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Making Waevs In Anaheim

Don’t lump in Waev Inc., Orange County’s newest electric vehicle company, with the crowd of upstarts aiming to gain market share and billion-dollar valuations in the increasingly competitive EV sector despite a limited history of production.

The Anaheim-based firm counts over 90 years of vehicle expertise, thanks to its two business units: GEM, the maker of an array of low-speed, electric-powered vehicles that’s been operating since the 1990s, and its older sister company, the storied Taylor-Dunn industrial transporter maker, whose history stretches back longer than some legacy automakers.

Taylor-Dunn has produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles since its start in 1949.

That said, in the push to electrification across vehicles of all types, the exec team of Waev expects to come along for the ride with some of OC’s flashier EV makers and their power sources, like Irvine’s Rivian Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: RIVN) and electric vehicle battery developer Romeo Power Inc. (NYSE: RMO).

“The emerging opportunities to grow these businesses are real,” said Waev Chief Executive Keith Simon, who was part of a team that recently took over ownership of GEM and Taylor-Dunn via a management buyout.

Heavy Lifters, Carts

Taylor-Dunn vehicles are used at hospitals, airports for baggage towing, schools, amusement parks, warehouses, manufacturing plants and military bases.

Almost all of the Taylor-Dunn vehicles currently being produced run on electric power.

GEM specializes in personal use and urban mobility carts. They have been used in beach towns, neighborhoods, and gated, golf and leisure communities for decades, as well as on university and college campuses.

“We’ve seen trends that more and more residents in these areas want a cart to socialize, cruise to entertainment areas, and use in other ways to simply enjoy the community,” the CEO said.

“You’re not going to get on the 405 and drive from Los Angeles to Anaheim,” Simon told the Business Journal on Jan. 6. “But if you live in Huntington Beach, as one example, you could pretty much get anywhere you need to go in the immediate vicinity of your neighborhood,” via a GEM vehicle.

GEM has produced more than 60,000 vehicles since 1998.

Polaris Sale

Simon and his partners—Paul Vitrano, Cosmin Batrin, Jon Conlon and Luke Mulvaney—bought the two companies from Polaris Inc. (NYSE: PII), a Medina, Minn.-based maker of off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, boats and other vehicles. The five Waev partners are former Polaris executives.

Polaris, valued around $6.8 billion, said in October it planned “to more strategically allocate the company’s resources” and decided to sell the companies. It acquired Taylor-Dunn in 2016 and GEM in 2011.

Terms of the sale to Waev, completed near the end of 2021, weren’t disclosed. In a recent call with analysts prior to the deal being completed, Polaris Chief Executive Mike Speetzen said the two businesses brought in “less than $100 million of revenue,” and was “not making money.”

The two units did “not have a straight fit with what we do in powersports and frankly, it will do better in other owners’ hands that can spend more time and allocate capital directly into that type of platform,” Speetzen said at the time.

“It’s got a great management team. We have a lot of confidence that it’s going to do well once we complete the transaction,” he said.

Waev CEO Simon says he sees a chance for GEM and Taylor-Dunn to “flourish” under the new owners.

“We have over 400 dealers around the world,” Simon said.

Greater demand for EVs, along with “advancements in EV technology open up opportunities for GEM and Taylor-Dunn in new applications and markets that we will invest in and pursue long term,” he said.

Staying Local

The new company’s production will stay at its current site along West Ball Road in Anaheim, which will also hold the headquarters for Waev. The facility runs around 156,000 square feet.

Taylor-Dunn is a longtime Anaheim manufacturer while GEM moved there in 2017.

“When GEM production moved to Anaheim in 2017, it joined Taylor-Dunn manufacturing and established the Southern California-based electric vehicle center of excellence,” Waev said.

The combined companies now count about 250 employees, according to Simon.

“Leadership is committed to keeping California as the company’s headquarters maintaining its electric vehicle manufacturing center of excellence in Anaheim,” Waev said when announcing the new business.

GEM has gotten its share of business from its hometown.

The city of Anaheim uses GEM vehicles in a program called FRAN, or Free Rides Around the Neighborhood, to help get people around the central downtown area to shop, go to restaurants or run errands.

The carts are a frequent site around the city’s Packing District.

Street-Legal

Simon explained that the electric GEM vehicles—which look a bit like a golf cart with a squished nose—are street-legal. That means they can go on roads where the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less, often a bit faster than the GEM carts’ top speed of 25 miles per hour.

The carts are highly customizable, with more than 10,000 configurations for customers to tailor the design, according to the company.  

The GEM vehicle batteries are recharged using a standard 110-volt outlet, and the same holds true for many of the Taylor-Dunn models.

Base model pricing for GEM starts at $12,000 and goes up to $18,000 each. More than 50 consumer and commercial accessories and options are available for the GEM carts.

The combined companies produce thousands of vehicles each year at their Anaheim facility.

Taylor-Dunn base vehicles range from around $8,000 for “stock chasers” used to fetch items from warehouses, to over $80,000 for some of the company’s Tiger cargo tractors. 

Taylor-Dunn’s Founding Inspired by Chicken Farming

Taylor-Dunn in Anaheim traces its roots back more than 70 years when R.D. Taylor Sr. started making vehicles for local farmers and ranchers.

Taylor initially built a small electric-powered cart for personal use in his poultry supply business, according to the company’s website.

“After receiving inquiries from other ranchers about the little cart, he decided to build a few for friends and neighbors,” the website says. “The year was 1949, and the business was named the ‘Taylor Shop.’”

Fred Dunn, Taylor’s son-in-law, joined the business in 1951, and several years later the company changed its name to the Taylor-Dunn Manufacturing Co.

Before long, the company began making and selling vehicles to hundreds of ranchers and nurseries from San Diego to Simi Valley.

Today the company’s vehicles are used at hospitals, airports, schools, amusement parks, warehouses, manufacturing plants and military bases. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles have been made over the company’s history.

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