DETROIT -- Bob Beaumont, a former Chrysler-Plymouth dealer who pioneered a short-trip electric car known as the CitiCar in the early 1970s, has died. He was 79.
Beaumont was inspired to build and market electric vehicles in the late 1960s during a stop at a filling station, where he became convinced that there must be a more environmentally friendly way to build a car, according to The Washington Post.
At the time, he was running a dealership in upstate New York. But he sold his store and went to Detroit, where he joined an unsuccessful effort to convert gasoline-powered cars into EVs, according to The Post.
Beaumont moved to Sebring, Fla., where he found manufacturing space from an early investor and began building the CitiCar, billed as the first mass-produced electric vehicle, according to The Post.
The wedge-shaped two-seater had a top speed of nearly 40 mph and a range of about 40 miles on an overnight charge, according to The Post, and to keep weight down, it had no air conditioning.
Beaumont was briefly the sixth-largest car builder behind Checker in the 1970s, according to an Automotive News report.
Beaumont's company, Sebring Vanguard, initially had success with the CitiCar in 1974, but a review by Consumer Reports a year later criticized the EV for poor acceleration, steering and braking, The Post reported.
After selling about 2,150 units from early 1974 to late 1977, the company went bankrupt, according to The Post.
But Beaumont wasn't finished.
He moved to the Washington area, opened a used-car lot and began lobbying for federal support for EV research, according to The Post.
In the early 1990s, Beaumont returned to Florida, where his new company, Renaissance Cars Inc. of Palm Bay, began working on the Tropica -- a sleek, open roadster. But production was repeatedly delayed.
"If we were simply a converter, we could have been spitting out vehicles two years ago," he told Automotive News in 1994, responding to criticism for the delays. "But our entire chassis is aluminum. And the car is specifically designed as a warm-weather, topless commuter."
The Tropica had no heater, air conditioner or top. It was powered by a 72-volt battery, boasted a top speed of around 60 mph and had a range of about 40 miles. It was to have retailed for about $16,800. But only about 25 were built.
Beaumont stepped down as chairman of Renaissance Cars in February 1995 and was succeeded by his daughter, Dina, while he pursued interest from the Electric Power Research Institute, a potential investor. He retired in about 1997, according to The Post.
Beaumont died Oct. 24 of emphysema at his home in Columbia, Md., The Post reported.