You've seen them, but perhaps overlooked them, given their industrial nature. Being a Deere, they are, of course, usually green and yellow, but a lot of them I notice are pretty much brown. Dirt, dust and rust is how they often look after decades on duty.
For 2011, though, Deere wants to change that. Oh, sure, this next generation of Gators will still be the draft horses they always have been, especially the models powered by the three-cylinder Yanmar diesel engine, or the three-cylinder Kawasaki.
But there's a new model, the 825i, that Deere hopes to establish as the playboy of industrial utility vehicles. It's powered by a 50-horsepower, three-cylinder automobile engine, manufactured by Chery, the Chinese automaker that, for years, has been trying to find a way to bring its own vehicles to the U.S. market. Former Orlando resident Malcolm Bricklin, the serial entrepreneur who imported the Yugo, struck a deal to import Chery cars, but it ended in tears and lawsuits. Another deal with Chrysler to bring Chery to America fell through. But here Chery is, under the hood of a Gator.
I got a chance to test a Gator 825i, and while this little Chery engine might not be much fun in their Chinese microcars, in the Gator, it flies. The CVT (continuously variable transmission) works like an automatic, so punch the throttle and you go – right up to a top speed of 44 mph. Which might not sound like much, but 44 mph on tight, twisting trails through the woods is fast – and thanks to the Gator's independent suspension, it rides so smoothly that you'll probably try to test that 44 mph top speed.
"Press the gas, and make monotony eat dust!" says Deere in its hyperbolic press materials. But it's true – as a legitimate cross between a Jeep Wrangler and a conventional ATV, this would be my absolute, ultimate choice for blasting through the trails in the Ocala National Forest.
Still, with this power and top speed, Deere expects the Gator 825i will be its best seller even among industrial customers. And, oddly, a company spokesman says they have, as yet, no way to govern that top speed down to, say, 25 mph. As a site foreman, I'd be a little nervous tossing the keys to an 825i to an 18-year-old day worker – this thing is quick. The Gator with the 25-horsepower Yanmar diesel may not be fun, but it won't get you in trouble.
Deere dealers should have the new Gator 825i in stock shortly. For residents of The Villages, here are the answers to the two questions you have: Price starts at around $12,000, and no, I don't know if the Gator 825i is legal for all those golf cart-only roads you have in that retirement community. But if you want to one-up your neighbor's new electric, this is the hot ticket.
And then there was one
Speaking of electric power, on Thursday the city of Orlando unveiled the first public electric charging station to be installed as part of the ChargePoint America program. It is one out of nine cities that have been chosen to be a part a $37 million program that will install 300 charging stations for electric vehicles.
This first station was installed at City Hall, right by the "media parking" area, presumably since someone figures news-media members are so forward-thinking that we'll all be driving electric cars any day now. Good luck with that. The other eight cities that are part of the program: Austin, Texas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, Bellevue/Redmond, Wash.; and Washington, D.C.
For reasons I can't quite explain, Orlando is at the forefront of alternative power initiatives, be it electricity, hydrogen or ethanol. Good for us, I think.