Mild Ride: Drive a Golf Cart!

Are drivers ditching their cars for one of those battery-powered golf carts?

The answer? Well, yes and no.

With gas prices high and the economy low, consumers are taking advantage of lax local rules on “riding” carts to buy souped-up models (called neighborhood electric vehicles, or NEVs) that can take short trips to the local park, to the neighbor’s house for a barbecue, and yes, even to the golf course.

No doubt, interest in NEVs is growing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 75,000 golf cart-like vehicles on U.S. roads these days. The federal government is well aware of NEVs – the $787 billion stimulus package enacted earlier this year provides for a $2,500 tax credit for new vehicle buyers.

In addition, laws in individual states are beginning to accommodate NEV users. The Oklahoma Tax Commission is offering a tax credit for up to 50% off “electric motor cars.” Massachusetts recently OK'd the use of NEVs on streets with posted speed limits of 30 miles per hour or less, as legislators there cited the environmentally-friendly nature of NEVs. Texas does one better, allowing NEVs on roads with speed limits up to 45 mph.

At $8,000 to $10,000 for a brand new NEV, bank loans aren’t hard to get. In fact, the major NEV makers, like General Electric Motors can hook you up to a local dealer who can help you with bank financing – just the same as a regular car purchase. Loan rates are similar to regular cars. Thus, a 36-month loan to finance an NEV should come with an interest rate around 5.15%.

According to the Santa Monica Neighborhood Electronic Vehicle Club, insurance for NEVs is approximately half the cost of similar insurance for a gasoline vehicle. Some policies for the lower-end, gas-powered carts can be as low as $100 (usually for private road use only).