, drivers have a valid license and vehicles be registered.
St. Joseph, MI – The city commissioners are considering allowing residents to drive golf cars on city streets in the Harbor Shores, Edgewater and Ridgeway neighborhoods.
Newport, RI – The Newport Jitney provides free, advertiser supported rides around town on two low-speed vehicles that seat six and eight passengers.
Glynn County, GA – A new county ordinance goes into effect in October that will allow golf cars on certain streets. The ordinance has different regulations for LSVs vs. PTVs. A key difference is that LSVs can travel on streets with posted speed limits of 35 mph or less while PTVs can travel only on 25 mph or less streets.
Perry Village, OH – The Village Council passed an ordinance to allow LSVs, golf cars, UTVs and mini-trucks to be driven on local low speed streets. The vehicles must be inspected, licensed and have certain safety equipment.
Oregon-based Arcimoto recently started production of their Fun Utility Vehicle (FUV) to meet pre-order demand for 4,100 vehicles. Technically a motorcycle, the FUV is an electric powered three-wheeled vehicle that seats two. Many states have a special classification for three wheeled vehicles and only require a regular driver’s license to operate the vehicle. The current FUV Evergreen edition costs $19,900 but the company hopes in the future that volume production will reduce base model pricing to $12,000 and possibly below $10,000.
Arcimoto FUV Specs
The Arcimoto FUV is essentially a trike with two wheels up front and one in the rear. Each wheel up front has an electric motor. The vehicle has a 19.2 kWh lithium ion battery pack for a range of just over 100 miles and a top speed of 75 mph. The FUV has handlebar steering with a twist throttle and finger activated regenerative braking. Foot operated hydraulic brakes on all three wheels augments the regenerative braking. Other specs include:
- Removable doors
- LCD display
- Heated seats
- Bluetooth speakers
- Two USB ports
- Phone cradle
- Lockable rear storage
- Criss-cross seatbelts
The company is also developing a one person delivery vehicle and an emergency responder vehicle based on the same platform.
The Arcimoto FUV satisfies a need for a small, energy efficient vehicle that can be driven locally. Even though the FUV can operate at highway speeds I believe the sweet spot for the vehicle will be on roads up with speed limits up to 50 mph. Gated communities and vacation destinations that already allow low speed vehicles (LSVs) and golf cars will be a key market.
The problem with this market currently is that LSVs and golf cars can only go 20 to 25 mph and are often restricted to certain public roads based on speed limits and local ordinances. Classified as a motorcycle and with the power to operate at higher speeds, the FUV avoids this issue. This combination greatly increases the functionality of the FUV. The FUV with a speed limited setting can go from golf course to gated community to higher speed public roads. Therefore, the FUV is appropriate for a wider range of activities.
I currently see three main challenges that may limit the FUVs appeal. The first is consumer acceptance of driving a three-wheeled vehicle with handlebar steering. This is different than many consumer’s traditional driving experience. The second is price. The company should target the $10,000 to $13,000 price range to be competitive with LSVs, PTVs and golf cars. Although, the increased functionality of the vehicle is a mitigating factor that could allow for a pricing premium. The third is that the vehicle is only two passenger, so it may have limited appeal for families or larger groups.
The FUV is a direct challenge to the LSVs and more importantly the personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) that have become a key growth market for the traditional golf car companies. The decline and stagnation in fleet golf car market has forced these companies to target the utility vehicle and PTV markets for growth. (LSVs have largely been relegated to college and corporate campuses with some personal transportation use.) This could become the classic case of the outsider coming in and disrupting a market.
Where are the golf companies?
There is no reason the golf car companies could not have developed this vehicle first and they certainly have the resources and time to create a vehicle of their own. However, in the past these companies have missed opportunities such as the utility vehicle market for which they were well positioned. In addition, the FUV could serve as an alternative to a second or third automobile for running local errands or short one or two person commuting.
What Does The Future Hold
It will be interesting to see what kind of uptake the consumer version has. Recreational vehicles like the Can-Am Spyder and Polaris Slingshot have not completely taken off and remained niche. However, they are more recreational and less of a practical and green transportation alternative than the FUV. I think the delivery version of the FUV might be the sleeper product. Given concerns about urban congestion, pollution and sustainability, these vehicles could become a popular option for last mile logistics in crowded cities. The urban environment could play to the vehicle’s strengths of smaller size and zero emission powertrain while mitigating weaknesses such as limited top speed and driving range.
Club Car 411 Overview
Earlier this year Club Car introduced the Club Car 411 utility vehicle, an all-electric vehicle for cargo services and low speed logistics. The 411 is the result of a partnership between Club Car and AEV Technologies, a manufacturer of light-duty battery-electric vehicles. The partnership combines AEV’s expertise in design and manufacturing with the dealer network and brand power of Club Car.
Club Car 411 Target Market
The Club Car 411 is targeting the space between full-sized trucks and smaller golf car based utility trucks. The partners designed the vehicles to have a lower cost of acquisition, operation and overall ownership while meeting the demand for clean energy vehicles. Typical uses would be on corporate and college campuses, in warehouses and as part of municipal fleets.
The Club Car 411 comes in three basic configurations: a van box, a pickup with sides and a flatbed. The vehicles have a curb weight of approximately 2,100 lbs depending on the configuration and a payload capacity of 1,100 lbs. As an LSV the top speed is 25 mph and it has a range of 50 miles. A 10 Kw, 13.4 hp AC motor paired with a 240A AC controller powers the rear-wheel vehicle. The six sealed lead acid batteries provide a range of up to 50 miles.
Standard Features & Options
Standard features include a backup camera, 7″ LCM display, reinforced ABS body panels and cabin heating. The 411 has a reinforced steel chassis, 4-wheel, hydraulic disc brakes and power assist steering. Options include fleet management systems including GPS and geofencing.
This is a curious move by Club Car. Clearly the vehicle fits with their existing customer base and dealer network, but rather than develop the vehicle themselves they partnered with AEV Technologies. I speculate that the partnership reduces Club Car’s development costs and associated risks. For AEV, the partnership gives them access to a large customer base. AEV Technologies also makes a three wheeled vehicle similar to the Arcimoto FUV. Therefore, if the FUV makes inroads into Club Car’s PTV market then they could have a ready for market vehicle to compete against it.
Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com
Yamaha Golf Car Recall Overview
Yamaha Golf Car is recalling approximately 16,000 vehicles because of an issue with the USB port creates a fire hazard. The recall involves model year 2017 through 2019 vehicles including Drive2 fleet, Adventurer Two and some UMAX models. The recall affects both electric and gas powered models. The following recall details are from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Yamaha Golf Car Recall Details
Name of product: Yamaha golf cars, personal transportation and specialty vehicles
Hazard: The module that regulates power to the vehicle’s USB ports can overheat and melt, posing a fire hazard.
Recall date: August 28, 2019
Consumer contact: Yamaha toll-free at 866-747-4027 anytime or online at www.yamahagolfcar.com and click on “CPSC Recall Alerts” for more information.
Description: This recall involves the following model year 2016 through 2018 gas and electric-powered golf cars, personal transportation and specialty vehicles. The vehicles were sold in various colors including blue, green, red, white, tan and silver. The model and serial number can be found on a label under the seat on the left or right side.
Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the USB charging device in the recalled vehicles and contact a Yamaha golf car dealer to schedule a free repair. Yamaha is contacting all registered owners directly..
Incidents/Injuries: Yamaha has received five reports of associated fire incidents and 100 reports of a melted USB voltage-reducer module. No injuries have been reported.
Sold At:Exclusively at Yamaha golf car dealers nationwide from June 2016 through June 2019 for between $6,000 and $11,000.
Manufacturer(s): Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America, of Newnan, Ga.
Distributor(s): Yamaha Golf-Car Company, of Kennesaw, Ga.
Assembled in: U.S.
Recall number: 19-774
Yamaha recalled some of these vehicles previously because of an issue with the accelerator pedal. While this recall is large, given Yamaha Golf Cars’ total sales, it is small in comparison to that previous recall which involved 145,000 vehicles. Smallvehicleresource.com maintains a list of small, task-oriented vehicle recalls.
Polaris Recalls Overview
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.
Rungu e-Bike Overview
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
New York & California Locations Added
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.
Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com