STORY BY TIM WOOD | PHOTOS BY ROB KAUFMAN
Ty Gaydish is done with the term “golf cart.” He has been in the cart industry for 30 years and sees the cart world moving far beyond the golf course.
“There has been a term floating around for years, neighborhood electric vehicles, but it never caught on in the industry,” Gaydish said. “I think some are afraid to let the word ‘golf’ go, but the truth is, these carts are used for everyday life these days, so I’m calling them NEVs.”
Gaydish has made a big bet on the pivot away from the course, going all-in on what he believes to be the best NEV built. He has opened two ICON cart stores in the Bluffton area, a warehouse in Hardeeville and is getting ready to open a third area location in Pooler.
The former executive for Cart Mart, the oldest golf cart seller in the industry, moved from California to the Lowcountry because he saw the population explosion, specifically around master plan communities.
“Margaritaville, Sun City — these carts are a way of life for these communities. And it’s far from retirees,” Gaydish said. “Bluffton has embraced golf carts as street legal, so this is the epicenter of the growth.”
The COVID pandemic kept many from vacations and family trips, but families still wanted to enjoy themselves, so a lot of those expenditures were put toward boats, RVs and NEVs. The low-speed vehicle industry has gone from $2.3 billion in sales to a projected $7.6 billion in 2025.
“A lot of these communities are being built with wider paths to encourage more use. It means less cars, less people speeding through the neighborhood with cleaner energy,” Gaydish said. “Guys like me, in our 50s, we’re getting rid of the Harleys and souping up our carts.”
So how are the NEVs different from golf carts? It’s all about the build. These vehicles can reach speeds up to 25 mph (golf carts maxed at 19 mph) and have upgraded shocks, suspensions and an AC Toyota-designed motor that makes it feel like you’re driving a car. The next-generation AGM batteries get you 50 miles between charges.
The max speed is a key component, as it makes the electric carts street-legal by consumer standards. You still need to follow South Carolina laws, which require the cart to be insured (typically $4 a month as an add-on to homeowners’ policies or $12 per month as a stand-alone policy), permitted and registered with the SCDMV. The permitting and registration fee is $5.
You must remain within four miles of your home, operate during daylight hours only, and the driver must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license.
Gaydish said golf carts are now being used to “navigate neighborhoods, get groceries, visit friends and so many other uses.”
He has already doubled the size of his Buckwalter Parkway showroom to accommodate demand. One model comes with a four-seat capacity and two USB ports and runs around $9,000 for a 2022 model. Ugrades such as a six-seat max and a lifted suspension (for clearing rougher terrain) raise the price more toward $12,000.
“These cars are a lifestyle for many and a nod to the tech world we live in, so everyone is looking to stand out and differentiate their NEVs from the rest of the block,” Gaydish said.
Some higher-end models can include a Bluetooth stereo system, upgraded suspension and tires, high-back seats, overthe- shoulder seat belts, safety-class windshield and wipers, a back-up camera and an iPad-type touchscreen.
These models can start at around $14,000 for a four-seater with a lifted model running $15,500 and a six-seat model around $16,500.
Gaydish said the demand for customizing vehicles once they leave the showroom is just as strong.
“LED lights on the undercarriage are very popular. Rocker panels, step-down bars, sound bars, custom paint jobs to match your favorite team — we see it all,” said Gaydish, whose one son, Nevin, runs the Hardeeville store while another, Ty Jr., is the director of operations, keeping up with the Gaydish franchise growth. “It’s all about matching your ride to your personality.”
The Lowcountry transplant is now traveling the Southeast spreading the NEV gospel.
“With so many more communities building services and amenities right inside the neighborhood, there is no sign of this demand slowing down,” he said.