The 2006 PGA Merchandise Show just ended in Orlando, Florida. It was another ho-hum year for the golf car industry or so it may seem. The biggest news is not what happened but what didn’t: No! E-Z-GO did not debut their widely anticipated new model to counter the popular Club Car Precedent brought out in January, 2004. But rumors abound! One would expect a significant slow down of new introductions following the blistering pace of 2004, when Yamaha, Club Car & E-Z-GO combined introduced at least twelve new models for golf, utility or sport-utility. What follows is a report about the past year in the industry and what was seen & heard at the PGA Show. Next is the Golf Industry Show in Atlanta, Georgia. Stay tuned to Golf Car Catalog for the latest updates.
The ANSI standards for PTVs (Personal Transport Vehicles-faster than 15 but no more than 19.9mph) have been agreed upon and codified;
Yamaha has upgraded their regen motor & controller to allow their electric cars to attain 19mph and their Rhino 660 side-x-side 4×4 has been a roaring success;
The Club Car electric Turf 2 & Transporter lines have a beefed up motor and IQ controller powered by eight 6-volt batteries. Also they have two new lighter duty XRT trucks;
There now are at least six Chinese imports being offered on the US market, some are for golf but most are for leisure or off-road;
Golf cars powered by AC (alternating current) and golf cars with AC (air conditioning) are now a reality but it will cost you;
There is a worldwide shortage of lead so the price of batteries is headed north (what isn’t?);
Golf car prices are headed the same way because of increasing metal, fuel & labor costs;
Club Car & E-Z-GO are still dealing with costly & embarrassing recalls involving recent model changes. The good news is there are no serious injuries & the situation soon will be behind them;
Golf carts are getting stolen like candy from a baby (does anybody care? It’s 10pm. Do you know where your golf car is?);
The huge glut of unsold used golf cars has largely disappeared and the market could be headed for a dearth of good used cars in the years ahead-definitely for gas models;
Custom golf cart accessories, lift kits & long travel suspensions are pouring into the marketplace like there is no tomorrow, are they all well made & safe?
New NHTSA weight limits for LSVs, and Roush Enterprises, of NARCAR fame, may be stepping into this marketplace with an imported Ford-made pickup truck powered by a 72-volt AC system;
Let’s see, did I miss anything? Definitely–there is just too much to mention it all!
GPS companies are flourishing with new innovations.
Single rider carts are gaining a wider acceptance as the definition of disabled is debated, and able-bodied golfers discover guess what?…They like em!…when they are made available.
Seniors–the true core of the so-called core’ & avid’ golfer set–are leaving the game in unprecedented numbers & nobody knows why, and worse, no one is asking why. Domestically, golf play & new course development remain very flat with no signs of a significant bounce-back’ anytime soon, if ever. Internationally golf is growing faster than here at home.
What does this portend for the future of golf cars, new & used?
Where are the new markets: private transport vehicles, campground rentals, international sales, utility vehicles, sport-utility big wheels and 4x4s or all of the above? Speaking of utility vehicles and side-x-side 4x4s, everybody & their uncle now offers at least one model; Kubota, Cub Cadet, Polaris, Kawasaki, John Deere, E-Z-GO, Club Car, Yamaha and the list goes on. Can golf car companies compete in this strange new world of retail sales?
What to expect in 2006 and when will E-Z-GO bring out that new car? Please read on!
GOLF CAR COMPANIES
As of the PGA Show, the usual venue to show off new stuff, E-Z-GO did not display a new golf car. Indeed their thoroughbred TXT model is widely accepted and its market
share has not suffered unduly for lack of something new. The Club Car Precedent has had its share of introduction blues. When asked about a possible release date, E-Z-GO officials would not even admit something might be in the pipeline. Never the less the rumor mill is sizzling; unofficially, we heard the new electric model will be configured with a 48-volt battery pack utilizing four 12-volt batteries. A story circulating for some time now is that E-Z-GO has a prototype AC system out in fleet testing somewhere but, if so, it is under deep cover. Whether they will continue to offer a conventional SepEx DC brush motor, a brushless DC motor or an AC motor/controller has all kinds of folks scratching their collective heads.
Another long-time floater is a plan to change to a single cylinder Honda gas engine in the near future. With all these possibilities it could be another year before we see the release a new car. At any rate we could find no one that could or would substantiate anything. The Fuji Heavy Industries (read Subaru) twin-cylinder gas engine in current use has been the standard power plant since 1991, with a major upgrade in 2004. It has been a great power plant for the E-Z-GO golf cars & utility vehicles. The 30-plus year relationship with Fuji had a hiccup this past year after 12 reported incidents involving fires prompted a voluntary recall. Approximately 60,000 vehicles equipped with the smaller Fuji twin cylinder 295cc, 9hp gas engine are involved in the recall. These engines are in fleet & Freedom model gas golf cars & small wheel utility trucks made from January 16, 2002, through September 1, 2005. The larger 350cc, 11hp engines are not included. The good news is no reported injuries and the fix’ is scheduled to be complete by early summer of 2006.
In a past interview, John Garrison, president of E-Z-GO, said the life of a vehicle platform is about 10 years. Club Car went more than 20 with their DS platform and they still offer it. E-Z-GO is now entering the thirteenth year on the TXT platform, which came out in 1994. On good authority, outside of E-Z-GO, it was told to me that they will switch to a 48-volt battery pack and that the new body styling will be fairly vanilla. No real details, but it will not be as dramatic a departure as the Club Car Precedent was from the DS model. Gee whiz, if there was a buck for every rumor circulated in this industry for the past 30 years one could retire to the Bahamas. What’s next? Only The Shadow knows. Stay tuned.
There is some other news from E-Z-GO besides what they didn’t do. The ST 4 x 4 can now be configured with an beverage unit. In the quest to carry all that cold beverage to thirsty golfers, conventional utility trucks groaned under the heavy load and could become unstable on steep side hills. The ST 4 x 4 is positioned as a perfect alternative; plenty of power and an extra wide track for added stability.
In conjunction with 19th Hole Marketing, E-Z-GO now offers two different drop-in Refresher units, one larger & one smaller, that fit right into the roto-molded utility bed they brought out in 2003. Also, Eagle Products, of Augusta, Georgia, has introduced a driving range ball picker cab and a top & windshield (not ROPS certified) for the ST 4 x 4. For more information about E-Z-GO, call 1-800-241-5855 (International: 706-798-4311) or on the web at: www.ezgo.com.
Club Car showed no new models but they did display several major upgrades to existing products and perhaps a new marketing strategy only tried once before in the golf car industry. Club Car has beefed up their IQ System to offer a more robust electric utility line. It is called the IQ Plus’ and it is offered for the Turf 2 electric work trucks and in certain personnel carriers. Powered by eight 6-volt batteries, the IQ Plus will provide a greater range per charge than the traditional golf cart-based IQ system
The Precedent gas model now comes standard with the larger Kawasaki 351cc, 11hp, 4-stroke engine traditionally used in their medium duty utility trucks and people carriers. This change will certainly provide much more hill climbing capability and it counters the change made by Yamaha in 2003 when they upgraded their new G-MAX gas golf car to a 357cc engine.
Club Car, in association with their GPS partner, UpLink, has co-developed an on-dashGPS display that seamlessly integrates with the existing dash of the Precedent golf car. It’s not just an add-on but rather a whole new dash console that places the screen and control buttons just above the open dash compartment. The widescreen monitor and user interface brings golf car GPS technology to a new level of presentation.
Last year Club Car added two new models to their Rough Terrain XRT lineup of work
trucks. Both are based on the DS aluminum chassis and are rated for 800 lbs of people & cargo. The XRT 800 comes with either their standard 286cc, 9.5hp Kawasaki 4-stroke engine or a 48-volt, electric power train. The upscale XRT 810 comes with a larger 351cc, 11.5hp Kawasaki power plant or as a 48-volt IQ electric and standard equipment includes nerf bars, brush guard, 12-volt accessory receptacle and locking glove box. The 7 cu. ft., molded plastic cargo bed measures 25.7 x 43.5 x 11 deep and is rated for 300lbs.
For 2006, Club Car will continue to offer the DS model at a price point substantially below the Precedent. Perhaps this is because they still have a lot of utility vehicles based on the legacy DS platform but for whatever reason, this is the first time since 1990 (whenYamaha offered the upscale G8 alongside their G2/G9 models) that the market has seen a multi-tiered approach to selling fleet golf cars. Phil Tralies, president of Club Car, said they have plans to migrate their extensive utility line to the Precedent platform but it is not a burning issue at this time. For now they plan to offer the lower cost DS model as an alternative to their premium product, the Precedent. The buyer can decide what best fits their application & budget. The DS golf car features the 48-volt IQ regen system for electric cars and the 286cc, 9hp Kawasaki engine in gas models.
Club Car, like E-Z-GO, was stung by voluntary recalls in 2005. One involved over 70,000 of their new Precedent cars because of a sticky accelerator pedal and another for hairline cracks in a brake cable equalizer rod, used across a broad spectrum of their products built from April 2004 through September of that same year. Again, the good news is no injuries and Club Car recently announced that the recall fix’ is 95% complete. For more information about Club Car, call 1-800-258-2227 (International: 706-863-3000) or go online to: www.ClubCar.com.
A Personal Observation: As a close observer of this industry for over 25 years, this reporter has always been deeply impressed with the overriding concern for safety and the quality of product golf car manufacturers have exhibited. If product issues came up they were quickly and quietly dispatched. These recent recalls may be a harbinger of change for the industry. The product is no longer just a golf car used only in a closed environment by a select number of paying participants. Their product has become a new form of personal low-speed transportation driving its way into the hearts of people throughout our country and around the globe. This new, unintended, application means new rules and broader exposure to risk for the manufacturers. These risks are just beginning to be understood, as the role of a golf car’ morphs into the role of a car’, whether the manufacturers like it or not.
_________________________________________________________________________ Yamaha introduced 2 new golf car models in 2003 and seven new utility vehicles in 2004, one of which is the Rhino 660 side x side, 4 x 4. The Rhino has taken the market by storm with estimated sales of over 30,000 units in 2005. Their golf car dealers are hatin’ it because they can’t offer themthey are only available through Yamaha MotorSports dealers! Yamaha has not been resting on any laurels though. Constant attention to detail and the relentless pursuit of quality are not just buzzwords in this company. They live & die by them.
(Yamaha G22 Personal Transport Vehicle)Yamaha golf car dealers do have some new stuff to strut this year including the only golf car that, so far, conforms to the latest ANSI standards for Personal Transport Vehicles (PTVs). All of the manufacturers got together & put these standards on paper but only Yamaha had conforming PTV models on display in Orlando. To accomplish this they have changed their motor controller so the G-MAX 48-volt electric can now achieve 19mph.
This self-imposed industry-wide speed limit permits newly manufactured golf cars to operate at a maximum of 19.9mph, thereby avoiding the National Highway (NHTSA) safety requirements laid out in Rule 500 for low speed motor vehicles.
Yamaha still offers the same motor & 48-volt battery pack, but they have changed the motor controller to a MORIC made system. MORIC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yamaha Japan. Adding some muscle to their lineup of U-MAX utility vehicles, Yamaha now
offers a stretched-out utility truck featuring 4-forward seating with a work bed in back and powered by either a gas engine or an electric drive train. The utility & turf market demands the ability to move people as well as materials & equipment. The 4-forward seating provides just that. The electric version will come standard with eight 6-volt batteries in order to provide greater range per charge. The gas version uses their standard 357cc, 11.4hp single cylinder 4-stroke engine, made by Yamaha in Japan.
The Limited Edition is built on the standard G22 chassis with either a gas or electric power plant. Available only in Arctic White, the Limited includes a tan colored Ergo-shade top with black support struts, tan seats, powdered chrome wheels, chrome hubcaps and custom decals along with the other standard features included on the G-MAX. All these extra accessories are included at no extra cost to the dealerso he can pass this savings on to you. This same deal is available to PTV buyers too, but the PTV accessories do add some extra cost to the base model.
The real deal for prospective Yamaha buyers is the G-MAX Limited Edition. Limited, as in limited production; they expect to make approximately 3000 of these special edition cars and after they are gone there will be no more.
For more info about Yamaha call 1-866-747-4027 (International: 770-254-4000) or go online to: www.YamahaGolfCar.com.
PERSONAL TRANSPORT VEHICLES (PTVs):
As mentioned earlier, guidelines for Personal Transport Vehicles have been agreed upon and codified into ANSI standards. These are the accessories the golf car industry suggests are appropriate for golf cars capable of the higher speeds (more than 15 but less than 20 mph) when used either on or off the golf course. They include head & taillights, electric horn, side body reflex reflectors and a special decal to warn the operator that the vehicle can go faster than a normal golf car. Although not enforced by law, ANSI standards are strongly urged for PTVs to provide greater visibility and enhance safety when used near pedestrians and around automobiles. The big three have all agreed to abide by these standards and it is hoped local dealers will follow suit.While no major manufacturer suggests driving any golf car on public roads, private owners are doing just that; using them for personal conveyance on public & semi-public thoroughfares. When a golf car is built, by a dealer or a manufacturer, to exceed the 20mph threshold, it then qualifies as a motor vehicle and is classified as an LSV (Low Speed Vehicle). Federal standards do apply and they are enforceable by law with very stiff penalties for non-compliance. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires LSVs to have head, tail & brake lights, turn signal indicators, seat belts and several other safety features. They also must have a 17 digit vehicle identification number (VIN), just like your automobile, and be registered with the state DMV, tagged, insured & operated by licensed drivers only. Golf car manufacturers do not want the liability associated with licensed on-road vehicles or with the dangers seat belts represent when used on golf carts. The PTV nicely fills both needs. By agreement with the feds a PTV cannot go faster than 19.9mph and therefore does not require federal registration or the installation of seat belts. State or municipal laws may require local registration and certain safety accessories.
Check with your local authorities.From the horsepower wars of the 80s & early 90s to the introduction of sep-ex motors and a 48-volt battery pack in the mid 90s, manufacturers have worked hard to stay one step ahead of their competition. The horsepower wars of yesteryear continue today as the titans battle to hawk a few extra tenths of a mile per hour in the models they offer to private individuals. By agreement with the federal government, the PTV can go no faster than 19.9mph. The golf car industry is still not comfortable with automobiles & golf cars sharing the same roadway. Besides, that market is still pretty small but it is growing. They are all watching closely. Several years ago Club Car partnered with General Motors to produce the Pathway’ LSV and thereby became one of the largest makers of on-road electric vehicles in America. GM shouldered most of the liability for that product and now the Pathway is no longer offered.
In 2005, LSVs were slated to become an Alternative Fueled Vehicle (AFV) as part of the
federal Energy Policy Act (EPAct) effort to reduce US dependence on foreign oil & to reduce air pollution. Passage would have allowed LSVs to be purchased by any federal agency motor pool, where applicable, for official transportation. Our lawmakers in Washington could not see the wisdom of including any kind of electric vehicle as an Alternative Fueled Vehicle when passing the latest version of this bill last year.
If the federal government ever does include low speed electric vehicles on their approved list, or if the LSV market develops independently, all 3 companies could quickly enter the business. Meanwhile several other companies–some new, some old–are still players in this emerging market. We don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. Click here for more info on AFVs: http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/epact/state/index.shtml.
THE CHINESE ARE COMING!
As if this is any big surprise. FairPlay Electric Cars, based in Grand Junction, Colorado, showed off 4 new electric vehicles at the 2006 PGA Merchandise Show. All models are completely manufactured and assembled in China on a 48-volt platform with regenerative braking and a color impregnated poly-propylene body available in six colors. A top, fold-down windshield and battery charge indicator are all standard equipment. The steel chassis is treated with a marine grade finish and is guaranteed for the life of the vehicle. The rest of the car comes with a 3 year warranty. MSRP ranges from a low of $4795.00 to $7995.00 at the top.The ZX Fleet model is a basic golf car aimed at golf course business.The ZX 4.0 model, outfitted with recessed front & rear lights, turn signals, electric horn & a 4hp motor, is targeted at private owners.The upscale ZX 5.5 features the same electrical package plus a 5.5hp motor, simulated wood-grain trim and stainless steel top struts and sweater basket. All of the above have six 8-volt Trojan batteries.The ZX 5.5 6P model is stretched to accommodate 6 passengers; 4 forward and two rear facing. The 6P is powered by eight 6-volt Trojan batteries for greater endurance. It comes with all the electrical accessories offered on the ZX 4.0 & 5.5 models as well as the stainless top supports and simulated burl wood trim.Although made in China, FairPlay has an experienced team of American born & bred entrepreneurs steeped in Asian manufacturing. The principles have come out of the custom mag’ wheel manufacturing business to create FairPlay Electric Cars. These guys mean business. They have several domestic companies working in conjunction with them; Trojan Battery Co (batteries), Lester Electrical Co. (48-volt SCR chargers), Alltrax Inc. (300 amp regen motor controllers), Tampa-G Manufacturing (rain curtains) and a General Electric subsidiary in China (sep-ex motors). They also have arranged for golf course lease & dealer floorplan financing through GE Capital. FairPlay appears to bring to the table the best organization and business plan we have seen so far. They have already signed up around 100 dealers and are looking for established, competent companies that are prepared to sign up for five or more vehicles. We provide detailed specs on their various models in a later section of this report. For more information about FairPlay click here go online to their website: http://www.fairplayelectriccars.com/
IMPORTED GOLF CARS: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW: We have been reporting on imported golf cars for many years. In the recent past the Chinese imports have been mostly directed at the off-road/rugged terrain segment or for moving people. By providing a lower cost alternative to the electric vehicles currently offered by the big three, these imports have garnered a small foothold in the US. We fully expect this trend to continue and expand as other countries, such as India, with a large labor force and excellent engineering & manufacturing practices explore this market.Moreover, the US market is no longer the only opportunity to sell these small, low speed transporters. Any populated area in the world can benefit from the fewer hydrocarbons the use of small electric vehicles represent.
Take, as one example, Mahindra City, 30 minutes outside of the southeastern coastal city of Channai, India. According to mahindracity.com, this thriving master-planned community will provide: Sustainable development, environment friendly development practices, conservation of the environment and the creation of a low-density urban village are the core principles underlying the concept of Mahindra City. There is intense interest in small electric vehicles for around town transportation in Mahindra City and there are similar communities in India already in development or on the drawing board. This is just the tip of an iceberg.In the US market overall product quality, serviceability and parts supply have dogged the entrepreneurs that have ventured into these waters.
The Chinese, like the Koreans (Hyundai) before them and the Poles (Melex) before them, desire US manufacturing jobs but their ability to achieve a critical mass in this competitive marketplace has proven difficult. Innovation, attention to detail especially with regards to body panels and paint finishes, ability to financially persevere in the marketplace and excel, update & differentiate has been and may still be lacking. Indeed so far most all of the Chinese imports look just like E-Z-GO clones. This harks back to the late 60s when an E-Z-GO was taken to Poland, copied right down to errors in the frame structure and then imported to the US as a Melex golf cart. Nothing but perhaps a low price recommends these latest clone attempts and that route has been tried before with limited success.
Today, only Yamaha, which was never marketed as low cost import, stands as a survivor in the golf car industry. They ventured into the US market in 1978 armed with a ground-breaking gas powered golf car unlike any other available at that time. The power & performance of their model G1 2-cycle gas changed the business. Now, they have moved most of their cart manufacturing to Newnan, Georgia. After years of struggling to garner US market share, Melex (sold in this country for over 30 years) and Hyundai (around for about 10 years), it is now all but impossible to find proprietary parts, leaving their hapless owners to cobble together fixes when a breakdown occurs. Fortunately, many common parts are still available because they interchange with parts still used by existing companies or are available in the aftermarket. Imported motors, controllers, differentials, brake systems & especially batteries make for supply line difficulties. Flooded cell lead-acid batteries cannot be shipped via UPS, FedEx or US Post, so replacing one or two batteries can prove difficult, and expensive, especially for more remote dealers.Times change and today many golf’ cars are used away from the course. The existing manufacturers still play an enormous role by providing good used vehicles, which keeps the cost down for first time buyers using them for other than golf’ applications. The growth of golf has leveled off significantly and finding new markets presents many challenges to the legacy companies. We welcome these new global markets and international manufacturers.
As more companies vie for a piece of the action, more options will come available to buyers and at better prices. Meanwhile we will wait and see what develops.Next time out we will write about the Golf Industry Show in Atlanta, a show much more directed at utility & turf maintenance equipment. We will also let you know about some of the interesting new vehicles, products and accessories such as: