Why Walk When You Can Ride In Style
Edition: May/June 2012
When Paul Ruddy of Palm Springs, California explained his reasoning for buying an American Custom Golf Cars (ACG) Hummer a few years ago little did he know he echoed the philosophy of Ray Hoogenraad, founder and President of the Chino, CA electric car manufacturer. ACG has always produced cars that turn heads because of their incredible style. What Ruddy didn’t know is that the innovations Hoogenraad brought to the LSV industry are the heart and soul of this little company 45 miles east of Los Angeles.\
Celebrating their 10th year of operation Hoogenraad’s newest and 5th car in the ACG line, is the T-Sport LSV. This car brings together both advanced technology and practical design while being fun to drive and affordable.
However, what the T-Sport really represents is the stubbornness of a Dutchman who’s going to accomplish what he set out to accomplish even if the change of direction his company took made it successful anyway. What Hoogenraad really wanted to do is show golf courses that golf carts don’t have to be boxy, boring and living in the past.
FROM THE NETHERLANDS TO THE USA
Hoogenraad, 53, was born in Holland but at an early age he knew he was different than his grandfather, father, and cousins who went into the family real estate business early in life and stayed there. By age 16 the teenage Hoogenraad owned four cars and delighted in taking them apart.
“Now that I had these cars apart I had to put them back together, “Hoogenraad said, “and that became the foundation of my mechanical training. I loved tinkering.” So the family had to find someone else to show houses on the weekend because “I was usually under a car,” Hoogenraad remembered with a chuckle.
At the age of 20 he was bitten by the travel bug and off he went to visit the USA one holiday. Once here he met a girl, fell in love and got married.
Soon the babies came and with more mouths to feed Hoogenraad needed to earn more money than he was making selling stereos or installing carpets. So he turned back to his first passion, cars, and started exporting fiberglass accessories, spoilers, hood wings and other fancy ground effects that were big in the 80’s. Buying from a manufacturer called Imaginary Fiberglass his side business was doing so well he ended up buying the company.
Like a kid in a candy store, now that Hoogenraad owned the company he was producing even more fiberglass customization.
That’s when he started making kit cars; replicas of uber-expensive European cars he sold to people who couldn’t afford a Ferrari or a Lamborghini but dreamed of owning one. Complete with step-by-step instructions a backyard mechanic could take Hoogenraad’s fiberglass replica and place it over a Pontiac Fiero engine and frame. “And believe me, Hoogenraad said with pride, “the greater majority of heads that turned when my faux-Ferrari went by had no idea it was a replica.”
Business was booming, Hoogenraad’s kits were selling so well that he was now being featured on the cover of car magazines.
REPLICA GOLF CARS
Hoogenraad’s always been a forward thinker. What if he could make replicas of popular cars but do it with golf cars?
This time however he didn’t want to just slip a fancy fiberglass body on a one-dimensional golf car. Nor was he going to resort to fashioning glue and filling to fancy-up the front or rear end of an E-Z-GO.
Nope, Hoogenraad wanted to produce a whole new creation, a golf car that was longer, wider and built with a dual purpose, a golf car for the street and the golf course.
From that thinking the California Roadster was born in 2002, a composite replica of a 1930’s roadster, a car design Hoogenraad really loved.
Starting from the ground up the ACG Roadster was built to be different but always with purpose and reliability in mind. Hoogenraad wanted the owner to be able to drive his street legal vehicle and have it make the transition from a LSV community car to being the envy of everyone at the golf club as he drove it from home right to the first tee.
The innovations were radical at the time for a golf car; all aluminum chassis, front hydraulic disk brakes, working headlights, brake lights, running lights and turn signal lights. He wanted to build and did a street legal golf car.
“General Motors loved the design and gave us their blessing to build the Hummer, I just wish I knew it was going to take over a year for the lawyers to hash out the license agreement,” Hoogenraad said of his exact proportional replica of the GM Hummer, a car that was a sizzling hot car in 2004/2005.
From the Roadster the inventive Hoogenraad made improvements to the braking system, he increased the seating area front and back by making the car longer than the Roadster and he went so far in his desire for authenticity to create tooling to replicate the Hummer Wheels.
With two cars in the ACG line Hoogenraad’s dealer network really grew to more than 150.
While GM’s Hummer died the horrible death that most American gas-guzzlers did in 2008 it only made the ACG electric Hummer even more desirable. Sales of the Hummer surpassed Roadster sales very quickly.
Understanding that ACG replicas offered niche buyers affordable versions of desirable high end cars, GM came calling this time wanting Hoogenraad to build a third car in the ACG line, the Cadillac Escalade.
This time Hoogenraad moved to improve the ride. Not just on the road but on the golf course. The Roadster and the Hummer didn’t turn like a golf cart, ACG cars needed more space than a cart path to turn around. So Hoogenraad moved the suspension closer to the center of the wheel to improve the turning and steering. The Escalade was also fitted with upper and lower control arms and coil-over shocks so the suspension and ride was much more car-like. So was instrumentation as now the dash had a digital read out of MPH and the stated charge level.
GM fell in love with the ACG Escalade. All of a sudden Hoogenraad was doing big business with Cadillac dealers who wanted mini-electric versions of the best-selling car on their lots.
Also all of a sudden Middle East sultans, kings and even despots were buying the car in fleets. One now dead dictator--who shall remain nameless (think Libya) bought 74 of them. Nice sale.
However, the real reason Hoogenraad started to build golf cars was to see them on golf courses but that was not happening.
Hoogenraad tried to market to golf courses but he just wasn’t making headway. Although golf course General Managers and
Head Golf Professionals loved the car designs, the 15 and 16-inch wheels worried them. They were concerned wheels that size would harm the course. Hoogenraad pointed out the wider tire footprint of his wheels actually made ACG cars lighter per square inch than a standard golf cart but he was still having trouble convincing them. The truth is the golf industry doesn’t take quickly to change.
So rather than fight them it was back to the drawing board.
The result is the brand new T-Sport with 12-inch wheels. Although the wheels are four inches taller than standard golf carts wheels they are the same size most private owners go to when they after-market customize an E-Z-GO or Yamaha.
However wheels aren’t the only difference in Hoogenraad’s 21st century golf cart. What ACG has done with the T-Sport should make the golf community sit up and take notice.
The T-Sport is lighter, has a Sevcon AC drive system, four-wheel brakes and is 20% less expensive than E-Z-GO and Yamaha. Those features alone should be enough for golf courses to form a line at the ACG front door. But those advances are just the icing on the cake.
What should bring about real change is the computer technology built into the heart of the T-Sport allowing for remote internet diagnostics. The sophisticated system reads out much of the data needed to monitor performance and performance history right on the car’s LCD screen. However, what the cart barn’s mechanics are really going to love is the ability to have ACG perform remote diagnostics through the Internet, where ACG personal, or the head mechanic can analyze, program and make changes to achieve maximum performance.
“So far the people who’ve purchased the T-Sport love the fact that we are just a mouse-click away,” Hoogenraad says with the enthusiasm of a kid with a new digital game. “I just want golf courses to get their feet out of the past and step into the now. This car can handle the rounds needed to add it to their fleet and the upkeep will be so much less expensive because what needs to be fixed can be fixed so much faster when the computer tells you what’s wrong without having to look for the solution.”
Today, all of the new models of the Roadster, the Hummer, the Escalade and the 39, a replica of the 1939 Ford, have these new performance and diagnostic features that puts American Custom Golf Car into a class by itself.
As to whether the golf community will beat a path to his door, it’s too soon to know.