Each year when I attend the PGA and Golf Industry Shows I look primarily for new or significantly upgraded small, task-oriented vehicles (STOVs). In some ways the GIS has a particular interest because it is oriented to work vehicles, which crossover into a number of commercial markets beyond the golf segment—markets which virtually all STOV manufacturers recognize as having the most growth potential.

This year’s GIS was true to form with new or upgraded work vehicles from Club Car, E-Z-GO, Kubota, and Toro. Let’s review the highlights:

• Club Car’s Carryall 550, with a new EFI Subaru, 14 HP engine is touted to have not only greater power than previously models, but 50% greater fuel efficiency;

• E-Z-GO exhibited its new Cushman Hauler Pro, a 72 volt, AC electric work vehicle providing superior load and tow capacity and a 50 mile range;

• E-Z-GO has also upgraded its Refresher FS4 into a vehicle that could truly be described as a moveable feast;

• Yamaha is now fully converted to EFI, a process started two years ago. Many in the industry are emulating this groundbreaking strategy;

• Kubota’s highly successful RTV line has been extended to the RTV-X diesel-powered models with height-adjustable front and rear suspensions and full independent rear suspension;

• Toro is featuring its Workman HDX Auto, which it touts as the industry’s first heavy duty work vehicle with an automatic transmission.

 

Versatility and crossover potential in the 550 and Hauler Pro

If I could pick a single work vehicle that will impress the market, it would be the above mentioned Club Car Carryall 550. The aggressive drive train, incorporating greater power and greater efficiency via EFI, will put it in a class to not only do well in the golf market, but in a number of other segments. In particular, think agriculture—farmers and ranchers.

This is a vehicle that could give John Deere Gators a run for their money in the ag market and likely to be very price competitive as well. In addition, the Carryall 550 with its power and efficiency could find a market in the construction industry (at relatively level ground sites)—and be competitive with the E-Z-GO Cushman Hauler line.

In the golf market, the Carryall 550 will compete with the Cushman Hauler Pro. With the greater range of the 72 volt system featured in the Hauler Pro, the choice may come down to a trade-off between the no-noise level of the Hauler Pro and the marginal peace of mind afforded by the gas-powered 550. In other respects, such as load capacity, the two vehicles are very similar.

 

The heavy duty guys: significant Kubota and Toro upgrades

The Kubota RTV-X line, on the other hand, is built for another market universe, as compared with the 550 and Hauler Pro. One could say that the RTV-X line would be used more in the construction of a golf course, whereas the Club Car and Cushman models just described are suited for golf course maintenance. The RTV-X line is essentially a work vehicle built for use in rugged terrain. For example, it features 10.4 inches of ground clearance, over four inches more than the 550 and Hauler Pro. It has four-wheel drive with a limited-slip front differential, four wheel hydraulic disc brakes, and fully independent front and rear suspensions. Redesign of the RTV-X features the radiator and air cleaner up in front of the driver—this in response to complaints that placement behind the seats, as in previous models, resulted in unwanted heat on the driver and passenger.

The Kubota RTV models have traditionally garnered premium prices, and the company is likely to enjoy the same market positioning with its RTV-Xs, if not better. Impressive quality combined with an impressive look.

Toro’s heavy duty work vehicle, the HDX-Auto, features, as noted, an automatic transmission designed to be more efficient in worksite operations and reduce driver training time, among other advantages. It is the first vehicle in the classification of heavy duty work vehicles to feature an automatic transmission and comes with a 28 h.p. EFI engine. Among the four vehicles commented upon in this article, it has, by far, the heaviest load capacity at approximately 2,800+ pounds. The HDX-Auto is also designed for relatively level ground work environments. It’s specifications suggest crossover markets from golf courses to college and university campuses.

 

Distribution strategy is likely to be the key to market success

As is true in many STOV markets with crossover products, the major question with regard to success or something less is, are the dealers up to the task of reaching out to non-traditional customers? Approaches to this issue vary across companies. Club Car relies on their current dealer network to promote what the company calls “outside sales”. Cub Cadet and Polaris (neither exhibited, but offer competitive vehicles) are developing internal, specialized sales people, to grow commercial accounts. Heavy equipment sales and rental dealerships play a major role in E-Z-GO’s strategy to build commercial sales with its Cushman line.

Time will tell which of these approaches will work best.