Turf Magazine - March, 2014

FEATURES

A Change for the Better

After 20 years Club Car re-invents its popular Carryall
By Ron Hall


Photo by Club Car.

At the height of this winter I got an opportunity to test-drive several models of Club Car's new Carryall line of utility vehicles. I write "new" because the popular fleet of aluminum-bodied transport and work vehicles have been re-engineered and redesigned. Company officials say that this is the biggest upgrade to Carryall in the past 20 years. Upgraded Carryalls began showing up in dealers' showrooms this past January.

Club Car had a lot of new Carryall models to show me and the other dozen or so green industry business editors at the recent Ride & Drive event at Walt Disney World's Ford Wilderness camping area. Among the more traditional utility vehicles at the event - the models that you might see on a college campus or on a construction site - the Club Car folks showed off (yes, showoff is probably the appropriate term) a tricked-out custom-built model with an attached grill and compartments for adult beverages. No, we didn't break out the burgers and buns and there were no chilled beverages loaded onto this "tailgater special." The point that the company wanted to get across is that it is expert at building custom-built units. In fact, it has a small group of experts, the Custom Solutions Group, that works directly with customers to give them exactly what they want in terms of small transport or work vehicles. The company builds more than half of the Carryalls coming out of the company's Augusta, Ga.-based location to customers' specifications.

That probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise considering all of the different ways the Carryalls are used and all of the different industries and locations where you are likely to find them. Club Car now makes 80 different Carryall models. It manufactures two- and four-wheel-drive gasoline, diesel and battery-powered vehicles in different sizes and configurations. The utility vehicle has come a long ways since its introduction more than a half-century ago as, essentially, a golf cart with boxes attached.



Club Car demonstrated its "new" Carryalls at Disney World, which uses hundreds of them on its property.
Photo by Ron Hall.

And from all indications, the product category has a long way to go yet, at least in terms of its adoption and growth.

Mike Cotter, Club Car's director, consumer & commercial marketing, told the small group of editors that the market for these small vehicles is expected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2016. One reason for this, he says, is that grounds managers, other tradespeople and even residents in planned communities need safer, less-expensive and greener ways to get around and transport work tools and other gear.

"Not all big jobs require big vehicles," said Cotter. "Sometimes you can get more work done with a mix of vehicles, by matching the right vehicles with the right jobs."

But, back to the reason for the Ride & Drive event in the first place. Cotter stressed that the innovations in the new Carryalls represent the biggest upgrade to that line in the past 20 years. Improvements include automobile styling with built in headlights and taillights, virtually unbreakable bumpers, a rugged "fit-to-task" bed box, single-handed land-and-release tailgate (just like a pickup truck), significant cab upgrades and bigger tires.

But, the biggest upgrade, at least in terms of performance, is the switch to the 14 hp, 404cc, overhead cam Subaru engine with electronic fuel injection gasoline-powered Carryalls. The new Subaru engines significantly boost the horsepower of previous models while also boosting fuel efficiency, in some models by as much as 50 percent, claimed the company.

Club Car has a 55-year history of building small electric vehicles. It's new electric Carryalls feature the company's "next generation IQ Plus drive system," an electrical system with regenerative braking that puts energy back into the battery and increases range. The system gets 92 to 95 percent efficiency.

The Club Car editor's Ride & Drive culminated with the editors operating Carryalls on a winding trail on the Disney World property. By the end of the morning I had tried out about five or six Carryalls, both gasoline and battery-powered models. I didn't get a chance to drive a diesel model. The Carryall 1500 is available with a 625cc, twin-cylinder Kawasaki diesel engine, and the 1700 can be ordered with a 719cc three-cylinder Kubota D722 engine.

With all the changes to the Carryall line, I guess the only remaining question to ask was: What hasn't changed with Carryalls?

It turned out the answer was almost too obvious. What didn't change in the new models are their rugged aluminum bodies.

"When someone buys one of these vehicles they expect to keep it a long, long time," said one of the Club Car helpers at the event. "And that's the way we make them."

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. Late this spring he will be celebrating 30 years researching and writing about the green industry.