November 23, 2017
|A Golf Car Isn't Just For Golf Anymore
Golf, or a game similar to golf was first played by the Dutch in 1297, but it wasn't until the late 1940s that the first golf car rolled across the links. Before WWII, golfers had to either have a caddie carry their clubs or shoulder the burden themselves and drag them to the next hole. Anyone who has played on a hot Minnesota afternoon in August is reminded why the golf car was invented.
The first golf cars were gas powered and made for people with disabilities. Then in 1951, Merle Williams founded his Marketeer Company to produce electric golf cars in 1951. Very quickly, competitors began the production of competing electric golf cars; LEKTRO and E-Z-GO in 1954, Cushman in 1955, Club Car in 1958 and even Harley-Davidson got in the game in 1963. I wonder what those cars sounded like?
Some of the firms that began in the industry forty years ago are still around; namely Club Car (owned by Ingersoll Rand) and E-Z-GO (owned by Textron since 1961). In Minnesota, Versatile Vehicles based in Savage, is one of the nation's largest distributors of E-Z-GO golf cars in the nation.
Founded in 1985 by Mike and Stan Malone, Versatile Vehicles always knew that just selling to golf courses couldn't sustain the business. So in 1997, the Malone's sold a 50% interest to Gabby Accad, at the time their general manager. Mike Malone then started to focus his energy on building the Ridges at Sand Creek Golf Course in Jordan, Minnesota and Gabby Accad became the company's new president and turned his attention to growing their golf car business. His efforts have paid off nicely.
"When I first started in the business, golf cars were thought to only be for a golf course. Today, our customers use our golf cars for business, the cabin or as personal carriers. Eighty percent of our retail sales are for non-golf uses like shopping centers, schools, apartment complexes, the DNR and even sports teams like the Minnesota Vikings use an E-Z-GO," says Accad.
Working with industry leading E-Z-GO has been beneficial to Versatile Vehicles because in 2005, when E-Z-GO decided to close its factory store and service center, they sold the territory to Versatile. Now the company is both a distributor and dealer for the entire state of Minnesota, North Dakota and Western Wisconsin and has locations in Savage and Brainerd.
As the largest manufacturer in the industry, E-Z-GO is also the most innovative. There are now 45 different models available, from the traditional golf car to people movers and utility cars, industrial vehicles that can carry up to 3,000 pounds and food service cars with built-in coolers. When asked what is the most popular model sold by Versatile Vehicles, Accad said "we have the most requests for a modified golf car where we remove the golf bag rack and add two more seats. It makes a very cost-effective mode of transportation."
"Increasingly, people are using an E-Z-GO golf car as a replacement for their second car. We are finding that short trips to the store or working around the house is a perfect use for an electric golf car. A new golf car doesn't use any gas so it makes it very cost-effective to operate," says Accad.
If you are in the market for a golf car, used ones can be found for as little as $1500 while a new one starts around $4500. The batteries last 4-7 years, get 5-15 miles on a single charge and require very little maintenance. Those found on golf courses have a top speed of 14 MPH, while those suited for driving on city streets, typically race along at 25 MPH, but do require an additional investment to make them legal. You will need to add seat belts, safety glass and a license before you hit the road.
When asked what has made Versatile Vehicles successful, like a proud papa, Accad says "I know it sounds like a cliché', but the real reason I think that we've been so successful is our employees. They really care about satisfying the customer. It's what has worked for us for more than twenty years and we're not going to stop now."
In today's challenging economic times, maybe we don't need to buy that fancy new Toyota Prius Hybrid just to go to the store. A $5,000 E-Z-GO golf car may do the job just as well thank you.
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