Bob Beaumont, the creator of the CitiCar, passed away Monday at the age of 79.
As the owner of an auto dealership in the 1960s, Mr. Beaumont wondered why a country that could build a battery-powered lunar rover was so dependent on gasoline that an OPEC oil embargo could cripple its economy. He founded a new company, opened a factory in Sebring, Florida, and the first Citicar – with a body of football-helmet-style plastic, a 1.8-kilowatt motor and a 36-volt lead-acid battery – rolled off the line in 1974.
At first, sales were strong – Beaumont’s company, Sebring-Vanguard, became the country’s sixth-largest automaker, and sold 2,206 CitiCars in three years. But the timing was poor. The Arab oil embargo ended, ushering in the era of cheap oil, and the press panned the new EV for safety reasons, notably Consumer Reports, which called it “foolhardy to drive on any public road.” The company folded in 1977, but an outfit called Commuter Vehicles bought the rights to the design, and produced a couple thousand right-hand drive units for the US Postal Service (Mr B’s creation remains the best-selling postwar EV to date, and at least a few are still on the road).
The CitiCar, based on a modified golf cart, was tiny, and must have inspired some snickers back in the days of V8s. The final model had a top speed of 30-50 mph and a range of around 40 miles. For better or for worse, when people of an age to remember the 1970s think of an EV, the CitiCar is what they visualize, a perception that the current generation of EV makers is working hard to electrocute. But, as several EV celebs have already noted, everyone working in the industry today owes a debt to this visionary inventor and businessman.