Platinum Equity, a global private equity firm, has announced the purchase of Ingersoll Rand’s Specialty Vehicle Technologies segment, which is primarily Club Car. The purchase price is $1.68 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter.
This is probably better for Club Car but that remains to be seen. Club Car always seemed a bit of an odd fit within Ingersoll Rand. The management did not make bold moves while being enmeshed in the conglomerate. Like the other golf car manufacturers, they were well positioned to take advantage of the off-road utility vehicle market, but mainly stayed in their lane and ceded much of the lucrative market to the powersports companies. They also allowed E-Z-GO to beat them to the market with lithium powered golf cars and personal transportation vehicles.
The question is how aggressive is Platinum Equity willing to be. Are they just looking for some operational efficiencies to milk more profits out of the steady but unexciting golf fleet market and the smaller but growing PTV and light duty utility vehicle markets. The firm owns some existing companies that already play in the automotive space to varying degrees that may provide some synergies like Ying Shing Enterprises, a China based injection molder and metal stamper, electronics manufacturer PCI Private Limited and Elevate Textiles.
On the other hand, maybe Platinum Equity see opportunities to expand the business by building on robust manufacturing volume, established supply chains and expertise in electric vehicles. The urban mobility/micro mobility market beckons, but will Club Car leave the golf car path? How about last mile delivery? Can Club Car transfer their strengths to electric scooters, e-bikes or other alternative electric vehicles? There are already startups establishing themselves in these markets. Arcimoto’s three-wheeled vehicle could challenge in portions of their utility and PTV markets. Polaris is partnering with Optimus Ride on low-speed autonomous vehicles.
The latter begs the question, was Polaris in the running to purchase Club Car? They like to acquire leading brands. Perhaps they didn’t see enough growth prospects. On the other hand, they may believe they can take advantage of new opportunities with less investment through GEM and their other in-house electric vehicle assets as they move to electrify their powersports products. It will be interesting to see in what direction Club Car and other players in the small, task-oriented vehicle market move next.
Polaris is expanding their partnership with Boston-based Optimus Ride to manufacturer autonomous vehicles. Optimus Ride has been slowly rolling out autonomous low-speed vehicle services based on the Polaris Gem. Previously, Optimus modified the GEMs, about 30 in total. Under the expanded partnership, a GEM specifically designed for driverless, autonomous driving will be developed with Polaris and be ready for the second half of 2023 according to Optimus management. The GEM vehicles fall under the Polaris Commercial business division.
Optimus Ride Autonomous Vehicle Background
Optimus Ride started in 2015 and has been proving its’ autonomous vehicle technology since then. Their service has been operating in a number of environments with routes that are relatively short and predictable. The routes are typically 1 to 3 miles with either fixed-route or on-demand services. The vehicles are all low speed vehicles and to date have also featured a safety driver. For example, the company operates a fixed-route autonomous vehicle service at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In February, 2021 they announced a new service at TheYards waterfront development in Washington DC. Residents and tenants will use the Opti Ride app to schedule on-demand rides. These localized trips in developments, downtown areas and college and corporate campuses overlap significantly with the existing target market for the Polaris GEM product line.
This is another sign of Polaris moving towards electrification as well as positioning the company in the micro mobility space. It is also a great way to protect their existing GEM market position in places like college and corporate campuses. These markets are likely to be at the forefront of these limited scope, autonomous vehicle use cases. Now Polaris, through Optimus Ride, will be able to offer their existing customers the next generation of vehicle technology. At the same time, the partnership will likely open up new commercial markets for Polaris.
In a new market study on the small task-oriented vehicle (STOV) market in the US and Canada, Small Vehicle Resource (SVR), LLC describes an industry in midstream transition as:
Climate policies, COVID-19 effects and new technologies usher in the urban/suburban mobility market and underpin an expanding consumer market for personal transportation vehicles (PTVs), as well as commercial markets for light duty utility vehicles;
The transition from lead acid to lithium batteries continues, raising performance and transforming vehicle longevity and recycling value.
The maturing off-road utility and recreational UTV market remains fundamentally strong and highly competitive, and is poised to follow the automobile and golf-car type vehicle markets into electrification;
The study provides a strategic analysis of the rise of urban/suburban mobility market driven in the context of the STOV industry. Steve Metzger, SVR Managing Director, states that, “The intersection of climate policy, new technologies and COVID-19 effects will lead to a ‘dispersed living lifestyle’, and provide new opportunities in the urban/suburban mobility market.” He further remarks, “The STOV industry, particularly the Big Three golf manufacturers with a foothold in gated communities, have the core competencies to transition from golf-centric to urban/suburban centric. The question is will they?”
Marc Cesare, SVR Managing Director, adds that, “While the UTV manufacturers will see solid growth in their market, some are capable of pursuing the urban/suburban mobility market as well. However, their DNA, profit centers and distribution channels are primarily off-road and powersports. Culturally, the pursuit of the urban/suburban mobility opportunity may be a difficult paradigm shift.”
The study, the tenth in the series since 2000, covers market trends from 2016 and develops projections to 2025. The key segments are golf fleet, personal transportation vehicles, light-duty utility vehicles, and off-road utility and recreation vehicles. In total, these segments are forecasted to reach close to 1,200,000 new vehicles in 2025. Electric powered vehicles continue to make inroads. Approximately a third of the market is electric powered, primarily in the form of fleet golf cars, PTVs, as well as light duty utility vehicles, of which approximately 80% will be electric by 2025. Key trends and projections for the market include:
Demand for electric powered STOV vehicles will increase to over 450,000 vehicles in 2025.
Golf course fleet demand will decline slightly during the trend period but will remain overwhelmingly electric powered, around 80%.
Demand for PTVs will be strong.
Lithium battery powered vehicles will continue to make inroads as more models become available with this option.
The study is entitled, Trends and Outlook for Small, Task-Oriented Vehicles-2016-2025- An Analysis of the Emerging Urban/Suburban Mobility Market. For additional, detailed information see the study brochure with table of contents or contact:
My colleague, Stephen Metzger, attended the 2020 PGA Show in Florida. His observations of the latest products on display “…suggests a new generation of diverse vehicles going well beyond the golf market. In general terms the emerging market that trends will play into is that of urban/suburban mobility. “ He lays out his observations and what they say about the strategies of the three major manufacturers in a new article.
PGA Show: Big Three Strategies
Club Car is looking towards connectivity and telematics technologies for new market opportunities. The company is monitoring developments in the urban/suburban mobility market. According to management, Club Car’s lithium battery powertrain and Onward PTV platform positions the company well to take advantage of new opportunities .
E-Z-GO is leaning on their latest technology advancements like their first to market (of the big three) lithium powertrain for fleet and PTVs, their IntelliBrake technology, AC drive, 72-volt powertrain and new quieter and more efficient EX1 gas engine. In addition, they continue to monitor the urban and suburban mobility markets.
Yamaha emphasized their new, fully independent suspension which is likely a precursor to a lithium powered vehicle. The absence of much heavier lead acid batteries has significant implications for the suspension setup and vehicle ride quality.
Other PGA Show Insights
Automotive features such as touchscreen LED displays and rearview cameras are continuing evidence that more automotive features are becoming standard in PTVs. The trend fits nicely with the ongoing development of the urban/suburban mobility market. A slice of this market includes low-speed vehicles and PTV like vehicles. Manufacturers also displayed scotters and golf specific, electric powered vehicles. The technology of the latter category could likely be adapted to the urban/suburban mobility markets.
New urban and micro mobility technology creates a potential challenge to the existing players in the PTV market. This technology is wide ranging from electric skateboards and electric bikes to three-wheeled and larger autonomous vehicles. While the technology is typically discussed in the context of the urban environment, it can also be well suited to the gated and vacation community markets. These alternative mobility technologies do not provide a head-on, direct competition to PTVs, but neither are they merely tangential. They can challenge the existing PTV players by taking multiple, smaller slices of the market pie. In addition, they are attracting a host of new players and new investment.
Electric Bikes & Scooters
The gated and vacation community skews older so skateboards are probably out, and at first glance electric bikes and electric scooters (Vespa like) may not seem to make sense. However, electric bikes and scooters can offer a slice of the market an alternative transportation experience. An electric pedal assist bike can provide exercise without as much exertion as a traditional bike. In addition, if you already bike, it extends your existing trip range and experiences. Scooters offer an alternative to PTVs for quick single or two-person trips. This technology can also be applied in the form of a bike or scooter share program, providing access to the whole community. A share program would seem well suited to a planned community that has a large enough population and well planned out destination points.
They are fun to ride and, in the case of bikes, can provide additional exercise opportunities. They are a less expensive alternative, especially if you need an occasional second mode of transportation and have a small footprint. Furthermore, their speed range fits well in the low speed planned community environment. They can also be used to venture outside the community with likely less restrictions than PTVs.
On the other hand these modes of transportation have some drawbacks that limits their appeal. First, they can only accommodate one or maybe two people in the case of scooters. They have limited carrying capacity for running errands. They also do not provide any protection from the elements or as much collision protection from other vehicles as a PTV does. In addition, older folks may not feel as physically capable of operating these vehicles. Although, the low speed and well planned roadways can ameliorate this issue to some degree.
Three-wheelers & Autonomous Vehicles
On the other end of the spectrum you have larger multi-passenger vehicles that provide a more direct competition to existing PTVs. Vehicles like the FUV can carry two passengers or one with cargo. As a three-wheeler, the FUV can operate at higher speeds and has no restrictions for venturing outside of communities on public roads. At the same time, this vehicle can be speed limited for golf course and planned community use. With autonomous vehicles planned community residents could displace at least some of their PTV usage, and possibly all of it if the the service is robust enough.
With the ability to travel from golf course to community roads to public roads, the three-wheeled vehicle offers greater versatility than PTVs. Capable of higher speeds, it also has greater functionality than PTVs for certain use scenarios. For autonomous vehicles, the low-speed, well-defined and relatively limited planned community road networks offer an ideal environment. For residents less inclined or capable of driving a PTV, they provide a method to maintain mobility.
The FUV is currently much more expensive than PTVs and even LSVs. Therefore, customers may not find the increased versatility and functionality worth the price. They also are limited to two passengers, and as a result are less useful for family outings. For autonomous vehicles the technology is still in the development phase. In addition, some customers may prefer the convenience, customization and the statement made by owning a PTV. Furthermore, the cost of this type of service is not currently known.
New Players, Investment & Disruptive Innovation
An additional aspect of urban and micro mobility that PTV manufacturers must contend with is the increased number of market players, capital investment and disruptive product innovations that the technology brings. For example, Harley Davidson and Jeep have revealed at least prototype electric bikes. Completely new companies like Arcimoto have entered the market. Tech companies like Alphabet (Google) and traditional auto manufacturers are developing highly sophisticated autonomous vehicle technology. In addition, you have ride share companies.
PTV manufacturers are potentially at a disadvantage because they have neither the focus of disruptive startups or the financial resources of much larger companies. On the other hand, they do possess strong knowledge of the market and a distribution network to serve the market. They also have experience in developing and manufacturing electric vehicles in a highly competitive environment.
One strategy for PTV manufacturers to take is to start developing new mobility platforms themselves. The question is whether they have enough resources and commitment. They would have to balance maintaining their current product lines while trying to introduce entirely new a category of products. Another strategy would be to leverage their distribution and marketing expertise by acquiring or partnering with new market entrants to launch to product categories. They could also decide to keep improving their existing products and manufacturing efficiency. As a result, they could maintain or lower prices while increasing the value of their products. Therefore, new entrants could find market entry to difficult or limited to niche markets. However, compared to the other two strategies, this strategy offers less upside. In addition, it still leaves them vulnerable to a disruptive technology. The first two strategies provides the opportunity to potentially expand into urban markets.
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 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:
Two USB ports
Lockable rear storage
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.
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.
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