Back in the late 1960s, there was possibly no more coveted car than Citroën’s Méhari. The four-seat all-terrain vehicle (ATV) had a soft top and ABS plastic body, with off-road capabilities that made it a beach-lover’s fantasy and a cult favorite, with pop culture appearances ranging from the 1971 blockbuster movie, The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, to a Méhari-based car in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.
Now, the legendary car has been reintroduced with a slick makeover for a new generation. French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën unveiled the all-electric E-Méhari in December 2015, making a splash on the auto scene with a funky, chunky reboot of the classic automobile.
Making a Sustainable Statement
In a nod to the vehicle’s sustainable power source, the E-Méhari was unveiled in conjunction with COP21, the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, held in Paris. As government and consumer demand for mobility solutions with minimal environmental impact continue to increase, a February 2016 study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London, predicts that such preferences, plus future reductions in battery prices will pave the way for electric cars to make up 35% of global new car sales by 2025.
But the Bluecar and Citroën teams knew that consumers are more likely to pass by vehicles that skimp on style or function, so they worked to ensure the E-Méhari delivered on all fronts. Reaching a top speed of 110 kmh/68 mph, the convertible has a 124-mile/200-kilometer range on a single charge, making it a vehicle best suited for dashing around town and for enjoyable driving in the leisure time. Like the original, its colorful thermoformed plastic body doesn’t rust or corrode and eliminates worries about minor dings or chipping paint. Rear folding seats allow more cargo space and a removable soft top lets drivers soak in the sun. A raised chassis preserves the all-terrain vehicle’s beach-cruising legacy, and the vehicle’s interior is completely waterproof.
The E-Méhari’s new design is reminiscent of the Cactus M concept car Citroën revealed at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. Underneath the fun exterior, the car’s platform, drivetrain and technology that are evolutions of the transmission systems developed by Oerlikon Graziano for Bluecar, the vehicle used in Paris-based Autolib’s successful car-sharing program in cities around the world. Autolib is owned by French investment and industrial holding group Bolloré.
Since the vehicles do not typically travel long distances or at a high rate of speed, they are actually ideal candidates for the electric gearbox and transverse electric motor. However, designing an electric transmission for an ATV required some adjustments. “The transmission doesn’t look any different externally, but inside it is upgraded to be stronger and more silent,” says Michele Schiavoni, senior area manager of Oerlikon Graziano’s Drive Systems Segment.
To make the electric car’s performance match expectations, the team worked on increasing the power and torque, moving the transfer case further from the original applications, and adding a stronger differential. “The result is better acceleration and enhanced driving experience for the consumer,” says Paolo Mantelli, vice president and head of global automotive sales and business development in Oerlikon’s Drive Systems Segment.
The E-Méhari’s head-to-tailpipe makeover makes it as much a fashion statement as an automobile choice. It has had an enthusiastic reception by both automotive and technology press as a bold and innovative new option in the electric car market. While the car is sure to be a favorite among sustainably minded Millennials, it also appeals to more mature market segments who fondly remember the hip vehicle from its heyday.
By Gwen Moran