Looking at Key Trends in PTV – From Lowly Golf Cart to Neighborhood Envy

As golfing has been to golf carts, the gated community has been to the PTV (personal transportation vehicle). Both were incubators for the next broad phase of product and market development: From golf cart to PTV to PMV. What is a PMV? That is what this article is about.

From golf cart to golf car to personalized mobility

There has been a steady progression of upgrades to golf car-type vehicles, especially those in the category of PTV. Perhaps the most telling upgrade has been to lithium batteries, which have advantages related to easier maintenance, time required to recharge, lighter weight, and greater distance. In fact, now you can buy battery packs that afford a 100 mile operating range. Costly, yes, but available to those for whom the additional distance is needed.

Better performance is a significant plus for the market, but on a less technical level, consumer perception of a product is also very important. What is the image projected by the product? A good example of this can be drawn from personal experience.

In a local park for my daily exercise routine, I spotted a PTV parked on the grass, and the owner and his wife and kids were kicking a soccer ball around, having fun. I dared to importune them in their activity, because I wanted to learn a bit more about the vehicle. What I had already noted was that it was a six-seater, four front-facing, two to the rear—which is to say, this was a vehicle meant for family use. The dad explained that he had purchased the vehicle from BMK Golf Cars, located in Pompano Beach, Florida. BKM upgraded the basic vehicle with 25-inch tires, custom wheels, custom upholstery, and a Bluetooth sound system. This was a very cool-looking machine

Golf car customizers—linking the past with the future

Golf car customizers, like BMK, can take a 5-year old golf cart and turn it into a futuristic, personalized mobility vehicle. They can also make a PTV street-legal with a LSV upgrade. The fact that BMK and companies like it are prospering and growing testifies to the growing popularity of personal transportation vehicles. In fact, I much prefer labeling the vehicle type “personalized mobility vehicle” or PMV. This descriptor very much captures the idea personal tastes and the notion of motion. (“Notion of Motion”—now there’s a sales slogan for you!)

Manufacturers have understood the desire of consumers to personalize their purchase. Most brands now have on their websites a “Build Your Own” option in which any number of upgrades, accessories, body colors, and upholstery types can be selected. Golf car customizers can take it a bit further, rebuilding or adjusting controllers, for example, allowing the vehicle to attain higher speeds. Frames can be refitted with a stylized cowl and a wide variety of custom wheels are available. Pictured here is a stylish recasting of the venerable Club Car Precedent. This product can be ordered from Double Take Golf Cars.

At the dealership level, however, company names, signage, and websites, by and large—not all, refer to “golf cart5”. To reiterate in a slightly different way, golf carts are things of the past, PMVs are the now and future.

Host of new entrants

Advanced EV Advent 4L

EV Titan EV Spyder 6-seater

On the occasion of another trip to the park, I spotted a nice looking lifted PMV and expected to see a Club Car or E-Z-Go brand on the front cowl. No, the brand was AdvancedEV (AEV), a relatively new entrant in the PMV market, with s manufacturing facility in Rosenburg, TX. The vehicle model is the Advent 4L, a lifted vehicle with custom wheels, four-wheel disk brakes, and can be upgraded to LSV certification standards. A Roypow lithium battery pack is an option.

AdvancedEV is not an isolated newcomer. Here are some others new on the scene:

• Titan EV, based in Sheridan, WY;
• Vivid EV in Ft. Myers, FL and looking for a major output expansion
• Epic Golf Cars, now part of ICON, with manufacturing in Rosenburg, TX, as noted.

In addition to these newcomers, ICON is expanding with a new facility in South Carolina and StarEV is also expanding its manufacturing in South Carolina (although, according to good sources, the product will be vehicles for the commercial market).

Incentives driving participation and Implications of the increase in market participants

If you wanted to cite a case study in microeconomics for inclusion in a textbook, you could not find a better one than what we are seeing in the personal transportation vehicle segment. In theory, what microeconomics teaches is that, in the short run, when there are increasing profits, investors backing new participants will come to fore to feed at the profit trough. While the COVID crisis gave an unexpected boost to the market, market gains were evident before 2020. It became clear then that PTV revenues would easily surpass those of the venerable fleet market.

While the golf market has found new life in terms of participants across a wide range of demographics, the fleet market will continue to stagnate, even as better performing vehicles come on board—or, one could say, because of better performing vehicles, featuring lithium batteries and course-specific descriptive and control-based software increasingly dominates the fleet market—these new features will extend the recycling process. This will, in turn, tend to decrease the annual replacement market.

A new model for distribution and sales

A new model for distribution and sales has emerged and has been put in practice by PTV manufacturers. There are three aspects to the system:
• Factory direct to the dealer, who does the final vehicle prep for the purchaser;
• Components and features are designated by the consumer prior to delivery;
• Key vehicle upgrades for the model year are integrated in the factory assembly line, with some upgrades or accessories installed at the dealership.

One key implication of this process is that the dealer need not have a heavy inventory investment. The dealer only needs showroom space to display the newest models for purposes of the customer walkaround.

The factory direct process also encourages dealers to represent multiple brands. This, of course, is not exactly new, but when there is factory direct orders in place and the vehicle arrives with all or most of the upgrades and accessories already installed, the sales and prep process is a lot easier for the dealer.

So, where is the market going from here?

Moving forward we should see a lot more competition in the PTV marketplace, and one key aspect of the competition that will differentiate the vehicle product will be innovative upgrades and accessories. Obviously, this is an important competitive factor already but watch it intensify.

All these factors will move the industry from golf cart to PTV, and as the market broadens, to PMV, personalized mobility vehicle; that is, every owner will have his or her own special version of the basic vehicle model. Consumer perception shifts from “nice toy” to everyday necessity.

Finally, a very important new feature for PMVs, which will be introduced in the near future, will be proactive safety systems, incorporating front end collision avoidance, obstacle detection and signaling, front and back, lane change, and blind spot coverage. These proactive safety features should become a major selling point for the vehicles and brands that have them. It will be interesting to see which manufacturer is first to the market with these features. So, stay tuned.

Latest major industry analysis from SVR

In its latest comprehensive market analysis for the small, task-oriented vehicle (STOV) industry, Small Vehicle Resource (SVR) forecasts significant, recession-proof growth for the PTV market, in the range of high single-to low double digits. There are a number of factors driving this growth, not the least of which is broad-based shift in consumer perceptions of these vehicles and the emergence of the PMV.

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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