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It's a brutally hot morning here at the Villages, one of the biggest retirement communities on the planet. On the nine softball fields around the development, smack-talking eightysomethings try to leg out a base hit. Retirees who want ever more speed (and who still have their driver's licenses) can buy so-called neighborhood electric vehicles, a burgeoning class of electric cars that are street-legal in at least 45 states. My Lilliputian chariot boasts beige zip-down doors, chrome-capped 12-inch wheels, and a sloping front end with tiny round headlamps.
If you ever wondered what the world would look like if we all ditched our cars, visit the Villages. With a flick of a button on the LC3 dash, I whisk quietly out of the dealership's parking lot and into the electric future.
The first courses were built as a way to lure retirees to the small trailer park that Villages CEO Gary Morse's father bought here in the early 1980s. The hottest ride in town is a canary-yellow imitation of a Hummer H3 with a 1,400-watt stereo. After a vigorous day of recreation, Villagers cart over to one of the two town squares for a night of drinks and live music. Kobar belongs to the geeky underworld of Villagers who are spending their leisure years modifying their carts to look and behave more like cars.
Kobar has neat white hair and is wearing dark shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt festooned with sailboats. The Kobars belong to the Villages' equivalent of a Harley gang—the Streetrod Club, a collection of 500 residents who share a taste for tricked-out rides. Just one problem: Some of the grannies tooling around in modified rides are technically breaking the law. Inquire at service shops around town and most mechanics say they turn away wannabe speed demons.
At one point during my visit to the Villages, I zip past a spot where last year a woman was thrown from her cart and died. What's more, though the NEV classification has existed for a decade, dealers and analysts report growing demand of late.
But their use is limited, because few communities were designed with these vehicles in mind. Few communities were designed with NEVs in mind and lack the infrastructure to keep NEV drivers safe.
The Villages embodies what environmentalists have been waiting decades for—a glossy future powered by electric vehicles.
But the lesson of the Villages isn't just about the vehicles we're driving—it's about where we're driving them. The Villages is for people who've lived long enough to know that what they want now is a warm breeze in a quiet, open ride—going fast enough to hit both the golf course and the Walmart in the same afternoon but slow enough to take in the scenery along the way.
As my octogenarian opponent deftly whacks the pickleball past my reach, I look up to catch a glimpse of the future on the horizon. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. Their use became more widespread during World War II and significantly expanded after the war when steel became more available. The range of application has expanded with improved materials, products and design capabilities with the availability of computer aided design software.
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Structural steel shape, size, composition, strength, storage, etc., is regulated in most industrialized countries. Structural steel members, such as I-beams, have high second moments of area, which allow them to be very stiff in respect to their cross-sectional area. In most developed countries, the shapes available are set out in published standards, although a number of specialist and proprietary cross sections are also available. But the saunalike central Florida weather doesn't slow down the 77,000 seniors who call this place home. Villagers have tricked out their carts to look like 1930s roadsters, fire trucks, and stretch limos.
At a strip mall dealership called the Villages Golf Cart Man, owner Tony Colangelo takes me out back to show me a cherry-red NEV called the LC3 that I'll be driving during my stay here. Designed from the ground up as a golf cart community, it has developed into something even more compelling: a town where cars don't isolate people from each other, but rather bring them together.
As the aging snowbirds flocked down for the free golf, the community grew around one founding principle: Everything would be accessible by golf cart. On a full charge, carts can cover about 45 miles, more than enough to handle a day's worth of leisure.
When I join the herd for happy hour at the nautical-themed Lake Sumter Landing Market Square, I find rows and rows of gleaming golf carts parked along the curbs.
Trails lead directly from the Villages to big chains like Target, Staples, and Starbucks, which line the nearby highways. On a typical day, the Kobars might drive their cart to the health club, then spin over to the golf course or the air-gun range. A few years ago the group anchored a chain of 3,321 carts, setting a record for the world's longest golf club parade. Because not everyone in the Villages is satisfied with bumpin' speakers and a custom paint job. Seat belts are not required in non-street-legal carts; in fact, they're not even installed.
In addition to requiring insurance and registration, the rides sport a windshield, brake lights, seat belts, a horn, reflectors, a parking brake, turn signals, and a VIN.
And the more seniors drive them, the more the general population will too, says Nick Cappa, a spokesperson for Global Electric Motorcars, a major manufacturer of NEVs. The US government's recent stimulus package offers NEV buyers a $2,500 tax credit (a third to half the cost of the vehicle).
While the rest of the country wallows in the recession, homes are still being built and sold in the Villages at a rapid clip. The slightly messy reality, though, is that it's not powered by pristine futuremobiles but by gaudy, overclocked golf carts. The future of transportation should be focused on the quick jaunts that make up most of our day-to-day driving. It's a gray-haired guy with a backward cap, cruising in his cart past a brand-new community center.
Near the Bait Shop bar in one of the immaculate town squares, line dancers shimmy in unison. They whiz along 87 miles of trails, from the Walmart to the town squares, from the hospital to the archery range. The hottest ride in town is currently a canary-yellow imitation of a Hummer H3 with alligator interior, undercarriage lighting, and a 1,400-watt stereo.
Just about everything a retiree could need is contained within the 40 square miles of the community.
It's like something out of Disney World or The Truman Show—meticulously engineered and brilliantly detailed, all the way down to the harmonies of "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" wafting from the speakers overhead. Instead of parking lots crammed with minivans or SUVs, I see fleets of golf carts, often parked two or three to a spot. The secret to a successful community, says Peachtree City's David Rast, is "getting the path system in before or as part of the development." Integrated into the fabric of a community, the carts cease to be icons of decrepitude and instead become a defining vessel, an icon of a new life. The $17,000 vehicle is authentically rendered, including a chassis that's been stretched 8 inches to match the body style of the original Ford.
The afternoon agenda might include a trip to the grocery store, where they load up the compartment under the hood with ice cream. Club member Art Plant, a lanky retired math teacher and statistician, drives a Boston Red Sox-themed cart with a custom 10-to-1 gear ratio to boost his performance on the hills. Dylan Galbreath, a local deputy near the Villages who also runs a 24-hour golf cart emergency-service company, tells me, "There are people who have DUIs who can't drive a car but drive a golf cart instead." Some folks move to the Villages because they've lost their licenses in other cities or states and don't want to give up their freedom of mobility.
Some carters put them in anyway, but most people I talk with would rather go without for fear of getting trapped.
The branch of the Department of Energy that tracks electric vehicles estimates there are 75,000 NEVs on US roads. Despite the miles of golf trails in the Villages, there are some areas that require carts and cars to share the road—a fearsome proposition, as I discovered. I arrive to find dozens of fit retirees dashing around the courts, the ubiquitous row of shiny EVs parked outside. A golden retriever stands on the passenger seat, tail wagging, and an American flag is displayed proudly right where the gas tank should be. Sales office: (405) 547-206611605 S Washington Road Perkins, OK 74059 KingdomResources Better Built Barns. The most obsessed drivers have spent upwards of $20,000 pimping their rides: Villagers trade up for bigger tires, swap computer codes to overclock their batteries, and hack their motors to bypass built-in speed caps. According to Florida statute, hacking a cart to go faster than 20 mph changes the legal definition of the vehicle.
On one road, all that separated me from passing cars was the thin white line of a diamond lane.
Standard carts typically top out at around 20 miles per hour, but a little tweaking can boost that to as much as 40. And it's just a short ride to one of the 12 fishing lakes or 85 horseshoe pits or 115 bocce courts. Kobar put his shop-class skills to use by adding a plywood enclosure on the back of the cart to house an extra battery.
The local cops aren't driving around checking under everyone's hood, but they will issue speeding tickets when an overclocked hot-rodder races by.
That power supply feeds regular 110-volt electrical outlets, allowing Kobar to plug in a Breeze Easy cooling fan during the summer (in lieu of air-conditioning) and a string of halogen lights during the holidays. With storage right in your back yard, you have what you need, where you need it, when you need it.
However, remember that you can stop renting the building at any time by paying 60% of the remaining balance on the contract.
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Published at: Backyard Shed