Charleston’s citEcar gears low-speed vehicles to downtown streets as well as suburban neighborhoods


jacksonpostThey’re marketed as electric golf carts and look like the vehicles that whip around courses. But companies are designing these models for roadways, and not just age 55-plus neighborhoods but city avenues.

“Everything is street legal,” said Jackson Haskell, sales executive for citEcar Electric Vehicles. The venture launched its golf cart offerings in 2005. Originally based in Florida, the company relocated to West Ashley last summer.

citEcar models employ seat belts and include such extras as windshield wipers, metal carrying rack, trip odometer and headlights.

The vehicles can travel 50 miles on a charge compared with an industry average 25 miles, Haskell said. Even then, drivers can juice up the mini-EVs via home garage chargers, EV cafes and a few downtown diners and retailers.

The carts reside under the broad category of low-speed vehicles, Haskell said. In South Carolina, LSVs can travel on roads with posted speed limits no higher than 35 mph, he said.

By far the most common styles are golf cart bodies and accessories, because that’s what most customers expect and prefer, Haskell said. citEcar also offers the “bubble buddy” look touting doors, enclosed frame and wider shape.

The most popular citEcar golf cart design showcases two front seats facing forward and two rear seats facing back, he said. The aluminum and steel framed vehicles include options such as four seaters all facing forward, two seaters and six seaters. Top speed works out to 20-25 mph, he said.

Electric carts start at $7,000. An equipped model available last week retailed for $7,500, Haskell said. Buyers can include luxury and ecological perks such as sound systems, air conditioning and solar panels.

“We can do anything,” Haskell said. “We’ve done a lot of storage upgrades.”

Along with front and rear seat belts, the safety-conscious golf cart includes U.S. Department of Transportation certified shatter-resistant glass.

citEcar aims to promote its models for conventional road uses such as on subdivision streets; it’s also moving into urban areas as an alternative to gas-powered cars.

“I have downtown neighbors who have golf carts,” Haskell said. “My goal is to replace cars in town. This is a pretty cheap way to get around,” he said.

citEcar’s marketing efforts promote itself as a value option in low-speed, high traffic areas.

“There is a local phenomenon occurring the last few years of families in Charleston and around the nation becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and their wallets, actually replacing their cars with electric street legal golf carts,” said Caitlin Hanson, of California-based Driven Public Relations.

“From villages in Florida transitioning to golf-cart-only streets to individuals in Charleston getting rid of traditional vehicles, people are starting to realize the energy and financial efficiency an electric golf cart offers,” Hanson said.

She cited Harvard Business School Researcher Tom Bartman: “The low price point creates appeal compared (with) traditional travel, and other alternatives – walking, riding a bicycle, taking public transit – are less desirable, so it’s not a detriment that these golf carts don’t go as far or fast as a car.”

Every standard golf cart citEcar sells runs 50 miles per charge, Hanson said, “beating out all their competitors in the marketplace.

“Even more, they’ve created upgrades available to their customers that doubles the amount of travel you can get on one charge,” she said.

Golf carts are just one of the products assembled in Charleston. The company also builds and distributes scooters and go karts as well as mini buses for travel parks and centers such as Patriots Point.

citEcar sells models through a dealer network nationwide, including Lowcountry Golf Carts in Mount Pleasant.

On a brief drive, through the Shaftsbury neighborhood, the upgraded citEcar four-seater performed admirably.

The vehicle, sporting rack and pinion steering and disc brakes, rode and handled like a golf cart: no big surprise there. But the engineering took it to a higher level. Side view mirrors came in handy.

Although there was no rain, the windshield wipers on a quick try covered nearly the entire glass. An oval-shaped odometer, speedometer and battery voltage regulator make the cart feel like a real car.

The only time the citEcar acted out of character was during an acceleration above the recommended 20 mph on the suburban streets. The vehicle’s steering loosened on the paved surface, causing the cart to sway.

Likeable features of the citEcar included four front-row drink holders, the golf cart’s solid high-rise top and a pullout metal tray in the back to bump up the carrying capacity (although losing two seats).

citEcar semmingly is heading in the right direction by emphasizing use for commutes and short trips in urban areas and neighborhoods, providing safe and environmentally-friendly EV power at a cost that’s at least half the price of a subcompact car.

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