Spotlight on Utility Vehicles – Q&A with Dennis de Roos
As businesses, local authorities and individuals demand increasingly cost-efficient and environmentally friendly transport, the world’s largest manufacturer of four-wheel electric vehicles, Club Car, is rolling out a new strategy for Low Speed Vehicles in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Former General Motors man Dennis de Roos is driving the vision and believes the electric revolution could transform our towns and cities…
Why is a golf car manufacturer positioning itself as a company that makes street-legal vehicles?
Actually, a third of Club Car’s business is already in the utility vehicle sector. Yes, we are best known for our golf cars – that was how the business started in 1958 in America – however, a third of our sales are in the utility sector and you will see our Carryall, Transporter and Villager models at manufacturing facilities, university campuses, resorts, forestry estates and increasingly on city streets as part of local authority fleets.
What is Club Car’s strategy?
We already have an established golf distributor network. However, my role is to establish a network of Utility and LSV (Low Speed Vehicle) dealers who can sell our products locally to mainstream businesses, municipalities and individuals in every town and city throughout the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. For example, we are currently looking to appoint additional dealers in Germany, France, Italy and Spain to cover the regions. We already have a strong dealer network onboard that are very enthusiastic to be selling Club Car Utility and LSV products.
What level of demand are you anticipating?
That’s hard to say at this stage, but in terms of capacity we can manufacture up to 1,000 cars per day, thanks to our facility in Augusta, Georgia, USA. So if somebody comes to us tomorrow and wants 2,000 vehicles, then we can do it, no problem.
Businesses and local authorities have different wants and needs – how do you address that?
Club Car is very proud to have a ‘Custom Solutions Centre’ that can make vehicles to precise specification. If a local council wants a vehicle with a cage on to collect refuse, we can do it. If a hotel wants a vehicle with a box for food transportation, then we can do it. If a construction company wants a utility vehicle with a rack for a ladder, we can make it to their requirements. We can do just about anything a customer wants, within reason.
There has been an excellent scheme in Cardiff, Wales, to help disabled shoppers get into town using our Villager 2+2 LSV model. They have had two vehicles and the initiative has won an award.
What other examples are there?
The Swedish Post Office has just taken delivery of its 1,000th vehicle from Club Car, where they have really understood all the benefits of electric vehicles.
Also in Belgium, a row of shops grouped together to invest in 10 LSVs to run tours around their town, starting and ending outside their premises to boost trade. This is working well and the distributor has sold another 20 vehicles for this purpose.
How do you persuade businesses, municipalities and organizations to switch to these types of vehicles?
Very often people who could benefit from these vehicles don’t yet know about the opportunities. But once they see the benefits they never look back. I was in the United States recently visiting a university campus. We undertook an audit of the university’s fleet of vehicles to see what they were using, and what we could offer them. We showed them how a Carryall 6 LSV, which we gave them to test drive, could take the same load as a typical diesel van, but would significantly reduced their costs. Expand that out to a fleet of 50 to 80 vehicles, which is what they had, and they could instantly see the benefits, from both environmental and corporate social responsibility angles.
There has been a lot of discussion within the European Union and there is now a strong consensus and commitment to encourage towns and cities to run more electric vehicles – and we are here to offer a solution.
How significant is it that your vehicles are now street legal?
It’s extremely important. Our utility vehicles are already used on private land by businesses and local authorities, but homologation for L7e opens up all sorts of possibilities for business and organizations to travel on public roads.
Electric vehicles have been around for a long time – just think about the old milk floats that were common in the UK. Do you think electric vehicles will really take off now?
I see this as the future, not just for businesses, councils and organizations, but for individuals. I can see people changing their second vehicle to an LSV to move around locally, for smaller trips into town.
The technology is really very good now. The vehicles are not permitted to go faster than 25mph, so they are perfect for towns and cities. They are made for frequent stopping and starting and for a business making frequent deliveries – like the post office – they are ideal. The battery pack will do 30 miles (48km) on average, depending on load and how hilly the terrain is, which is plenty for most daily use around town. The technology is proven, durable and reliable.
Everyone is very concerned about the rising costs of energy, including their electricity bill at home or at work. Are electric vehicles really that much more cost effective?
Small petrol engine cars are relatively cheap now, but the cost of an electric vehicle will still be lower on average, bearing in mind there is also no road tax or congestion charge, and most likely no parking fees. In terms of energy costs, it is significantly cheaper to charge a vehicle at home than it is to run it on petrol or diesel. What’s more, the number of places to charge vehicles is growing steadily – Milton Keynes, London, Newcastle, Peterborough and Edinburgh all have government grants as part of the ‘Plugged-in Places’ scheme to increase the number of charging points for vehicles.
So demand – and supply – will increase?
The public, industry and the government are all demanding that transport should be greener to improve our towns and cities. I spent nine years with General Motors and was also involved with their electric vehicle programme. I see Club Car making high quality products that will satisfy demand and new products to meet future demand. We see this as a long-term strategy and we will continuously develop new products as the market evolves. This is only the start of our roll out.