Beyond The Gated Community

Four Wheels and Searching for an Identity

Remember the Volkswagen Beetle of the 1960s? This rear-engine bug caught on like wildfire for a while, then lost ground to small Japanese models that were better on performance and better on gas consumption.

The iconic VW Beetle, circa 1960s

The model did not die out in the 60s, however. In fact, having undergone various modifications over the years, the Beetle has, more and more, adopted the look of a Porsche, as can be seen from the pictures below.

In the course of its history, the Beetle has been discontinued, resurrected, and again discontinued. The 2019 model, with the motor in the front and touting significant horsepower, was the last of the Beetle’s current iteration, but auto analysts and commentators fully expect the Beetle to be once again resurrected.
What has this tale of Beetle to do with golf car-type vehicles? Two things:

• Brand recognition combined with a “look” creates a tradition that has clear market appeal and advantages;
• The “look” can remain, but what lies underneath must adapt to evolutionary performance requirements, as determined by consumers’ needs and tastes.

The Beetle 2019

Rite of passage from golf carts to golf cars

Golf carts have gone through a similar transformation from the 3-wheelers of the Fifties to the 2017 Club Car Onward, which signaled a transformation to the PTV and the LSV. Subsequently, many OEMs have adopted the lifted frame, adding many upgrades and accessories. As the market has developed in the post COVID era, the emergence of golf cars (note: minus the “t”) as viable and desirable options to conventional automobiles became apparent.

While golf car-type (GCT) vehicles were moving into new performance territory, the market still remained somewhat golf-centric; i.e., oriented to gated communities and planned developments with golf courses or golf courses close by. At the same time, however, significant changes in lifestyles were taking place that pointed to a whole new market opportunity.

Demographic movements open up potential new markets

Demographic movement out of congested city centers, which actually started before COVID, along with parallel and interactively occurring work from home and other remotely-based production technologies, has dramatically decreased the need to drive beyond a 5-mile radius. A clear indicator of these changes has been the significant decline in mass transit ridership across many major cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York.

The decline in this essential revenue base for the mass transit systems that serviced these metropolitan areas has put future bond issues that support these systems in a tenuous position. So much so that S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investor Service have downgraded the public transportation sector.

The lonely rider as mass transit declines

Those remaining in the urban areas, as well as those moving out, will be focused on short distance driving and have much less need for conventional automobiles, which are costly to operate, as the frequency of routine longer distance driving declines.

As these underlying trends continue, short distance driving will become the norm. This environment provides the basis for market growth for GCT vehicles in non-golf related uses.

Golf car-type vehicles: Is there an identity crisis?

As with the Beetle, GCT vehicles have a “look” that promotes both recognition and confidence in a given use environment—in this case golf-related. Moving into the short-distance driving market, however, requires a shift consumer perspective, as well as upgraded performance metrics. Overall, the former aspect of market development is likely to be more critical. As pointed out below, its main vehicular competition has a number of shortcomings, so what is holding back municipal transportation authorities and the general public from taking on the GCT vehicles as an attractive solution to short distance driving? The answer has to be a lack of a cogent and compelling identity in the new market environment. Beyond subjective realities, however, GCT vehicles fill the gaps in emobility deficiencies.

Gaps in emobilty usefulness and viability

Short distance driving, particularly in urban environments has been dominated by two- and three-wheel vehicles, such as ebikes, scooters, and even skateboards. These are all battery powered and fit the compulsive narrative of saving the planet from climate change. These vehicle types, which pretty much govern the emobility universe have a number of deficiencies; that is,

• Appeal largely to the under 30, or more nimble under 40 crowd –thus leaving at the curb the older demographic and disabled;
• Have little or no cargo capacity.

In addition to this lack of demographic inclusiveness and versatility, the current crop of emobility vehicles has given rise to complaints regarding pedestrian safety, sidewalk clutter, and poor fleet management.

Adding to the questions of emobility viability is the recent announcement of the industry’s largest operator, Bird Global, announcing its filing for bankruptcy. From the Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2023:
Electric-vehicle company Bird Global filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, becoming the latest company that went bust from a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, boom that took hundreds of risky companies to the stock market in recent years.

Miami-based Bird, founded in 2017, distributes electric scooters designed for short-term rental in more than 350 cities. In 2019, it was valued at $2.5 billion. Bird went public in 2021 through a SPAC. (See the full article at .)

While the company will continue to operate under bankruptcy protection, investors have taken a huge bath, and the viability of emobility, as it is now constituted with two- and three-wheel vehicles dominating, is certainly in question.

Out of the ashes comes the four-wheel GCT vehicle solution and a new identity

The all-American rider in his USM vehicle!

In search of its identity in the short-distance driving market, the GCT vehicle can count on tis legacy recognition as a golf cart. That is positive, much like the Beetle’s enduring legacy. Moreover, its clear superiority over its two- and three-wheel cousins in the now questionable emobility market—in terms of age-demographic accessibility and passenger and haulage capability—would seem to offer a ready-made opportunity for GCT vehicles.

In terms of identity, however, the GCT vehicle needs an updated identity. How about “urban/suburban mobility” vehicle? Or, the acronym USM vehicle. Marketing departments would do well to promote the USM vehicle by focusing on two themes: 1) Maintaining its historical legacy, and 2) Demonstrating its capacity to serve community needs—personal transportation and haulage—as the ideal solution in short distance driving environments.


Contact the Author: Steve Metzger at  Or check out our website at, 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.