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Big Deals on Wheels

When an Ordinary Golf Cart Just Won't Do

November 26, 2000|DARCY RICE

Long popular in areas with limited parking or restrictions on autos--think Catalina Island--golf carts are becoming a familiar sight on the streets of California, especially in resort communities.

Under U.S. motor vehicle safety standards adopted by California in 1998, the carts can be used on public streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less. Some leisure-oriented communities even designate "cart lanes" on public streets. Inevitably, golf cart showrooms are springing up.

On the immaculate 8,500-square-foot sales floor of Electric Car Distributors in Rancho Mirage, right next to the Jaguar dealership, you'll find cool haven from the heat of the desert. There, the luxury-auto buying experience has been re-created in miniature.

Lines of gleaming small-scale vehicles mirror their full-size counterparts. Is that a Lexus? A Mercedes? A Rolls-Royce? A Hummer? The resemblances are startling, as are the prices. A new, plain vanilla Yamaha golf cart sells for about $4,500; the custom vehicles range between $12,000 and $20,000.

The standard and optional features are no less extraordinary: built-in ice chest, alloy wheels, CD player, color television, an "air top" that blows water-cooled air down on the passengers. Because some buyers like to match their cart to their full-size vehicle, custom choices also include body styling, upholstery colors and pearlized paint with hand pinstriping.

"An average game of golf lasts about four hours," says Electric Car Distributors President J.R. Thomas, who describes his typical customer as a "retired CEO-type." "These are guys that play five days a week. That adds up to 20 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. They spend a lot more time in their golf cart than in their automobile." Besides, he says, "They have the money."

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