Who, If Anyone, Is Breaking New Ground in Small Vehicle Product

Many of the well-known 19th century economists (e.g., Adam Smith, David Ricard, John Stuart Mill) worried about the possibility that there would be a decline in new investment opportunities. As new investment was mainspring of economic improvement (as it is today), a dearth of such opportunities would result in diminishing, or even negative growth in future periods.

As history tells us, their worries were unfounded, because, aside from business cycles, the economies of developed nations continued to grow as new technologies and new products came to the fore. Nonetheless, some of this thinking has trickled into the 21st century, and is even promoted by some of the more determined environmentalists, who see increased incomes and economic betterment as curse on Mother Earth.

While historically clear and one would guess, with a certain amount of confidence for the future, that new technologies have driven and will continue to drive the U.S., as well as the global economy to new heights, what holds for the big picture, is unlikely to hold for each and every individual market. Such may be the case for small, task-oriented vehicles (STOVs). STOVs are comprised of a wide variety of small vehicles, including golf cars, personal transportation vehicles (PTVs), light duty utility vehicles, and off-road work and recreational vehicles. A broad summary of the markets for these vehicles would indicate:

  • Virtually no growth, maybe slow negative growth for fleet golf cars;
  • An off-road segment maturing and well-past its growth period of the first decade of the 2000s;
  • Reasonable growth prospects (albeit not spectacular) for PTVs and light-duty utility vehicles.

What, Me Worry?

Hey, why should we in our beloved, easy-going gated communities worry about industry trends? After all, we have our 20th century vehicles, which some persist in calling “golf carts”. Perhaps we should be content with these antiquated, yet still useful carriages that get us from point A to point B (as long as points A and B are within the perimeter of our community), at speeds less than speedy, and where innovation and better performance seems to be restricted to the show-off deck-outs we see and enjoy at our annual golf cart parades.

Is There No More Than Going with the Flow?

Right now, the Big Three that are the major suppliers of golf car-type vehicles, including our PTVs, seem quite content to go with the flow. So I ask, were do we find the effort to:

  • Increase speed, and at the same time,
  • Enhance safety features up to the threshold of on-road crash tests?
  • Develop versatile small vehicles for both “in-gate” and “out-gate” travel?
  • Install battery packs that assure a range of 150-200 miles?
  • Build drive trains that incorporate permanent magnet motors, which are more efficient and more powerful.
  • Outfit small vehicles with level 3 or level 4 self-driving features?
  • Styling that incorporates full enclosure protection?

Let’s be honest. If you could get all these features in a sleek-looking package for around $20,000-$22,000 (and allows travel beyond the reservation), you’d be interested would you not? After all, after you shell out for a lift kit, custom upholstery, a lighting package, and various sorts of trim and accessories, you are already looking at $14,000-$18,000, and you still have no more than the basic cart—lipstick on a pig, as they say.

Such features and innovations would converge for expansive growth in urban, suburban, and gated community mobility. Basically, however, you don’t see any sort of product development of this nature emerging from the Big Three. This, despite the fact they have the manufacturing facilities, the technical know-how, and fully developed network of sales and service dealerships.

Yes, There Are Innovators Developing Advanced Small Vehicles

So, where do we find the innovative pioneers that addressing the questions posed above? Having asked this question, it planted the seed for the idea of an annual prize for innovative product development. Thus, announcing (drum roll, please) the Small Vehicle Resource (SVR) 2018 Prize for Outstanding Product Development.

This will mark the first year in which this coveted industry prize is awarded. The purpose is to recognize companies that have taken measurable, clear cut steps to bring innovative products to market. This year three companies are being singled out for their contributions. It is not surprising that all are start-ups. None are in large-scale production, but all have produced prototypes and are taking advanced orders for product delivery in 2019.

Here are the winners and the categories in which they excelled (see table in digital issue)

Do these vehicles address all the issues raised above? No, but they are on the way to doing so. We are at the beginnings of a whole range of urban mobility solutions, some of which will actually geminate inside the gated community, and I believe innovative small vehicles will be significant part of urban mobility systems. The innovations and new product designs that characterize these trends will find a market in gated communities, as we ride the coattails of a very big picture.

Agree? Or disagree? Let me have your thoughts: smetzger@smallvehicleresource.com

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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