Low Speed Vehicles are Moving Fast in South Walton
The rapid rise of electric carts in SoWal didn't happen overnight. Just as automobiles have evolved, so has the lowly golf cart. It is no longer just about putting around the greens. Today’s electric carts are all about fun and convenience.
Tom and Jon Waldrop, owners of the Electric Cart Company on Highway 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, say fun is the number one reason people walk into their shop. The Waldrop's sell low-speed vehicles (LSVs), aka “street-legal golf carts.”
What’s the difference? A golf cart is to be used just on a golf course. Legally, it is supposed to go less than 20 MPH and is subject to few safety restrictions other than weight and speed.
An LSV on the other hand is legal to travel on public roads where the posted speed limit is 35 mph or less. It must meet specified speed requirements, such as a top speed of 25 MPH and minimum speed of 20 MPH, as well as safety requirements like head lights, tail lights, brake lights, turn lights, seat belts, mirrors, windshield, and parking brake.
An LSV has a vehicle identification number just like a car. This all means you can drive your sporty new wheels anywhere the speed limit is 35 mph or less, including off road adventures or for neighborhood errands.
The other reason people buy LSVs are because they are viewed as being earth-friendly and extremely practical. They don’t emit greenhouse gases. They don’t burn fossil fuel and they don’t require a lot of maintenance.
“Typically you can drive every day for four weeks for less than the cost of two gallons of gas,” said Tom Waldrop. The typical cost of operation for the LSVs he and sons Jon and Trey sell is about $7.50 a month.
LSVs fall under the regulation of United States Department of Transportation and State standards like all other types of motorized vehicles.
“What people don’t realize is that we are subject to the same regulations, insurance requirements, and red tape as a large car dealership,” said Waldrop. The Waldrop's must pay the sales tax, apply for the title, secure proof of insurance, register the vehicle and purchase the tag for a buyer just like a car dealer does, all of which can be done usually within 48 hours, but sooner if the customer is in dire need.
In addition to carts for personal and home use, the Waldrop's sell 8, 11, 12 and a 14 passenger electric buses for group transportation and utility work. They offer new, used and refurbished vehicles for sale or rent.
They do customizations and can create a cart of your dreams. “You can go on and on,” said Jon Waldrop. “As long as you've got the money, we can build it.”
One cart they recently acquired was modeled in the PGA Expo in Orlando. Made in the Porsche factory in Finland, it lists for something more than $20,000. Waldrop makes no bones that it “was built for that one percent” of highly wealthy individuals.
“It is, well, the Porsche of the carts,” he said.
Prices however, begin much lower. Just like automobiles, there are less expensive models, mid-priced models, higher priced models and so on. A new LSV starts at less than $8,000, plus freight. A remanufactured electric cart with a title can be purchased for less than $5,500.
The Waldrop's know the area, its people, and its opportunities having moved to the area in 1987. It was son Jon who actually began the business in 2008 when he bought a few carts and put them on a lot off Hwy. 331 “for sale by owner”. When they sold quicker than expected, the Waldrop's confirmed there was a local market for electric carts and formed the Electric Cart Company. They leased the company’s Santa Rosa Beach location in November 2008 and actively began doing business there in February 2009. The company’s growth was “phenomenal” in both 2009 and 2011.
“By the end of December 2011, we had sold twice as much as we did in all of 2010 because of the oil spill's (Deep Water Horizon) negative effect on business. “Last year by June, we had sold as much as we had sold in all of 2010,” said Waldrop. This year they are slated for 50 rental units as compared to last year’s 25 and expect to show a significant increase in sale of vehicles, also.
Both Jon and Tom agree the company’s initial success was accelerated because of a federal tax credit that went into effect August 2009. Such incentives for electric vehicles are common in many parts of the world in order to promote a cleaner environment but are more limited in the U.S.
The Waldrop's credit their continued success to service, selection, pricing and just the fact they are a “local family business.” The Waldrop's recently purchased the historic Coca Cola property in DeFuniak Springs to centralize their service facility and to store excess inventory. This city block is also home to Southern Powerworks, the commercial landscape equipment and power equipment business run by Trey Waldrop.
“We have thousands of square feet for our cars we can’t get down here (the Santa Rosa Beach location) because there just isn’t enough room,” said Waldrop.
The company actively markets and delivers vehicles from 'cola-to-'cola (Pensacola to Apalachicola) and ships throughout the U.S. They are dealers for American Sportworks, Bad Boy MTV, Columbia ParCar, Evergreen EVE, Fairplay Legacy, American Custom Golf Carts, GEM by Polaris, and Star Car.
Because of the number of manufacturers they represent, Electric Cart Company is considered to have the largest selection of “street legal carts” in the Southeast. They also maintain a great selection of refurbished golf carts and LSVs, specializing in Club Car Precedents specially modified for “people purposes”. They sell on-road, off-road, personal, commercial and work vehicles. Recently, they even began selling electric bikes last year.
The Waldrop's agree the company will be based in South Walton “forever”, because there is yet another generation of Waldrop's growing up here in our remarkable community.