Big Three (Golf) Car Makers Sensitive to Michigan Market
By Kelly Hill
Why is it that car makers come in threes?
While Michigan, Detroit in particular, has become synonymous with The Big Three Automakers -- Daimler-Chrysler, Ford and General Motors -- Augusta, GA also has its own Big Three Car Makers -- Club Car, E-Z-Go and Yamaha.
In addition to that relatively important tournament played at Augusta National each spring, the city also is home to the Big Three manufacturers of golf cars. Club Car, E-Z-Go and Yamaha products continue to dominate the golf car market and one of the most rapidly expanding segments of that market is in Michigan.
While few new products have been introduced by The Big Three of golf cars in the last 12 months, each of those three manufacturers has taken to marketing customer service in its quest to keep old customers and attract new ones. The following is an alphabetical report of the recent struggles of The Big Three, their successes and failures, in their quest for an optimum share of the Michigan golf car market.
Initially incorporated in Houston in 1958, Club Car now is a division of Ingersoll-Rand and produces over 30 products that are distributed from more than 300 sales points around the world. Cy Davis is Club Car's Michigan representative.
"Club Car continues to make significant market share inroads in the state of Michigan," Davis said. "Our 48-volt system continues to be the standard by which electric cars are judged," Davis continued. "Since it was introduced in 1994, a lot of courses have made the conversion from gas to electric."
Club Car also produces a 68-volt system that features an on-board computer used for systems diagnostics as well as measuring the voltage use of the car. "This computer," Davis said, "can tell you the volts left in the car, the state of the charge and the rounds played with the car since it was last charged." According to Davis, these batteries also feature a four-year, 800-round warranty.
Club Car also produces gasoline-powered golf cars that are characterized by a 9hp overhead valve engine. "The efficiency of this car allows the majority of our customers to get 33 (18-hole) rounds out of every seven-gallon tank of gas."
Edward Linebaugh, the general manager of the Country Club of Detroit, recently replaced an entire fleet of 55 cars with new electric Club Cars. "Club Car is considered one of the best cars on the market," Linebaugh said. "It was the quality of the car that made the difference for us. Club Car is considered the Cadillac of the business."
Linebaugh also was impressed with Club Car's customer service. Instead of the Club Car logo emblazoned on the front of each car, the company offered to, and eventually produced, customized Country Club of Detroit logos to grace the front of each new car. "We went with strictly electric cars," Linebaugh said, "although we do have some gas utility cars and carry-alls. The electric cars seem to get better every year. We usually get 36 holes pretty easily out of every charge."
The only golf car manufacturer to achieve industry's ISO 9001 certification, E-Z-GO Textron was recognized as an ANSI/ASQC Q9001 manufacturer in 1994. This certification marks a standard of quality assurance in design, development, production, installation and service. ISO-certified companies typically feature more efficient operation and reduced production costs, as well as a greater attention to the quality of the goods produced.
E-Z-GO introduced the 2000 TXT Golf Car at last year's PGA International Golf Show in Las Vegas. This new line of golf car, utility vehicle and personnel carrier features a Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) DuraShield body that features automotive quality exterior paint and a clear protective finish.
The first company to incorporate regenerative braking technology into a golf car, E-Z-GO's DriveControl System (DCS) limits downhill speed through regenerative braking. This DCS also restricts rolling speed should an operator neglect to set the parking brake.
George Brophy is E-Z-GO's Michigan representative. "We have gained 48 courses in the last three years, which is another 10 percent of the market share and 75 percent of the new courses," Brophy said. "No. 1, we have a great product. No. 2, E-Z-GO is a great company. No. 3, we have the best service in the state. We are continuing to gain market share because we take better care of (customers) than anyone else," Brophy said. "We out-staff them through our dealerships and service personnel."
According to Brophy, the Michigan market saw its largest increases in 1997. "It has been coming down since then," Brophy said, "but it is still very strong in relation to other states." Brophy, who said that between 65 and 70 percent of Michigan's courses lease their golf cars, noted that E-Z-GO offers its own financing packages through Textron, rather than an outside financial institution. "Because we are owned by Textron, we do all of our leasing in-house," Brophy said, "compared to others who use outside sources. I think people would rather deal with the people they are buying from than someone else."
Bob Rooney, the Director of Golf at Rochester Golf Club in Rochester Hills, recently purchased 100 new E-Z-GO cars. "I like E-Z-GO cars and I wanted E-Z-GO cars," Rooney said. "E-Z-GO makes a more durable car and a more comfortable car, and I like the looks of them better." Rooney chose E-Z-GO's gasoline-powered cars for Rochester Golf Club. "We don't have the facility to put electric cars in," Rooney said.
"We would need a whole new cart shed and we didn't want to spend the money for that."
The Yamaha USA Golf Car Group entered the domestic golf industry in 1978 and opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Georgia 10 years later. Yamaha now manufacturers the Ultima 48-volt electric car with Pacesetter speed controller, the Ultima 36-volt electric car, the Ultima gas car, Yamahauler gas utility vehicle and, new this year, the Yamaha Multi-passenger vehicle, all of which are available for sale or through Yamaha's in-house leasing program.
The new multi-passenger vehicle is Yamaha's solution for resorts and operations that need to move larger groups of people in comfort and luxury. Gas-powered, this vehicle features seating for four passengers, all facing in a forward direction.
Mike Boylan is Yamaha's representative in Michigan. "There are not a lot of new products on the market this year," Boylan said. "Most of what is new is in the field of utility vehicles, multi-passenger vehicles, and those you see more of on the upscale courses and at the resorts around the state."
Dave Cornelius, of the Emerald Vale in Manton, recently ordered 60 new Yamaha golf cars and was so pleased with them that he ordered another dozen. "From the standpoint of sales and service, Yamaha is as good as you can get," Cornelius said. "They all are good cars, and they each have their own features, but we have never had any problems with Yamaha cars, so why switch? They run forever and they are virtually bullet-proof."
Cornelius chose Yamaha's gasoline-powered cars for Emerald Vale. "Gas is easier to operate," Cornelius said, "and when you are a new property, gas is cheaper because you don't need all of the electrical equipment. Private clubs tend to like the electric cars because they are quieter," Cornelius added, "but when you are dealing with the general public, gas is much easier."
Americans love cars, especially Americans who live where American cars are made. Everyone knows the year, make and model of the first car they ever owned. Everyone can tell you, most without any thought whatsoever, the year, make and model of the car they now drive. But do you know the manufacturer of the last golf car you drove? Was it a gas or electric model?
There are three Georgia car makers who want those answers to come as quickly and as easily as those concerning your personal automobile.
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