What drives an individual to take a spin in a go-kart at an amusement center? Some might say it’s the need for speed – which in turn ignites the debate over whether gas or electric go-karts deliver the most bang for a consumer’s buck. So which is preferable? It depends on who you ask.
At Hickory Falls Family Entertainment Center in Hanover, Pa., Owner/President Jeff Stern is firmly in favor of electric go-karts. In business since 2001, Hickory Falls FEC only added a go-kart attraction two and a half years ago and they went with electric right from the start. The facility did its research and traveled around testing both varieties. Stern says three things sold him on electric. One was how promptly the karts accelerate. “It’s actually instant whereas with a gas engine, you depress the accelerator and it takes a while to get up to speed. With electric, you push the pedal and you’re pretty well at full blast almost immediately,” he said. The karts can reach speeds up to 35 miles an hour.
The absence of gas fumes was the second selling point. Since Hickory Falls FEC has a versatile indoor/outdoor track, this was an important consideration. “If the weather’s bad, we have two garage doors we can shut, two gates we can move and then we run solely on the indoor track without having to worry about gas fumes,” Stern said. The outdoor portion of the track’s proximity to development was the third influencing factor. Speakers inside the electric go-karts deliver the usual sound effects associated with a gas engine in order to enhance a driver’s experience but at the same time spare neighbors loud noise. “If anybody is putting in a go-kart track, I’d recommend 100 percent they go strictly electric,” concluded Stern.
Jerry Barton, owner of Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix in Las Vegas, Nev., feels differently. “For my purposes, the gas karts work way better. I’ve been in this type of business since 1970 and this is my 12th place so we have lots of experience. We’ve run millions and millions of rides.” His facility hosts anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 visitors a year and its track is entirely outdoors. Barton emphasized that the gasoline engines on his go-karts are tiny – something like 1/20 to 1/30 the size of a regular automobile engine.
Barton identified several reasons why he prefers gas to electric. “First of all, an electric go-kart doesn’t make the sound of an engine so you don’t get that racy feel. Secondly, to run my business effectively, I’d have to have twice as many electric go-karts and they’re double the cost of gas ones,” he said. The reason he’d require twice as many is because every time electric karts pull into the pits, they need to be charged. So operators can only run half their fleet at a time. An electric kart’s weight is another issue. “When you bump something with them, they’re very heavy – customers really feel the hit. Not to mention higher maintenance costs,” he added.
Triple Play Family Fun Park in Hayden, Idaho, doesn’t rule out the possibility of converting to electric go-karts in the future. Presently the facility that hosts approximately 250,000 guests annually is sticking with J&J gas-powered go-karts on its all outdoor track. “We looked at electric karts a few years ago and decided to stay with gas karts,” said Mike Murphy, general manager. “Electric karts at the time didn’t have the capacity to recharge fast enough. And from what I’ve seen, they still don’t.” Murphy also cited how labor intensive it is to have to plug karts in continuously. To bypass this issue, Triple Play would definitely opt to install an electrical conductivity pit that karts could simply drive up onto in order to charge. However, the cost of installing such a pit plus having to buy twice as many electric karts influenced the park’s decision to remain with the initial gas karts they started with in 2001. Fuel prices that are currently low factor in as well. “When we’re paying $4 a gallon for gas, you take a hard look at electricity but when you’re paying $2 a gallon for gas, it’s not quite so hard,” Murphy said.
The consensus at Miramar Speed Circuit in San Diego, Calif., is that gas powered karts provide the most realistic driving experience when compared to a real race car. “On average, gas karts tend to be lighter, have more balanced handling, and offer more consistent performance from start to finish,” said Ben Watz, who is operations manager at the indoor facility. Playing host to about 60,000 guests per year, the facility began operations in 2003 and was the first indoor karting center in the region. Watz added that it’s a misconception when people think gas karts are extremely noisy, dirty and polluting.
“Our karts are equipped with both mufflers and catalytic converters to contain noise and harmful emissions, and because our fuel tanks and engines are contained under the bodywork of the karts, there is little to no chance of any fluids escaping and getting onto the driver,” he said. Electric karts are definitely quieter than gas but they’re not entirely clean as everyone assumes. Interestingly enough, the majority of buildup found around karting facilities can be attributed to tire wear and brake dust, which is a problem for both gas and electric karts, according to Watz. He did concede, however, that electric karts offer increased ability to control kart speed on a track.
The go-karts at Fun Spot America in Orlando, Fla., were a top draw when the park first opened in 1997 and despite significant expansion and additions to the overall facility, they remain so today. “We favor gas-powered karts because with the amount of rides we do on a daily/hourly basis, it allows us to operate more efficiently with faster ride cycles,” said John Arie, Jr., owner and chief operating officer. “There’d be a delay if we had to switch inventory for charging cycles.”
Fun Spot America welcomes 2.7 million visitors annually between its Orlando location and another in Kissimmee, Fla. Their go-kart attraction has four tracks featuring U.S. patented designs. Three of them are multi-level. “Between the length of our tracks and the demand put on engines as they climb the multi-level tracks, electric style karts would limit the amount of ride cycles and impact riders’ overall experience,” Arie concluded.