If you follow the stock market at all and the fortunes of companies listed therein, you will have no doubt observed the rise and fall of business dynasties that, as they were reaching their pinnacle, seemed unstoppable. Yet, in due course the upward climb halted for a variety of reasons and retrenchment followed and a fight for survival. These histories are a testimony to dynamism of the competitive market system.
Weathering the competitive storms
In the vast majority of the cases, a reversal of a company’s good fortunes, and even demise, did not mean the end of the market itself or the industry supplying it. New companies picked up the slack with better technology and product or superior manufacturing capabilities—or both. At the same time the incumbent company steps back and regroups, often with a decision to revert to their “core competencies”—that is, core markets and products.
And, another favored strategy was, and is, rebranding—the effort to find the right market niche with the right identity. A case in point is the product rebranding shuffle that has taken place over the past two years at Textron’s Specialty Vehicle Division, as the company has attempted to move into the off-road market. Textron, of course, isn’t the only golf car company to venture into this market and take on the likes of Polaris and the host of other brands that are competing in this now saturated market. Club Car has also entered this market, and I note the different approach of this company, compared to its archrival.
Golf car manufacturers enter the off-road market
Perhaps the market entry that got most notoriety was Textron’s successive acquisitions of off-road vehicle players, Bad Boy Buggies in 2010 and Arctic Cat in 2017. Both brands were subsumed under a newly-created brand, Textron Off-Road.
“Arctic Cat is an ideal fit with our growing range of off-road recreational vehicles,” said Textron President and CEO Scott Donnelly at the time of the acquisition. Unfortunately, the integration of Arctic Cat into the Textron portfolio of companies, and particularly Textron Specialty Vehicle Division, did not go so well. Arctic Cat was already struggling against heavy competition from Polaris and CanAm, reportedly leading to declining revenues in 2017 and 2018. In April 2019, it was announced that Scott Ernest would be replacing Kevin Holleran as CEO of the division. No doubt this, in turn, led to the reincarnation of the Arctic Cat brand. From Arctic Cat’s website, the following explanation is presented:
“As Textron Off Road, we released some of our most inspiring vehicles yet, including the highly anticipated Wildcat XX with its industry-leading suspension system. But as we listened to our loyal riders, it became clear that their passion for the Arctic Cat brand remained strong. That’s why in 2019 we decided our off-road vehicles should carry the Arctic Cat name once again.”
As for Bad Boy Buggies, the first name change upon acquisition was to Bad Boy Off Road. Veering away from the original all-electric vehicles targeting the hunter market, the Stampede, manufactured in a newly-constructed plant in Augusta, became Textron’s entry in the off-road market. At some point thereafter, the band name Bad Boy disappeared altogether. Clicking on www.badboyoffroad.com gets you to the Arctic Cat site, with the cryptic admonition, “Sorry, this trail is closed.” (Try it, if you like.)
One more twist in branding strategy and you find Bad Boy Off Road’s electric-powered Recoil EV first appearing as Textron Off Road’s Prowler EV and now as Arctic Cat’s Prowler—but no EV model.
Club Car’s “organic” approach
Rather than buy into the off-road market, Club Car has extended its light duty gas and electric work vehicles into the heftier XRT line. The company has, in fact, been careful to designate the line as commercial and personal work vehicles, not off-roaders—this, despite the obvious fact they are well- suited for off-road use.
There has been no switching into different divisions, rebranding, and so on, which has marked Textron’s uneven history of expansion into the off-road arena. All models remain solidly identified with the Club Car brand.
That being said, I note and have commented on Club Car’s arrangement with AEV Technologies whereby Club Car will be adding the latter’s electric-powered light duty vehicle to its inventories. This vehicle is called the Club Car 411. We may see other vehicles from AEV Technologies appearing under the Club Car brand, if this initial collaboration works out.
The tie-up with AEV Technologies is a departure from the company’s traditional in-house product development, but is clearly meant fill out and complement current offerings, as opposed to a whole new field of products. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to track this novel experiment to see where it might lead
Three predictions—the good, the better, and the crossover
Let me finish this article with three predictions concerning the future direction small vehicles of the work and utility variety:
1. Gas-powered work vehicles will continue to be a solid market segment, but with little growth;
2. Light duty electric work or utility vehicles will be a growth segment, feeding upon the growing emphasis on clean power and the significant and ever growing potential of lithium batteries;
3. Crossovers between work and personal transport—electric-powered—will begin to emerge as multi-tasking, one-model-fits all (or most) mobility requirements. (Look for them in your gated community!)
…And, a final note: Off-road UTV market is and will remain a bridge too far for golf car manufacturers. Their real growth opportunity is in urban mobility markets where their expertise in electric drive trains will be put to good effect.