Electrifying Changes

While we wait to see what is in store for Club Car, now under new ownership, speculation develops around the prospect of a spinoff of Textron’s Specialty Vehicle Division, which, of course, includes the E-Z-GO brand.  These are not the only changes that could impact how we move from point A to point B.

We, as consumers, are faced with the paradoxical situation of high tech mobility systems rapidly coming to commercial status, while at the same time it is increasingly difficult to get access to the conventional things we expect to have handy, such as parts and accessories for our golf cars, or for that matter, even a new or used golf car.  The future is a promising adventure, the present is pretty frustrating.

What’s ahead in tech developments

One of the most promising developments in point A to B solutions is the recent announcement of Polaris Industries-Optimus Ride partnership to develop autonomous vehicle services.   Optimus will install its autonomous drive systems on the Polaris GEM platform.

In the words of Sean Harrington, CEO of Optimus Ride, “Expanding our partnership with Polaris accelerates our pursuit to transform personal mobility by delivering on-demand, autonomous transportation services to communities across the country.” 

The GEM 2 two-seater. Coming to your doorstep in the near future

Harrington had other nice things to say about Polaris: “Polaris is the ideal partner to bring these vehicles to market with their established leadership in the LSV [low-speed vehicle] space, ability to quickly scale production and their deep knowledge of and experience in urban mobility.”

I don’t about the “deep knowledge…” part of the quote.  Afterall, Polaris is primarily noted for its dominance in the off road market and relatively recently set up an electrification division, even though the GEM line has been in their lineup for quite a while.  Most of Polaris’s dealers handle the power sports offerings, and the GEM is a bit of foreigner to them.  That being said, more and more golf car dealerships are carrying the GEM line of vehicles, and these dealerships cater to customer base more amenable to this type of product.

The importance of autonomous mobility

Adding self-driving capabilities to the GEM points a different sort of market.  While it is quite possible that individual consumers would find this feature, the larger market may well be urban/suburban fleets.  Such vehicles as the GEM 2 above or the GEM 6 pictured below could well find a market in gated and planned communities, especially for seniors and handicapped persons.  These vehicles in a fleet context are likely to be on-call for individual destinations or on a schedule in preprogrammed routes and end-points.

The GEM 4 four seater—potentially the autonomous shuttle to the town center or community center.

Local dealerships remain very much in the mix either in sales or service, and most likely in both.  In sales, however, the customer is no longer a walk-in.  Sales will function as an outreach to municipal authorities and the management of community associations.

One more aspect of the GEM, which may not be apparent from these pictures, and that is they can be fully enclosed and weatherized—and so, would be fully operational rain or shine.  

I fully expect the Polaris-Optimus combination to a big winner in the emerging urban/suburban mobility (USM) market  –Steve Metzger, Managing Director, Small Vehicle Resource

Optimus Ride has already participated in a number of field tests and done remarkably well.  I fully expect the Polaris-Optimus Ride combination to be a big winner in the emerging urban/suburban mobility (USM) market.

Meanwhile, down on planet earth, vehicles and parts and accessories are in short supply

By way of contrast, new vehicle units from the factory to dealers are weeks behind the usual supply schedule.  Same story for parts.  The Charleston Business Journal carried a story about the situation, interviewing three local dealers.  From conversations with dealers I know, the issues are pretty much nationwide.  Hear are some interesting quotes from the story:

“Last spring and summer, we were selling 50-60 carts a month and if I had 100 carts, I could have sold 100,” said Andrea Leary, who co-owns Rad Rydz Golf Carts in Mount Pleasant with her husband Chad Shores. “Our biggest issue is finding golf carts to sell. We can’t keep them in stock.” 

As far as parts are concerned, significant portion of which are manufactured in China, Danielle Smith, owner of Charleston Custom Carts, said, “Every time we get an opportunity to order more parts, we order in bulk,”  Even then Smith went on to say, “Pretty much every custom cart around Charleston has a 14-week lead time no matter where you go.”

Dealers are faced with the dilemma of an upsurge in demand for golf car-type vehicles, but at the same time being hit with a severe shortage of supply.   Leary stated, “E-Z-Go and Club Car are months and months behind because of COVID-19.”  (Quote also from the Charleston Business Journal story.)  

Delays at the factory have resulted in the further problem for dealers in that golf courses are holding on to their current fleet and, consequently, the used vehicle market has also dried up for lack of supply.

“And we know that all things work together for good…”

Those of you that know your Bible will recognize this phrase from Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:28.  Case in point I would say in that the pandemic, which has spawned shortages on the supply has also awakened a new lifestyle, embracing the golf car as a go-to vehicle for getting places and even socializing.  Again from the Charleston Business Journal, Danielle Smith notes:

 “Customers spent money prior to pandemic on family vacations and kid’s camps and when those were canceled, they got their money back and thought, ‘What can we do that’s family-oriented?’ They bought pools and boats and golf carts.”

Smith adds, “Now, they can ride around the neighborhood, get out and socially distance. The more people have them, the more other people see them on the road, and the more other people want them.” 

Small Vehicle Resource, LLC, the company of which I am a managing director, has forecasted an upsurge in the market for personal transportation vehicles and commentary like this from Danielle Smith of Charleston Custom Carts indicates we were on the right path and in the right direction.  If I may modify a well-known, if not inspired quotation, “The golf cart, as we knew it, is dead.  Long live the golf car, as we have come to know it.”  Emphasis is mine.

Contact the Author: Steve Metzger at smetzger@smallvehicleresource.com.  Or check out our website at www.smallvehicleresource.com, where you will find an extensive database of vehicle models and can make side-by-side comparisons of vehicles based on a full set of specifications.

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