Posted by Stephen Metzger, Small Vehicle Resource LLC on 7th Oct 2014

Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) vs. Electric Engines

Club Car’s recent announcement that a new drive train, featuring a Subaru electronic fuel injection engine, will be available in virtually all the company’s product lines, including the Precedent, suggests a likely new trend in golf car-type vehicle technology. The announcement was, of course, preceded by Yamaha Golf-Car’s conversion to EFI, which began mid-2012 and completed to all product lines in 2014. Thus, two of the major golf car manufacturers have endorsed EFI.

Yamaha’s product design strategy, initiated earlier as noted, appears to have the same objective: Develop a gas engine that has sufficient power and improved performance and efficiency to be suitable in a wide range of models and markets.Club Car’s Subaru engine has more displacement (+13%) and greater horsepower (+27%) compared to the Yamaha EFI. It appears that Club Car’s choice allowed the company to move the Subaru EX40 into its XRT line through the 850 (and possibly the 950), as well as the somewhat lighter duty Carryalls. All-in-all, assuming the EX40 does everything it is supposed to do, and proves durable, the engineering design and product strategy is very likely to save on production costs.

It should be noted that EFI has been a fixture in the off-road UTV market for some time, replacing carbureted engines as far back as 2006, but with golf car-type vehicles, including turf vehicles, the application has been fairly recent. The $64 question is will the better, more efficient EFI technology impinge on electric power?

EFI vs. Electric

Electric power has been replacing gas power in golf car-type vehicles for some time. With E-Z-GO’s adoption of an AC electric motor in 2008, it certainly appeared that electric power was on its way to fully displacing gas. The AC motor was more efficient than DC technology and more durable. Moreover AC power could be upgraded almost without limit, and provided tremendous torque, beyond what gas engines could deliver. The drawbacks were extra cost both in terms of kilowatt power increases and heavier duty, higher amp controllers. Nonetheless, electric power moved beyond golf-related markets to the hunting market (Bad Boy Buggies Recoil and Instinct, the HuntVe Switchback, AMP 4X4 and others); the industrial/commercial market (American Sportworks Landmaster LM48V, Cushman Hauler Pro, John Deere Gator TE 4X2, and GEM eM1400).

It is noteworthy that even Polaris Industries, heavily invested in EFI for the vast majority of its UTV product line, began offering new types of electric utility vehicles in its GEM line. Case in point, Polaris has just introduced the GEM eM1400 electric work vehicle, with AC technology. With its powerhouse distribution and sales network—and its aggressive bent toward innovation—the eM1400 will, no doubt, be a strong competitor in the utility market.

Possible EFI advantages

Gasoline is mainstream whereas electric still has a niche aspect to it, despite the fact that electric-powered mobile units are widespread in the marketplace. Each one of these markets, however, is narrowly defined, relative to on-road vehicular activity. Thus, you have electric forklifts, largely confined to interior workspace. The electric golf car and its derivatives are a golf course fixture and are prized where low noise environments prevail, work is to be done in an enclosed space, and light duty tasks predominate. This is generally true and thus, when electric attempts to get beyond these situations, there are mental barriers in the customer mindset that have to be overcome. And, of course, there is the not-so-metal barrier of limited operating range before a lengthy period of recharging is required.

EFI brings to the table a more efficient ICE than carbureted counterparts. Better gas mileage and greater range are the performance beneficiaries. Gasoline prices have stabilized and are not the major worry that prevailed in 2008 when they were steadily increasing.

Market impact of EFI

Over the next few years, with the above in mind, it is likely that:

  • Electric-powered golf car fleets will continue to predominate, with marginal encroachment by EFI vehicles. With price the determining factor, electric power will largely stay with DC electric motors;
  • Gas-powered golf fleets will be impacted with more courses switching to EFI, where Yamaha and Club Car will battle it out for share. E-Z-GO may well be pressed to introduce its own EFI engine;
  • In turf and other light utility vehicles in markets where golf car manufacturers have a traditional presence, EFI has the potential to seriously challenge electric vehicles with the same load and towing capacities;
  • Finally, in the privately-owned golf car derivative (PTVs, LSVs) market segment, EFI is likely to make inroads, particularly with consumers, who are less schooled in the use and maintenance of electric-powered vehicles.

Competition brings out the best in all aspects of what makes a successful vehicle—from engineering and design to manufacturing, to distribution, sales, and service. And with EFI, the competitive framework has been enlarged, and I would say, enriched.