Gas versus Electric Go-Karts: Pros and Cons

June 1, 2010 No Comments

The phrase “go green” is quite popular in many family entertainment circles and the go-kart circuit is no exception. Add to that the words “go cost-effectively” and “go fast” and you’re describing the options up for consideration when deciding whether to run gas- or electric-powered go-karts. Blog postings on entertainment industry topics reveal mixed reviews on the pros and cons of gas and electric go-karts. Some express a desire to adopt driving mechanisms that contribute to a cleaner environment, much like hybrid cars do. The cleaner air issue is another popular reason why electric cars are most often utilized for indoor tracks, where costly ventilation systems would need to be installed in order to use gas-powered go-karts.
On the gas side, gas go-karts are less costly to purchase, travel faster than electric karts, and experience minimal down time – it takes less time to fill a small gas tank than it does to recharge an electric engine.
K1 Speed general manager Ian McGough outlined the pros and cons of both motorized options. He uses electric go-karts at his indoor track in Ontario, Calif, and he touted the superior performance of electric machines.
“Electric go-karts have no RPMs, so when drivers step on the accelerator pedal they get instant speed,” he said. “With better acceleration these cars are better on courses that have lots of sharp turns.”
He also noted the clean air factor that comes with electric go-karts, as well as cleaner tracks free of oil stains and the reduced risk of fire with cooler-running engines and no gasoline.
One con to electric go-karts is the time needed to recharge the karts between down time, he added. With gas, a quick pit stop and refueling gets karts back on the track must faster, he said.
For some entertainment center operators, gas-powered go-karts were the only option when they started their businesses. That’s the case with Ramsay Fretz, general manager of Garden Golf and Go-Karts in North Wales, Pa., who opened his business 15 years ago. While the basic mechanics of gas go-karts make them easy to maintain, varying gas prices make them expensive alternatives.
“You can’t constantly raise prices to keep up with the changing price of gas,” Fretz said. “If I was starting this business all over again I would buy electric go-karts.”
In addition to price, Fretz sited the safety factor of electric versus gas cars, particularly given the fact that go-kart tracks typically employ high school and college students who don’t have much mechanical experience and can sometimes be careless when it comes to abiding by industry standards.
“It’s not always easy to get them to follow all the safety requirements necessary with gas-powered karts,” he said.
Another long-time go-kart track operator who went with gas-powered entertainment is Mike DiMarco, general manager of Country Fair Entertainment Park in Medford, N.Y. When he started in the business 10 years ago, the lower price of gas go-karts made them the most cost-effective option at that time. Even today, gas remains the better option, at least on Long Island, he said.
“In New York, our electricity rates are based on gas prices,” he said. “We pay a gas surcharge on our electricity price.”
Despite fuel prices, DiMarco prefers gas go-karts for their inexpensive maintenance costs. Batteries can be the most expensive parts of a go-kart and need frequent replacement with electric go-karts, he said.
At the time DiMarco was putting his business together, parts for electric go-karts came from a variety of sources, making it difficult to assemble a fleet of karts. Now, however, parts come more easily and getting a charge can be as easy as pulling into the pits.
Jeff Morton, president and owner of the Celebration Station chain of entertainment centers, agreed that older facilities were faced with using gas-powered go-karts or nothing. However, during his 27 years in the business, he noted more favorable features with the gas-powered machines than with electric alternatives.
“While electric go-karts offer better speed control and no gas-safety issues, we still like the gas motor for the intangibles,” he said. “For example, there’s nothing like the sound made by gas-powered go-karts. It really adds to the driving experience.”
Morton said Celebration Station runs about 30 go-karts at its Baton Rouge, La., location. With electric go-karts, the center would need to operate twice that many to maintain its regular rotation, while charging a second fleet of karts.
Karts Indoor Raceway owner Lenny Elkins found a solution to the down time for charging his electric go-karts. Rather than the traditional overhead charging system, his Ronkonkoma, N.Y. facility utilizes charging pads that offer a power source from below the cars. It’s innovations like this that convinced him to go with electric go-karts when he opened his operation five years ago.
“Electric karts are cleaner,” he said. “I can run them inside without having to install a clean-air exchange system to handle exhaust. Although the up-front cost is higher, over time they’re less expensive than gas-powered machines.”
Even if he were to establish an outdoor go-kart track, Elkins said he would still go with electric karts as a way of contributing to the greening of the local environment and a reduction in fumes.
“Electric go-karts don’t leave fume smells on clothing, which is an appealing feature for families,” he said. “You could ride here all day in a business suit and leave without a smell.”
Giving go-kart drivers a thrilling ride that’s safe for them and the environment is a challenge being met by entertainment center operators nationwide. They’re continually evaluating their options, making decisions based on what works for them economically as well as what their guests expect for the price of admission. -

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