A recent article in Smart Cities Dive highlighted what may be the latest turn of phrase in the campaign to decarbonize urban (and suburban) transportation systems[ https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/-minimobility-us-streets-sweeping-changes-vehicle-size-tiny-cars/644899/ ]. The article suggests that minimobility vehicles could bridge the gap between micromobility vehicle types (e.g., e-scooters, ebikes) and conventional electric automobiles and light trucks. So, what are minimobility vehicles?
Broadly defined in the Smart Cities article, minimobility is characterized as, “…three- or four-wheeled electric vehicles fitting one to two people.” Sound a little familiar? Could well describe our LSVs. Interesting how a new description of a well-known vehicle captures the essence of a current trend and completely changes the perception of the vehicle. Hey, this isn’t my LSV (or golf cart), this is my e-mini, and it’s all dressed up and eager to reduce the carbon footprint of my city, town, or village.
Another well-done article from the electrek newsletter of January 23, 2023, enthusiastically endorses the proposition that the minimobility vehicle is on the verge of much wider, mainstream popularity[ https://electrek.co/2023/01/23/low-cost-tiny-electric-cars-lsv-nev/ ]. Interestingly, the author, Micah Toll, uses the term micro-car, while at the same time acknowledging that the general class of micro-cars covers a broad range of similar types, including LSVs and NEVs.
In speaking with marketing and market development executives at this year’s PGA Show, I got the impression that they were wrestling with somewhat the same issue; that is, how to label or characterize their product in light of the broadening of the market into an unfamiliar environment of city and suburban public roads and streets—and this in the context of what is now the active search for conventional vehicle (both gas and electric) alternatives. Emobility vehicles, such as scooters and ebikes may be good for some demographics and mobility requirements, but clearly not a good choice for older people and where light transport of goods is needed.
Internal barriers to transition
Golf car manufacturers face a number of internal barriers or mindsets that make the transition to broader markets difficult. Here the key ones:
• Dedication to a traditional market—in this case, the fleet market;
• Dealer network primarily catering to walk-in business;
• Advertising and promotions using traditional market symbols and icons.
In the first instance, top management is thinking in terms of how to out-compete rivals in traditional markets associated with golf. Even LSVs, vehicles specifically meeting the qualifications for on-street use, and so certified, are mainly considered to be used in relatively confined communities, such as gated communities—again often associated with golf.
For its part the dealer network is mostly, although certainly not entirely, used to working with walk-in customers and servicing these vehicles that have been purchased by those customers.
Advertising and promotional material still refers to the vehicles as golf carts, rather than a more modern term such as golf car or even small electric vehicle. Advertising visuals still predominantly show vehicles in quiet, idyllic surroundings, rather than on a busy street. The visual above is something of an exception and possibly not even associated with an ad.
Where market opportunities lie over the next five years
Looking forward over the next three-to-five years, market opportunities should open up in a broader set of environments, including urban and suburban neighborhoods and a larger set of confined, if not gated communities; e.g., assisted living complexes and active adult communities. With regard to all these prospects, access beyond the immediate neighborhood would be essential to increase the utility and convenience of golf cars—that is to say, really create and develop the minimobility platform.
In order to accomplish this, dealer relationships with the broader community in which they operate have to be developed. These relationships would include a far more diverse set of stakeholders than the walk-in customer, and would include advocacy groups of all kinds that typically represent community interests. Examples would be police and law enforcement associations, health care providers, green environmental advocates—and most importantly governmental officials in charge of transportation systems. While there are federal and State regulations concerning LSV use on public roads, it is the local city councils that have the last word on whether these vehicles will be allowed on their local roads.
All over the country city councils are holding hearings relative to two-wheel, three-wheel, and four-wheel alternatives to the conventional automobile (whether gas or electric). To whom does the city council turn to for expert advice? Certainly, law enforcement and road safety officials, but these officials also have an ear to popular demand. It is to these meetings that local dealers should make an appearance—and a cooperative one, not competitive.
Future selling points
Perhaps the key barrier to LSV-type vehicle operation on public roads and streets is the concern for safety, both for LSV drivers and occupants and pedestrians. Consistent and on-going upgrades of LSVs and PTVs have, indeed, made the vehicle safer (3-point safety belts, turn signals, back-up cameras, four-wheel hydraulic disk brakes, etc.), but more needs to be done. Recent LSV models have incorporated many automotive-type accessories, such as audio systems and LCD touchscreens.
What has not been done, as yet, is to incorporate some of the proactive safety features now available in conventional, on-road vehicles. These features would include automatic front collision avoidance braking, warning lights on side mirrors to alert the driver of passing vehicles and pedestrian detection and voidance systems. Corrective steering for lane change avoidance is another feature.
Showing up at a city council meeting with a vehicle in hand (i.e. on video) that provided these selling points, would win over many doubters. Sponsoring a vehicle “open house” to demonstrate such safety features would be another winner.
Minimobility ride share
A last point to usher in the minimobility era for golf car-type vehicles, would be fleet management systems set up to conduct personal, individual on call fleet service. This would extend transportation as a service to LSVs and other golf car-type vehicles. Such systems have been developed for assisted living communities and similar environments. Thus, it should not be a great leap to use such systems in urban and suburban settings. (Check out Carteav from Israel and Turing Drive from Taiwan, companies which offer these systems.)
In some ways, two-wheel vehicles have led the way in what is commonly referred to as micromobility. Golf car-type vehicles can actually build on that experience to create the minimobility universe, supplying to the market what is, in many ways, a superior solution to a broader demographic.
Contact the Author: Steve Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.