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New Directions: Mobility Transformation And The Golf Car Dealer

Published: 8/18/2018 Author: Stephen Metzger, Managing Director, Small Vehicle Resource, LLC Category: Market Insights
The way people get from point A to point B will be undergoing significant changes in the next decade. We are seeing the beginnings of it now, and all of it revolves around electric-powered mobility. This concept is, of course, familiar to golf car dealers, who sell and service electric-powered vehicles day in and day out. But the business environment under the rubric of "Electric Mobility" has both broadened and deepened in the past three years and the question arises as to whether there are new opportunities for dealers in this rapidly changing landscape.
Dealer opportunities over the next 5-8 years could well be in residential and public charging station installation and imports of small vehicles from Europe. The former could be viewed as backward integration, complementing the latter, that is, new types of small vehicles with advanced features.
The further question is what are the changes that would warrant dealer interest in these avenues of new business and market diversity?

Addressing a broader market with new small vehicle entries

Keeping track of new small vehicles does, in fact, keep one busy. These vehicles are either entering the market or in prototype stage, and in previous columns I have written about the Baro One (U.K.), the Uniti (Sweden), and AER Technologies (U.S.). Baro has a golf car model, but its other models, and the other manufacturers, are addressing a broader transportation market.
Specifically, the broader transportation market is dealing with the issues of urban congestion and pollution. Many cities both in Europe and in the U.S. have taken steps to limit inner-city vehicular traffic, especially gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Semi-autonomous vehicles and systems are in a testing phase in select U.S. cities, while ride-sharing systems involving electric bikes and scooters are also being tried out. While these measures affect the urban environment, they quickly branch out to changes in suburban areas—in particular gated and planned communities and their environs.
The broader market will also involve many innovations to manage traffic flow based on population density, housing patterns (contrast Los Angeles and New York City), time of day, and other variables that affect urban mobility. In other words, as small vehicles come to the fore as a component of mainstream transportation, at the same time, a new mobility infrastructure begins to emerge. Not the least of the new infrastructure features will be the network of electric vehicle charging stations. More about this feature below.

Productive new technologies impacting small vehicle performance

The prospect of a widening market for small vehicles is complemented by on-going technological upgrades which are increasing the performance characteristics of small vehicles. These include permanent magnet electric motors and new power storage developments, such as solid state batteries. Axial flux electric motors with significant efficiency improvements are being developed and marketed by Magnax (Belgium) and are commercially available from Ashwoods (U.K.). Permanent magnet motors are also available as upgrades to current PTVs from SilverWolf Vehicles (Canada). In addition, development and implementation of artificial intelligence systems (hardware and software) is moving apace.

McKinsey report lays out global charging system development

A charging network is key to market development, and there are a significant number of charging station companies already in operation—for the most part offering Level 2 equipment. McKinsey & Company published the results of a recent study of global vehicle electrification developments, with projections to 2020 and 2030. (See https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/charging-ahead-understanding-the-electric-vehicle-infrastructure-challenge?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1808&hlkid=81f409e85332493eac144dc1fd2f1ee2&hctky=2517357&hdpid=8ec69770-82c4-4a44-8c6e-4844c16d1cfc for the full report.)
The report, Charging Ahead: Understanding the electric vehicle infrastructure challenge, notes that the kilowatt capacity of a charger determines the speed at which the battery receives electricity, and that AC level 1 and level 2 are most applicable for homes and workplaces because of length of time required to charge the vehicle. Direct current fast chargers (DCFC) are most suitable for long distance driving and public charging facilities.
The report states that in the United States and Europe basic AC level 1 and level 2 power will overwhelmingly remain the dominant charging technology through 2030, providing from 60 to 80 percent of the energy consumed. Moreover, most of this charging will take place at homes, workplaces, and via slow-charge public stations.

Dealer opportunities should be readily accessible

Level 2 charging systems are relatively cheap, so that a minimum of financing would be required to become a distributor and installer of such systems—and there are numerous manufacturers to choose from at this point. Level 2 systems are rated at 240 volts and power up to about 20 kW. Such systems could well complement PTV sales, and in the future, more diverse small electric vehicles that come on the market.

Fundamental demographic changes will drive the demand side

Discussions and analyses of electrifying transportation invariably emphasize the electric vehicles, components, and infrastructure that comprise the supply side of this industry. In addition, however, there are fundamental changes in demographics which will drive the demand side of the market.
We are evolving into a better cared for society. What we used to do for ourselves, such as take care of the lawn, plant the flowers, fix the plumbing, change out the light switch, we are more and more hiring others to do. Others who are experts in their jobs. This is clearly evidenced by the older generation moving into gated communities, active adult communities and assisted living facilities. At the same time, however, in a much less noticed trend, a younger generation is forsaking the suburbs to repopulate urban environments. Both of these trends suggest a more localized, service-laden existence and significant changes in the patterns of moving from point A to point B.
Over the next few years, both these trends should open up opportunities for the entrepreneurial-minded dealer.
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