May 9, 2013 – Vol.18 No.8

STEADY GROWTH FOR LOW SPEED VEHICLES.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

I'm out for a bike ride on glorious spring morning. I see a golf cart coming my way: Three on board, a women and two children. One of young girls is driving. She couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 and she's grinning from ear to ear.

Her mom, if that's who the woman on board was, didn't seem to care that it's not exactly legal to drive golf carts on county-owned streets. And I'm pretty sure 9 year olds aren't supposed to be zipping around, passengers and all, in motorized vehicles on city streets either. (This wasn't in a gated community.)

Low speed vehicles (LSV) are legal on some roads here in Florida as they are in the much of the United States. Yet, as above, many people cheat, and police look the other way, when people use golf carts on streets when they really should be driving a registered LSV.

LSV's, which are usually battery powered, are a different breed than golf carts. Lights, a horn, seat belts and a safety glass windshield with wipers are required in this street legal class of vehicle.

Top speed is limited to 25 miles per hour (yet people cheat here too with speed mods) and they're supposed to stay on streets with legal speed limits only slightly above what the vehicle can do. LSV drivers do show some common sense (or fear for their lives): I've almost never seen one on a busy roadway; even one with a fairly low speed limit. ( I have however seen them on adjacent sidewalks which, too, is likely against the law.)

From both personal observation and some hard data, the numbers of LSVs on the road are growing. Using LSV registrations as a guide, Small Vehicle Resource says," For states with data for 2009 to 2012 registrations grew 39 percent over the time period. This includes data from Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Annual growth was fairly stable ranging from 13 percent to 10 percent. Florida by far has the largest number of registered LSVs with nearly 6,000 as of 2012. The next closest is North Carolina with just over 1,600. These states have significant gated/retirement communities and summer vacation communities."

In just those 8 states, 7020 LSV's were registered in 2009, 7941 in 2010, 8848 in 2011, and 9745 in 2012. Extrapolated out to the rest of country, the numbers of LSV's roaming the side streets of America (legally or not) is likely significant. Extrapolated out to the rest of world, who knows?

Small Vehicle Resource gives some reasons for the steady growth of the LSV market saying, "SVR believes the majority of LSV sales are still attributable to the commercial market, in the range of 70 percent to 85 percent. A primary market is the park/university & corporate campus segment driven by green and sustainability initiatives. Some universities are attempting to convert as much of their vehicle fleets to electrics as possible. The safety features of the LSVs are also an important factor for this market. Besides liability issues, fleet managers tend towards buying only new vehicles so modified golf cars are not big in this segment. Being able to use legally use local roads while traveling from one campus site to another is also a factor for some buyers. This market has been growing at a double digit pace and strong growth is expected to continue. There is not only the green factor but the displacement of pickup trucks used for light duty maintenance and personnel transport which represents a cost-savings over the vehicle's life for these organizations.

"Another factor is military purchases. They tailed off because of budget concerns with war spending getting a priority but the armed forces still have goals and mandates to reduce petroleum uses so LSV purchases could pick up again for on-base use if money is made available.

"In the private use market the retirement community market is still a driver as well as an increase in local ordinances allowing LSV use on public roads, particularly in summer vacation/second home areas."

I think there may be other reasons as well for the steady growth of LSVs:

--- They're kind of fun to drive. (The little girl wasn't grinning for nothing.) Nimble. Open aired. Easy to jump in and go. Twenty-five miles an hour seems fast in a vehicle so small, so connected with its surroundings. LSV's are a return to the fun of driving.

--- They make economic sense. They're not very expensive to purchase compared the $30,000 depreciating-daily beast in the garage. Fueling by way of a flow of electrons is just a blip on the electric bill. And regular servicing? What? Air in the tires?

--- And for short hops it's all many need or want. Why take drag the big SUV or sedan out of the garage just to run a mile or less to a store or restaurant? A trip to the bank or post office might actually be fun in the perky, nimble LSV.

 

Then there are the vehicles. After some stumbling a few years ago when even Ford and Chrysler where in the market with Think and GEM LSVs, respectively, entering, then leaving, the segment, the industry is regrouping. GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) is now being run by recreational vehicle builder Polaris and stalwart golf car builders Club Car and E-Z Go entering the market. Other builders are making attempts to blur the line between mostly open-aired LSV's (with their roots in golf carts) and micro-cars by building speed limited small sedans, doors and all. This formula has not been particularly successful in the past, so we'll see.

Hard to ignore too, at least in Europe, is style in an LSV such as Renault's Twizy, that's being sold as a heavy quadricycle). The lesser version has a 5 hp electric motor with top speed of 28 mph, just about the same as LSV's here in the States. (A more powerful version brings top speed to 50 mph.) With no emissions tests to worry about and LSV's not needing the same crash test requirements as big cars, one wonders how long it will be before Twizys cross the Atlantic.

The LSV market is still free wheeling and as fun as the vehicles are to drive. Here in Florida, if you want street legal, but don't want a factory-built car, you can convert a golf cart and register it.

There's lots of options in the growing LSV market, more than mentioned above. Interested? Small Vehicle Resource is the place to start your research.

 

Links:

Small Vehicle Resource

GEM

Club Car

E-Z Go

Renault Twizi

 

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