The legendary electric car of the 1970s that drove electric car sales in the United States until the arrival of Tesla

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Originally posted on EVANNEX.
By Charles Morris

We all know Tesla didn’t build the first electric vehicle. Electric vehicles have been around since the days of horseless carriages. For better or worse, the gasoline engine quickly gained supremacy, but over the years major automakers and startups experimented with electric vehicles, and a few models briefly entered production. Many might be surprised to learn that the best-selling electric vehicle in US history before the advent of Tesla was not produced by any of the Big Three, but by a small company based in Florida.

Late-night 6HP Electric CitiCar at America on Wheels Automotive Museum. Photo by Klaus Nahr; cropped by Mr.choppers downloader. CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

The oil crisis of the 1970s sparked a brief surge of interest in electric vehicles. A car salesman named Bob Beaumont designed an electric vehicle called CitiCar and set up a company called Sebring-Vanguard to build it.

The CitiCar was produced between 1974 and 1977 at the company’s plant in Sebring, Florida. He embodied the unfortunate stereotype that many people still have electric vehicles. A tiny two-seater based on a Club Car golf cart, it ran on eight 6-volt lead-acid batteries and featured a plastic body. It had a top speed of 60 mph and a range of around 40 miles. Some 4,444 CitiCars and related models were produced, earning it the distinction of America’s Most Produced Electric Vehicle until the Tesla Roadster took that title in 2011.

Ioanna Lykiardopoulou, writing in The next web, recaps the history of the CitiCar and put together a collection of rarely seen photos and video footage.

Original CitiCar footage of the plant and on the streets of Sebring, Fla. (YouTube:British Movietone via AP archives)

Several models of the CitiCar were offered during its short lifespan. Classic Car History provides a detailed description of the different variants, including how to tell them apart (just in case you stumble upon an old CitiCar at a garage sale).

The first SV / 36 featured six 36-volt batteries and a 1.9 kWh (2.5 hp) motor. Top speed was around 28 mph and the range was around 35 miles. Shortly after its launch, the CitiCar received an upgrade: the SV / 48 had eight batteries and a 2.6 kWh (3.5 hp) motor. The top speed was 38 mph and the range was around 40 miles. From 1976, Sebring-Vanguard began building a new version known as the Transitional or 1976 1/2 CitiCar, which had a much more powerful 4.5 kWh (6 hp) engine.

For comparison, most modern electric vehicles use a 400-volt system (the Porsche Taycan and several upcoming models operate at 800 volts). The latest Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus offers 306 hp and 353 miles of range.

The CitiCar was priced around $ 3,000, which was cheaper than the average gasoline car at the time, and it sold pretty well for a few years. However, once the energy crisis passed and gas prices came down, demand plummeted and the company declared bankruptcy in 1977. A company called Commuter Vehicles then bought most of the company’s assets, redesigned the vehicle. and renamed it ComutaCar. This was produced from 1979 to 1982.

In 1980, the company won a contract with the United States Postal Service to build 500 electric postal vans. At one point, the contract was canceled and the litigation ended up in federal court (40 years later, the USPS still has no commitment to electrify its antiques fleet). According to Classic Car History, it appears that 367 of the postal ComutaVans were built and some were sold to the public.

Today all versions of the CitiCar are rare birds, but there are still some, and a few may even be roaming the roads somewhere.

This CitiCar was recently recharged via J1772 at a public charging station next to a Tesla Model S (YouTube: Lewis moten)

As Ms. Lykiardopoulou notes, it took a crisis to inspire the invention of the CitiCar – the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974 and the brief period of energy insecurity that followed. The current proliferation of electric vehicles has its roots in the global climate crisis and was recently accelerated by the Corona pandemic. In the still-clear rearview mirror, we can see that the policymakers of the 1970s were myopic. The West made a difficult peace with OPEC, and the United States expanded domestic extraction of oil, gas and coal. A few decades later, that led to the mess we find ourselves in today. This time around, will world leaders take advantage of a crisis to build a truly sustainable transport and energy economy? We’ll see.

Photo presented by Steve Jurvetson, CC BY 2.0 license

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