Urban Mobility Market for STOV OEMs

fuel cell powered urban mobility vehicle
Yamaha’s fuel cell powered urban mobility vehicle for a new ride sharing service.

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

Should Polaris Acquire Club Car?

Club Car Tempo
The Tempo, Club Car’s fleet golf car introduced in 2018.

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.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Textron Expands ELiTE Vehicle Lineup

Cushman Hauler 800 ELiTE
The new Cushman Hauler 800 ELiTE from Textron is powered by lithium batteries.

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.

ELiTE Powertrain

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.

Learn more: Textron.com

SVR’s Take

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.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

Yamaha Golf Car Recalls 145,000 Vehicles

Yamaha Golf Car Adventurer

Yamaha Golf Car’s model year 2016 to 2018 Adventurer vehicles are being recalled.

Yamaha Golf Car Adventurer Sport 2+2

The Adventurer Sport 2+2 is also part of the recall.

Yamaha Golf Car Drive 2

Yamaha Drive 2 is being recalled.

Yamaha Golf Car Recall Overview

Last month Yamaha Golf Car announced the recall of approximately 145,000 golf cars, personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) and utility vehicles. The accelerator pedal return spring can break on the vehicles, posing a crash hazard. The recall involves model year 2016 through 2018 gas and electric-powered golf cars, personal transportation and specialty vehicles. Model names include the Drive, Drive2, Adventurer and Adventurer Sport 2+2. Owners should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a Yamaha golf car dealer to schedule a free repair. There have been no reports of injuries related to the recall but 417 spring failures have been reported.

This is an extremely large recall and rivals those of Polaris from the past several years. Yamaha had a slightly larger recall earlier in the year involving many of the same models for a brake cable issue. SVR tracks recalls of golf cars, PTVs, PSVs and UTVs. In general, the small, task-oriented vehicle industry appears to have a recall problem. A significant number of vehicles are being recalled every year. The following detailed information on this recall is from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Yamaha Golf Car Recall Information from CPSC

Name of product:  Yamaha golf cars, personal transportation and specialty vehicles
Hazard:  The accelerator pedal return spring can break, posing a crash hazard.
Remedy:  Repair
Recall date:  October 3, 2018
Units:  145,000
Consumer Contact:  Yamaha toll-free at 866-747-4027 anytime or online at www.yamahagolfcar.com and click on the CPSC Recall Alerts tab for more information.

Recall Details

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.

Model Year

Model Name

Model Prefix

Serial Number Range

2016

Drive Models YDRA (Gas)

JW8

600101

614300

JC2

300101

312000

JC0

700101

706600

Drive Models YDRE (Electric)

JW9

600101

618100

JC3

000101

004700

JC1

700101

703500

Adventurer Model YTF1A (Gas)

JW6

800101

800600

Adventurer Model YTF2A (Gas)

JW7

700101

701250

Adventurer Model YTF2E (Electric)

JW3

100101

100300

2017

Drive² Models DR2A (Gas)

J0A

000101

010100

J0B

000101

016900

J0D

000101

007200

Drive² Models DR2E (Electric)

J0C

000101

011400

J0E

000101

002900

J0J

000101

002000

Adventurer Model YTF1A (Gas)

JW6

900101

900400

Adventurer Model YTF2A (Gas)

JW7

800101

800750

Adventurer Model YTF2E (Electric)

JW3

200101

200250

2018

Drive² Models DR2A (Gas)

J0A

100101

110400

J0B

100101

119200

J0D

100101

110600

Drive² Models DR2E (Electric)

J0C

100101

111700

J0E

100101

102600

J0J

100101

102700

Adventurer Model YTF1A (Gas)

JW6

910101

910500

Adventurer Model YTF2A (Gas)

JW7

900101

900800

Adventurer Model YTF2E (Electric)

JW3

300101

300250

 

Remedy:  Consumers should immediately stop using 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 417 reports of incidents involving spring failures. No injuries have been reported.
Sold Exclusively At:  Yamaha golf car dealers nationwide from June 2015 through August 2018 for between $5,500 and $12,300.
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:  19-701

Lithium Battery Powered Golf Cars on the Rise

Trojan Trillium lithium battery

A lithium battery from Trojan’s new Trillium product line.

Trillium Lithium Battery Line from Trojan

Trojan Battery, a major player in the golf car and small task-oriented vehicle market, recently introduced their new Trillium line of Trojan Intelligent Lithium batteries. The line is targeting the aftermarket segment and is designed to be a replacement for existing lead acid batteries. According to Trojan the switch can be made “without the need for expertise in Li-ion technology or system integration.” Likewise OEMs can use the new battery line “…without significant investments in custom pack design and development.”

Sign of More Market Penetration

Trojan’s new product line is another indication of the growing use of lithium batteries in the golf car market. For a number of years there has been a lithium battery aftermarket that has largely consisted of smaller companies packaging together the various components. They either sell directly to golf car owners and/or through dealers who can install the components. However, this has been a niche market. In 2015 LiV Golf Cars tried to sell a lithium powered fleet golf car but were undercut by the big players too many times and retreated from that market. There are also smaller volume OEMs like GEM and luxury golf car maker Garia that offer lithium powered vehicles.

E-Z-GO Entry a Gamechanger

The most significant move towards lithium batteries came in 2017 when E-Z-GO, one of the major golf car manufacturers, launched their ELiTE line of lithium powered fleet golf cars. They also offer the option on some of their personal transportation vehicles. Financial reports show that E-Z-GO sold over 20,000 ELiTE vehicles in 2017. Samsung SDI is the lithium battery supplier for E-Z-GO. Rival golf car manufacturer Club Car has been linked to battery manufacturer LG Chem but has not yet introduced any lithium powered vehicles.

What Lies Ahead

The entry of a brand name such as Trojan should boost the aftermarket segment. Customers will likely have more trust in a Trojan backed product. In addition, if it is as easy to use as advertised, then this niche market should expand. The E-Z-GO product appears to have launched fairly successfully. Continued success will likely force Club Car and Yamaha to introduce their own lithium powered vehicles. Perhaps as soon as the upcoming PGA Show early in 2019. Once that happens, the move towards lithium batteries could accelerate quickly.

Marc Cesare, SVR

Road Use Regulation Roundup – November 2018

golf cart signRoad Use Regulation Summary

The following is a summary of some of the 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, 2018.

Some trends in this latest regulation roundup:

  • There is a fairly even split between ordinances that will allow more small vehicles on the roads and ordinances that will restrict use or clarify existing regulations.
  • California is allowing San Diego cities and the county to create a regional LSV plan..
  • Once again most of the legislative activity occurred in the Midwest and Southeast.
  • Florida municipalities were the most active followed by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Road Use Regulation by Location

Largo, FL – Largo officials denied a request from a mobile home community to allow the use of golf cars on nearby public roads. Officials cited safety concerns and potential cost issues as signs would be needed to notify other drivers that golf cars might be on the roads.

St. Johns County, FL – The county Board of Commissioners is replacing the existing golf car ordinance with one that would provide more clarity and uniformity in the county so the Sheriff’s Office can provide better enforcement.

Panama City Beach, FL – The Florida Highway Patrol reported a number of low seed vehicle and golf car accidents on Back Beach Road which is a state highway route. According to road use regulations the vehicles are not allowed on the route.

Holmes Beach, FL – The town commissioners are considering new golf car regulations that would require the addition of limited safety equipment or a full LSV set of accessories. In addition, they are considering keeping the vehicles off main thoroughfares.

Oconto, WI – The Oconto City Council revised an existing golf car ordinance to allow the use of utility vehicles on city streets. In response to citizens, the Council is considering an ordinance allowing ATVs and UTVs on some city streets.

Greendale, WI – The Greendale Village Board passed an ordinance to allow the use of low speed vehicles on certain city streets.

Austin, MN – The local police department is making an effort to educate citizens that UTVs and ATVs are not allowed on city streets.

St. Cloud, MN – Stearns County passed an ordinance to allow golf cars and LSVs on public roads. A similar ordinance had sunsetted in May.

Covington, OH – Operators of OGGO and Gest low speed vehicle transportation companies asked the city to amend their current low-speed vehicle ordinance to allow the company’s LSVs to operate on certain streets. The transportation is free for the riders. The services will be operating in Cincinnati and Newport as well and generate revenue from advertising.

Toledo, OH – The City Council is considering making permanent an ordinance that allows recreational and commercial use of golf cars in certain areas of the city. Currently a pilot program, the council is also considering expanding the areas of the city where the ordinance would apply.

Edmonton, KY – The Edmonton City Council approved an ordinance that would allow golf cars, ATVs, UTVs and mini-trucks on city streets.

Reedsville, WV – The City Council considering changes to the local vehicle ordinance listened to concerns of citizens regarding the use of UTVs and ATVs on town roads. Some citizens use their vehicles for practical purposes while others are “joy” riding on off-limit streets. The vehicles can be used on certain roads for a legitimate farm use. The changes would require drivers to show proof of farm use and have safety signage attached to the vehicle.

Woodstock, GA – The Woodstock City Council tabled a small vehicle ordinance in order to further discuss the definition of golf cars, ATVs, low-speed vehicles and personal transport vehicles, and the safety features required for each.

Poplarville, MS – The Board of Alderman is sending a resolution to the state legislature to allow the use of golf cars and other low speed vehicles on city streets.

California – Governor Brown signed a bill that gives cities in San Diego County and the county itself the authority to establish a LSV transportation plan.

South Carolina – A new law is about to go into effect designed to more easily allow police to enforce violations related to driving golf cars and other low speed vehicles. Violating any golf cart rule will be a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $100 or 30 days in jail, unless the offense is deemed to be a felony.

 

 

Arcimoto FUV: A Threat to PTVs?

Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle - FUV

The electric powered Arcimoto FUV (Fun Utility Vehicle) is just coming to market.

Oregon based Arcimoto is beginning to roll out their three-wheeled Fun Utility Vehicle (FUV). The combination of price point, size, electric powertrain and ability to travel public roads makes the Arcimoto FUV an intriguing alternative to golf cars, PTVs and LSVs.

Update – Arcimoto responded to a number of questions I sent them and I have added the information to the relevant sections below.

Arcimoto FUVs already on the Road

The first 10 FUV prototypes hit the road this past June. The company completed another 15 vehicles, referred to as their beta series, in September. These went to five customers and the remainder to rental locations. Vehicle rental franchising in tourist locations is a key part of Arcimoto’s marketing plan. As of the end of June the company has 2,800 reservations for the FUV.

Volume Production

Management expects to begin production and delivery of their A series of vehicles during this quarter. The A series marks the move to higher volume production. Plans call for a run rate of 200 vehicles/week or roughly 10,000/year by the end of 2019. The company has deliberately designed smaller sized production facilities that can produce approximately 10,000 vehicles per year.  A production facility costs approximately $10 million. This limits initial capital costs and creates a facility that can be profitable relatively quickly. Furthermore, the facility can be easily replicated in other parts of the country or the world.

Vehicle Features and Specs

The Arcimoto FUV is a three-wheeled vehicle powered by a 67 hp electric motor and a 12 or 20 kWh lithium-ion battery for a range of 70 or 130 miles and a top speed of 80 mph. As a three-wheeler, most states classify the FUV as a motorcycle or similar vehicle. Therefore, it does need the same  safety requirements as a full-sized, highway capable vehicle. The FUV can seat two passengers, one behind the other, and features regenerative braking, hydraulic brakes, a windshield with wiper and defrost, and heated seats and hand grips. Additional options include full HVAC, soft or hard shell doors, rear cargo box, bluetooth speakers and racks for golf clubs, bikes, surfboards, etc. The target price for the base model is $11,900 with a fully decked out model reaching the $19,000 range.

Arcimoto FUV Dimensions

Arcimoto FUV Dimensions

Versatility and Price Point Creates an Alternative to PTVs

The FUV is a versatile vehicle for gated communities. The vehicle can move from golf course, to community pathways to public roads. On public roads the FUV faces none of the restrictions of a golf car, PTV or LSV since it is classified as a motorcycle. Therefore, it can travel on higher speed roads and at night. The FUV can travel faster and farther as well. In terms of speed, the FUV may need a speed limiter option for use on golf courses or within communities depending on local regulations. According to Arcimoto, the vehicle does have the capability to cap speeds to meet specific needs.

The company is targeting a $12,000 base price. Therefore, the FUV is pricier but competitive with LSVs and fancier PTVs given the trade off between price and functionality. One of the reasons LSV sales never really took off in gated communities as expected is that the additional price premium did not offer a significant benefit over new or refurbished golf cars. LSVs are most successful where regulations greatly restrict the use of PTVs or golf cars on local roads. However, if anything, municipalities are becoming less restrictive regarding golf car use. Furthermore, in states like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Arizona, and Illinois there are tax incentives available for the FUV. There is also the possibility that electric motorcycle or similar incentives could be brought back at the federal level. The company is lobbying to have the tax credits for motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles brought back. This additional cost reduction could further boost the attractiveness of this alternative vehicle.

Arcimoto FUV Drawbacks

There are some potential drawbacks to the Arcimoto FUV in the gated community setting.

Higher Driving Speeds

Some communities may object to the vehicle’s higher speed capabilities. Some type of speed limiter could address this, or not, depending on the locality. In addition, given the older demographic in gated communities, some drivers may not feel safe driving at higher speeds on local roads. Nevertheless, driving up to 40 to 45 mph would include a large swath of vehicle usage inside and outside a gated community. In effect, the FUV could displace both PTV miles and a sizable chunk of driving performed with highway capable vehicles.

Seating Configuration

Seating configuration is another potential drawback. The seating in an FUV is one passenger behind the other rather than side by side. Some users may feel this reduces the social aspect while riding in the vehicle, particularly on a golf course.

Vehicle Storage

For seasonal usage by vacation home owners, there is often a need to store the vehicle for several months without any usage. This can be an issue or at least require some planning for the current battery powered vehicles. According to Battery University a lithium ion battery should be stored at 40% percent charge if being stored for an extended period. Arcimoto did not answer my question directly on this subject but expect to have a battery pack with a lifetime of “…8-10 years with normal vehicle usage, and still maintain more than 80% of their original charging capacity.” The pack replacement cost is expected to be under $2,500 inclusive of the residual value.

Marketing, Pricing and Local Regulations Critical to Success

The success of the Arcimoto FUV in displacing golf cars, PTVs and LSVs will depend on three key elements:  marketing, pricing and local regulations. The last may be the most important. If gated communities object to the FUV’s higher speed capabilities, and there is no technological fix, foreclosing the market. The pricing may be the easiest to address. If Arcimoto can hit their target price at volume production, even without tax incentives there is a compelling cost benefit story for the FUV.

The marketing element depends in part on where Arcimoto’s management wants to invest resources. The gated community market may be too small to target during the initial phases of the vehicle’s rollout. In addition, golf car dealers mainly serve this market. The company likely does not have relationships with this distribution channel. On the other hand, their rental franchise plan could overlap with these dealers as some are located in tourist oriented beach communities and have high PTV use. This angle could serve as an entry point to the market. In response to my questions Arcimoto stated that they put on a test ride event for the FUV at The Villages, a gated community in Florida, on November 12th. They also noted that the short drives and warm weather make resort communities a great market for the vehicle.

In a years time we will have a better idea whether the Arcimoto FUV has met with success, and whether it threatens the PTV market.

Marc Cesare, SVR

Does Future Mobility Include LSVs?

GEM has been the market leader in LSVs for many years.

The falling cost of batteries and rise of autonomous driving technology has launched a new stage in the development of mobility technologies. These advances may be bad news for LSVs. For decades small-task oriented vehicles, and in particular by golf cars, have dominated the EV market in terms of production volume. Long before Tesla, golf car manufacturers produced hundreds of thousands of electric golf cars annually. Primarily for these vehicles were for golf courses, but for personal transportation as well. In addition, the large volume of used electric golf cars coming off of golf courses each year were finding their way into the personal transportation and utility markets. In smaller volumes they produced electric powered burden carriers and general utility vehicles for use in enclosed spaces such as factories and warehouses.

Speed and pricing hurt LSV adoption

Federal regulations in the late nineties lead to the development of Low Speed Vehicles (LSVs), originally referred to as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). The LSV classification created the opportunity to move small EVs out of gated and golf communities and relatively confined driving environments and onto public roads in large numbers. Unfortunately, for LSV manufacturers, the widespread adoption of LSVs for personal transportation has never occurred. In theory, LSVs would be a good choice as a second vehicle. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate and suitable for the short trips typical of many drivers. In practice, they are relatively expensive for their limited functionality, and to many they look like a glorified golf car.

With a 25 mph top speed, LSVs are too slow for real life driving where speeds are often 30-45 mph. Federal authorities, already concerned about LSV safety, are unwilling to compromise on safety requirements for higher speed Medium Speed Vehicles. The additional safety requirements for MSVs would make these vehicles relatively expensive compared to fully highway capable vehicles.

Pricing has always been an issue with LSVs, which typically cost around $10,000 on the low end. They find themselves competing against new, used and refurbished golf cars that can cost thousands of dollars less or comparably priced, but heavily customized golf cars. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest priced highway capable vehicles available do not cost that much more and offer far greater functionality. As a result, the LSV market has never “taken off”. SVR’s research has shown that LSVs for personal use have only gained traction where local laws restrict the use of golf cars on public roads. The trend has been for local governments to allow more golf cars, modified golf cars and even UTVs on local roads.

Where LSV have found some success is on college and corporate campuses. In these environments the LSV safety features are worth the additional expense in the context of insurance and liability. The slower speed is another plus where administrators do not want employees speeding across pedestrian filled campus grounds. The utility LSV has proven to provide plenty of functionality and mobility in these confined environments at a reduced cost compared to pick-up trucks which they often replace. In addition, electric LSVs fit well into sustainability and green initiatives on these campuses.

Electric bikes and scooters offer an alternative

New battery and autonomous driving technologies are unlikely to change the fate of LSVs, and likely will make it worse. Batteries are becoming small enough, powerful enough and cheap enough to create new competitors to LSVs. Namely, a rash of electric bicycles and electric scooters have been entering the market. While costing thousands of dollars, electric bicycles have the potential to chip away at some of the LSV market. Have a short commute on local roads and don’t need to carry much with you. Why not use an electric bike? Need a quick way around urban areas and don’t want to worry about parking? How about an electric scooter.

There are electric bike and scooter sharing programs either already operating or in pilot programs in major cities. These options aren’t ideal in bad weather or for multiple passengers, but they can potentially reduce LSV usage. In fact, they may even provide competition to golf cars and Personal Transportation Vehicles (PTVs) within gated communities.

Autonomous vehicles take a new direction

May Mobility self-driving GEM

GEM configured by May Mobility for self-driving.

Similarly autonomous driving technology may very well reduce the potential footprint for LSVs. Google has used some LSVs for the testing of their autonomous driving technology.  You could argue from a standpoint of safety that the more controlled environment of gated communities could be a good entry point for the technology. But it appears the major players are starting with highway capable vehicles. There have been some instances of LSVs with the technology being tested for limited use scenarios such as shuttle runs. Currently, the relative expense of the autonomous driving technology compared to the cost of an LSV is likely too high. The economics favor installation on premium vehicles or rental/sharing fleets with the flexibility for high volume usage.

Nuro autonomous vehicle

This Fall Kroger will be using passengerless autonomous vehicles from startup Nuro to deliver groceries to customers.

Starship Technologies Delivery Robot

Starship Technologies is rolling out a robotic delivery service on college and corporate campuses this year.

Even in the commercial use of LSVs or their slightly faster cousins in Europe for tasks like urban delivery, autonomous driving technology may undercut the application of these vehicles. There are a number of startups developing autonomous delivery vehicles for operation on streets. However, they are passenger less or even smaller and slower for use on sidewalks. The last vestige for the LSV may remain the college or corporate campus, but even the autonomous shuttle could cut into some of that usage. We may be witnessing the highpoint for the use of LSVs right now.

Marc Cesare, Smallvehicleresource.com

 

 

Road Use Regulation Roundup: June 2018

golf cart signThe following is a summary of some of the 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 January, 2018.

Some trends in this latest regulation roundup:

  • This roundup saw more legislation related to allowing LSVs on roads as opposed to golf cars and ATVs/UTVs but it is too early to tell if this represents a long term trend and reversal of previous legislative trends favoring golf cars and UTVs.
  • Of special note is legislation in California that is focusing on the development of a regional multi-city plan for LSV transportation. I believe this is the first time a regional approach has been covered in the roundup.
  • Most of the legislative activity occurred in the Midwest and Southeast.

Highland Village, TX – The City Council approved an ordinance allowing the use of NEVs, LSVs and golf cars in the city with certain restrictions.

Myrtle Beach, SC – The City Council passed an ordinance requiring businesses that rent golf cars to get $10 tags on each vehicle.

Glendale, MO – City officials passed an ordinance allowing golf cars to be used on city streets provided they have certain safety features.

Bay St. Louis & Waveland, MS – The state passed legislation that allows the use of LSVs on certain city streets.

Oxford, MS – The owner of a local LSV taxi service requested that the city lower the minimum driving age of such vehicles from 21 years old to address a driver shortage. They lowered it to 20 years old.

Audubon, IA – City Supervisors will likely pass an ordinance allowing the use of ATVs/UTVs on county roads if they have certain safety features.

Newport, RI – The City Council passed an ordinance allowing the use of electric LSVs on local roads.

SanDiego, CA – State legislation is being considered that would allow the use of LSVs on a county wide basis. The legislation, backed by North County cities, would allow for the implementation of regional LSV transportation plans.

Cincinnati, OH – The City Council passed an ordinance creating a three year pilot program for the use of LSVs in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods.

Augusta, GA – The City Commission is considering an ordinance that will allow the use of personal transportation vehicles (PTVs) in the central business district. They would initially be used to provide prearranged tours as opposed to taxi service, and could eventually lead to PTV permits for individual owners.

Sanibel Island, FL – The City Council denied the application for the opening of a seven vehicle LSV rental business citing concerns about traffic, safety and the concept being inconsistent with city planning aimed at reducing auto ridership.

Planned Development Communities As Incubators For Future Mobility

Eli Zero NEV

The new Eli Zero NEV from Eli Electric Vehicles is expected to reach market in late 2018 and is positioned as an urban transportation solution and future mobility concept.

My colleague Stephen Metzger recently wrote a piece on how gated communities could serve as an excellent incubator for testing future mobility systems. These systems include on-demand vehicles, self-driving and autonomous driving technology, ride-sharing systems, and new public transport options. Future mobility concepts typically feature electric vehicles being used in urban environments. He argues that the urban environment presents a myriad of obstacles and complexities for future mobility to overcome and solve, but gated communities offer a simpler but still useful testing ground for future mobility concepts.

Some of the advantages for gated communities include:

  • A better planned transportation environment into which mobility concepts can more easily be introduced
  • Population already using or conditioned to small, electric vehicles like golf cars and LSVs
  • Portion of the population that cannot drive themselves and could benefit from greater mobility

The article concludes with some examples of new small, electric vehicles with an eye towards future mobility that are entering or trying to break into the market.

Learn more:  Smallvehicleresource.com