Remembering the CitiCar, the Electric Vehicle With Popular Appeal

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When Bob Beaumont invented the CitiCar in the 1970s, he had in mind more than a technological wonder

In the 1960s, a car salesman by the name of Bob Beaumont grew so disgusted with the oil consumption required by our car-based transportation system that he sold his dealership and committed himself to developing an electric vehicle with popular appeal. The result, which first rolled off the assembly line in 1974, was the CitiCar, something like a golf cart with a roof, lights, a bit more speed (40 mph) and a bit more range (40 miles). With their fun colors and a price of $3,000 (about $1,500 to $2,000 less than the cost of an average car at the time), the little cars sold pretty well. Beaumont's company, Sebring-Vanguard, produced about 2,000 of these little vehicles, making it, surprisingly, the sixth-largest car manufacturer in America. But after the oil crisis of the 1970s, sales  of the little cars dropped, and in 1977 the company declared bankruptcy.

Beaumont passed away last week at the age of 79 at his home in Columbia, Maryland. In his later years he worked as an advocate for electric-vehicle research and federal support.

The little CitiCars still have fans, and every now and then one makes an appearance on eBay, but they are relics of a certain age. Today's electric cars have less of the CitiCar's hacked-together appeal, and more of a futuristic, sleek appearance, such as Nissan's Leaf, Chevy's Volt, or, the top-of-the-line Tesla Roadster. These cars may win hearts with their looks, but with their sticker prices topping those of basic cars such as a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla by about 10  to 15 grand, one wishes today's designers had a bit more of Bob Beaumont's popular vision in them.



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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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