Well, “not golf” has a lot more square footage in the manufacturing space at E-Z-Go’s south Augusta campus as production continues to ramp up on a series of electric vehicles meant for people to drive on roadways or hunting trails.
In an area that was once a warehouse, staffers in MAU Workforce shirts assemble Bad Boy Buggies, a line of quiet, camouflaged electric vehicles with knobby tires marketed to hunters.
On Halloween 2010, E-Z-Go announced its acquisition of Bad Boy Buggies, then a small manufacturing company in Mississippi. That served as its entrance into a new segment of consumer-focused electric vehicles, and got the foot in the door of some of the country’s largest sporting goods retail chains.
“Bad Boy has been the inspiration for what will be a multi-year, multi-million dollar recapitalization of our fabrication business,” said Kevin Holleran, E-Z-Go’s president.
Holleran said there have been 60 jobs added this year, with an undetermined number to be added in the next couple of years to handle the higher production volumes, in addition to a staff sales forces for newly created divisions. In January, Holleran turned the company’s structure of golf and not golf into four business units focusing on parts and accessories, golf carts, commercial work vehicles and consumer vehicles.
The biggest sales gains have been seen in the consumer division, Holleran said, which includes personal golf cars, street-legal low-speed vehicles and electric vehicles for sportsmen – headlined by Bad Boy Buggies.
E-Z-Go’s parent company, Textron, on Wednesday released its quarterly earnings. Overall, Textron said it made $151 million in profit in the third quarter, which is up from the third quarter of 2011. In those three months, it had $3 billion in revenue, also higher than last year.
Textron owns Bell helicopters and Cessna aircraft in addition to E-Z-Go, Greenlee telecommunications equipment and Jacobsen turf maintenance. Bell is the firm’s largest source of revenue. The industrial manufacturing division is the second highest.
For the first nine months of the year, the industrial segment brought in $172 million, according to Textron financial statements, which is $19 million more than the previous year.
Ten months into the new business-unit structure at E-Z-Go, Holleran said he is pleased with the results.
“Double-digit growth in this economy is a testament to what focus brings,” he said.
The company is in its planning period of 2013, and team leaders are asking for more personnel. “We have aggressive growth expectations,” Holleran said, which require more staff to make it happen.
The 60 jobs that were created this year came in fabrication, warehouse, sales, development and engineering.
Bad Boy, a good buy
“Bad Boy really pioneered the four-wheel-drive electric; they were the first of their kind,” Holleran said.
In 2003, Mississippi entrepreneurs Bubba Kaiser and Joe Palermo invented the dual-motor, electric four-wheel-drive Bad Boy Buggy and started making them in a small shop in Natchez. Because it was electrically driven, it was quiet, making it ideal for hunters.
Seven years later, E-Z-Go bought the company. Some of the employees still work in Augusta.
Holleran said the company bought Bad Boy because it had a good brand appeal and came with its own distribution channel.
“We weren’t able to get the attention of Cabella’s and Bass Pro Shops with the old E-Z-Go brand. So, they already had some relationships with those mass retailers and the hunter-specific retailers they signed in their eight-year existence,” Holleran said.
The Bad Boy line went up in Augusta in January 2011. The first year was spent maintaining the brand and building them like the old company did in Mississippi, said Eric Bondy, the vice president of consumer business.
Bondy said there was an epiphanal decision a year ago: keep the buggies the way they are or redesign them using E-Z-Go parts and technology.
The Bad Boys got retrofitted.
The old buggies were built off a golf-cart derivative, Bondy said. “And it doesn’t look like a golf car anymore.”
DC battery systems were replaced with AC systems. A new technology was used in creating the camouflage covering. The company weened off the old suppliers, some of them in China, in favor of E-Z-Go’s supply chain network.
The Ambush rolled into the outdoorsmen’s convention SHOT Show in January, going into production in July. Other new models called Recoil and Instinct were developed, Bondy said.
Ambush is a hybrid. It has an electric motor running the front axle and a gas motor powering the rear.
Range anxiety is the big issue to overcome with hunters, Holleran said.
“Hunters want to make sure the vehicle they leave with in the morning when they take it off the charge is going to take them back at night,” he said.
By changing from DC to the 72-volt AC, which came out in the RXV golf car in 2008, the battery life and efficiency nearly doubled. With 40 or more miles of range, the new edition of Bad Boy can be marketed to other areas of the country where hunters must travel longer distances.
The production area in Augusta is making 30 Bad Boys a day, said company spokesman Brandon Haddock. Changing to the new designs and using the company’s supply network resulted in a doubling of the production from when the line was moved from Mississippi.
The company’s fabrication shop, also in Augusta, is the top supplier now, Bondy said.
“We’re definitely driving our supply chain to react quickly,” Bondy said. “We do a lot of burn-and-bend parts here. When we start improving the productivity on the Bad Boy line, we had to do some things around our fabrication shop to improve the number of pieces that can go through there.”
Bondy said the fabrication shop got an upgrade and additional personnel and shifts to keep the assembly line supplied with parts.
“We manufacture, paint and weld the frames here in Augusta. It is faster; the quality is so much better. We can control the speed at which we receive product,” Bondy said.
Lean manufacturing based on just-in-time inventory doesn’t work with Chinese suppliers, he said. China can make things cheaper, but adding the time for ocean travel and customs adds difficulty in keeping up with a growing production schedule.
Haddock said that in full season, the entire plant can produce 500 vehicles a day – including golf cars and other utility vehicles. It is hard to compare today’s production capacity with the past, he said, because the company now makes more types of vehicles. There are four production lines in the plant now.
This is the peak time for making the buggies, Bondy said, to get them out to hunters in the fall and winter.
“We’re in the thick of it,” Bondy said. “It starts at the end of July (and goes) through the end of November.”
“The commercial will peak in January and February when companies have new money to spend,” Haddock added, referring to corporate buyers looking for work transports and warehouse haulers.
That’s not the peak season for making golf cars, so it allows for a more steady employment level. In the past, staff levels were lower when golf cars were not in peak production. With other kinds of vehicles to make at different times of the year, there are fewer employment valleys.