Michigan may be the "World Motor Capital," as our state's new license plates attest on this, the 100th anniversary of the automobile, but when motors are installed in golf cars, that distinction may go to Augusta, Georgia. Yes, Augusta's golf fame may extend beyond that spring tournament whose winner walks away in a green jacket.
Augusta is the home of the top two golf car producers in the world, Club Car and E-Z-Go. Yamaha, the No. 3 golf car maker, is based nearby, however, in Newman, Georgia.
Because Michigan is celebrating the centennial of the automobile, the parallels between the auto and golf car industries are worth noting. Both feature the Big Three_the top three producers that control a significant majority of the market. The two industries also feature several smaller producers battling to secure their niche in the market. In the golf car industry, Melex, of Raleigh, N.C.; Columbia, of Reedsburg, Wis.; and Elmco, of Cooksville, Ill. are those smaller producers. The auto and golf car industries also share a common model year, normally introducing new offerings at this time of the year, in the early autumn. Executives within the two industries also maintain a strict code of silence concerning new products until those products are released. The Big Three in the auto and golf car industries also share a common debate over market shares, with figures varying according to who you talk to.
Michigan Golfer recently contacted the golf car industry's Big Three and subsequently present this special report, in anticipation of the 1997 model year.
Chris Plummer has been on the job as marketing manager for Club Car for only eight months, yet he speaks like a veteran. "I think it's safe to say that we and E-Z-Go are the top two and that Yamaha is third," Plummer said. "The exact numbers, though, will depend upon who you talk to. E-Z-Go has been around a lot longer, but we are doing pretty well."
Because the 1997s had not been introduced when Michigan Golfer spoke with Plummer, no specifics were divulged, but the Club Car marketing manager did note that, "Last year we introduced the Power Drive System 48 and it was a huge success." That Club Car innovation was the first 48-volt operating system or electric cars. "We are planning to continue to grow and become No. 1, if we're not already," Plummer said. "We are continually seeking improvements to the 48-volt system, but it is certainly the most efficient, best electric golf car out there.
"We have no earth-shattering products coming out for 1997," Plummer noted, "because people buy golf cars every 3-5 years and our product has only been out there for about a year. We see a lot of potential for this product."
Club Car, whose mission statement expresses a desire to become the world's No. 1 producer of golf cars, has instituted some subtle changes in its 1997 gas-powered cars. "The key features for gas cars are quiet and efficiency," Plummer said. "We continue to have the quietest golf cars in the industry and in '97 they will be even quieter and have a smoother ride, too. We are planning significant improvements to our gas products, but as the old saying goes, if it's not broke, don't fix it."
Plummer noted that gas cars are often used on hilly, Northern courses, while electric models are preferred on flat courses. "Our product mix fits the industry," Plummer said. "We can fit the car to the individual needs of the course. That is the only way to go."
While Club Car has its Power Drive System 48, E-Z-Go, the oldest of the golf car producers, established in 1954, has its PowerWise Solid State Energy Control System, which the company claims "provides unmatched hill climbing performance, downhill speed control and 5-7 percent energy regeneration."
Introduced at the 1996 GCSAA Conference and Show in Orlando last February, the E-Z-Go Workhorse is a multi-purpose utility vehicle designed to handle a wide variety of maintenance tasks dependably and efficiently. The Workhorse was one of just several E-Z-Go products used in Atlanta during the recent XXVI Summer Olympic Games. E-Z-Go and its parent company, Textron, was an official sponsor of the Games. "Since E-Z-Go is a Georgia-based company, we are especially proud to be able to play a part in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games," said E-Z-Go president L.T. Walden. "The logistics of staging the Games are very complex and E-Z-Go golf cars and personnel/cargo carriers will provide valuable assistance in helping the Games run as efficiently as possible," said Bill Payne, president and CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games."
In the past two years, E-Z-Go has introduced three major new products, the TXT, the Medalist and the Drive Control System. The Medalist, according to E-Z-Go marketing material, "was the most successful new product launch in golf car history. The introduction of the TXT made E-Z-Go the only golf car manufacturer to offer lumecite body and medal body cars.
Unveiled in June of 1995, the TXT features a body made of a Thermoplastic Elactomer called DuraShield. It is produced by Textron Automotive Company, the largest injection molder of plastics in North America. "No other manufacturer offers the customer so many choices as E-Z-Go," Walden Said. "By offering a choice of body materials, we are in a position to meet the needs of any golf course in the world."
The Yamaha Golf Car Group also introduced an 18-volt power plant when it introduced the Yamaha Ultima 18V with PaceSetter in September of 1995, although the first such cars were not available until early this year. "We are especially excited to introduce this revolutionary new car to golf courses across the country," said Joe Stahl, vice president of the Yamaha USA Golf Car Group. "With the new Yamaha Ultima 18V, we were able to build upon the success of the G-14 Ultima, while including brand-new features, such as the regulative braking system and charging system."
Yamaha's PaceSetter braking system, with a microprocessor speed controller, converts the electric motor to a generator when the car reaches a predetermined speed. Yamaha's new 18V Charger is an industry first, charging batteries faster while using less electricity than conventional charging systems. Utilizing five easy-to-understand LED lights, the 18V Charger instantly lets the cart attendant know the status of the charger and the golf car.
Full-scale production of the Ultima 18V with PaceSetter began in March at the Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation's plant in Newnan, 35 miles southwest of Atlanta. Yamaha also produces the G-11 Yamahauler, a utility vehicle that features an elongated steel frame fortified with channel-over-tube design and a front bumper that will absorb impact up to five miles per hour. The versatile vehicle can be adapted to flatbed or box applications and is powered by a 9.5 horsepower, four-stroke engine.