Is driving for fun all about speed? In many cases it is for me, but by no means all. Take four-wheel driving, I’d be nuts if I thought I could tackle a steep slope by just putting the pedal to the metal. Granted in some cases it is warranted, but driving off-road is just as much fun at low speed, marveling at the ability of the vehicle you are in, and let’s face it, it generally is the vehicle these days and not the driver, amazed that you can chug through thick gloopy mud, waist high water or wafting over soft sand dunes, all at sub 40 km/h.
Australia is one of the best places to go off-road simply because there is so much of it. So it got me thinking about cheaper alternatives than potentially damaging the only vehicle the family has. Should I consider a bike say, which is great for me, but useless for any one else in the clan keen for a bit of an adrenalin rush. What about a quad bike? They look great fun and it’s possible I could take at least one other with me.
But then the dangers were starkly pointed out to me. In the States 700 people are killed on one of these things every year. In Australia, there have been 62 quad bike related deaths on Australian farms since 2010, with a total of 15 quad related deaths reported in 2014 alone, along with an additional 86 non‐fatal quad related injury events. According to Dr. Tony Lower from Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety, rollovers account for 75% of on-farm deaths. 18% of quad bike fatalities involve children under 16 and with over 300,000 ATVs in current use across Australia, you can see how big the issue can get. Most are associated with agricultural use but increasingly it is for recreation.
So not wanting to be one of those statistics, I considered the much more safer looking side-by-sides. Essentially these look much like a quad (or ATV) but come equipped with a roll-bar and a passenger sits next to you, hence the name. They have tough looking suspension set ups and appear the obvious choice. But yet again, they have issues with roll-overs, and perhaps due to the perceived extra safety, drivers are a little too blasé. They are just as narrow as an ATV and are top heavy, so could very well be an accident waiting to happen.
Is there another choice out there? Well for a little more money than a side-by-side, there is the Tomcar. It’s wider, with a lower centre of gravity making it a safer option with less chance of a roll over. It is made of high quality components and designed to withstand even the toughest work out. And it’s built right here in Australia, Victoria to be precise. Bingo.
In fact, it’s a fantastic story. The original Tomcar was, and still is, built in Israel and was designed for military use. They needed to be tough and easily repaired in the field and the concept took off. Though designed for off-road use, Tomcars are rear wheel driven, precisely for the reason I mention above – they have less expensive and fiddly components to fix.
David Brim, CEO of Tomcar Australia, originally from the UK, saw the potential a few years back and negotiated a license to manufacture the cars here in Australia.
Why Australia? I ask on a recent call, recognising David’s London accent? “My mum is from Australia, and though I was brought up in the UK, we always promised to return.”
I’ve seen a few second-hand Tomcars for sale in Canada, but none here. How so? “The original company is Israeli and they still manufacture over there for the Defence industry. The second-hand Tomcars you’ve found are ex-military vehicles made in Israel. Tomcar Australia manufactures here for the Australian, New Zealand and Philippines markets.”
“We’ve sold 200 so far in Australia. They are built to order and, if necessary, can be put together in as little as a week. But ordinarily, from initial order, owners can expect to pick up their vehicle in 4-5 weeks.”
“One of the reasons there is not a second-hand market here is that Tomcar’s are designed to be cheap to fix. For instance, the front tyre rod is designed to snap under pressure, before a far more expensive problem occurs. They cost $45 a piece so many customers drive around with a spare or two, and just replace it if needed. We also offer a service called Tomcar Reloaded. Owners can bring their car back and for $15k we will strip it down and rebuild it, so essentially they receive a new car back. It is very modular with no expensive components.”
Who are buying them? Mostly guys like me, looking for some cheap, safe fun?
“Agriculture is our biggest market,” David continues, “with 5% recreational, another 5% emergency services, the rest is for defence.”
How does the press regarding the dangers of ATV’s affect you?
“It’s terrible the stories you hear. Obviously the industry won’t tell you how dangerous they are, and those who have had one for years will say they are fine, but then you hear of a farmer who has ridden an ATV for 15 years gets killed. Yamaha and others now make side-by-sides these days, but certainly many of our customers have bought a Tomcar instead of an ATV quad bike because of the safety factor.”
You offer 2 engines, a 1 litre petrol and 1.4 diesel variant, which is the most popular?
“Its pretty much 50/50. Both have a 26 litre fuel tank, with an optional extra tank if needed. Some customers will go through a tank a day, others will take them a week, depending on the usage.”
Can you drive a Tomcar on the road? “No they can’t be registered as yet. So only for off-road, private trail use.”
I see some are racing them, how has that been going? “Yes, racing is becoming a growing side of our business. In fact we are planning on a Race series for later this year so watch this space.”
You can get hold of a Tomcar from around $25k for the TM-2 model. The larger TM-4 model is out later this year and will fit a nuclear family. There is also a ute offering called the TM-5 which is a great option for those needing to shift stuff about, and I am tempted. Not sure the wife will let me strap down four kids though.