The ComutaVan: An Odd Electric Postal Van From the 80s

There was much buzz when it was first revealed that Oshkosh would be making the replacement for the old and dirty Grumman LLV postal vans. But this isn’t the first time an attempt was made to electrify the postal service. In the early 1980s, electric car company ComutaCar teamed up with USPS to build a small (and I do mean small) fleet of EV postal vans.

People standing around Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar parked on side of the road.
Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar circa 1974 | Marion S Trikosko/US News and World Report Photo Collection/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

The Vanguard ComutaCar was a wacky electric wedge

Starting its life in Florida, the Comutacar (originally called the Citicar) was first built in 1974. Two variants were made, the SV36 and SV48. One had a 36-volt battery capacity, the other had 48-volts. Try to guess which variant had which battery.

They were fitted with a monstrously powerful 3.5 horsepower electric motor and boasted a blazing top speed of 28mph. That was eventually bumped to 6.5 horsepower, which increased the top speed to 50mph, but regardless of engine size, the car could run for 35 to 40 miles on a charge. Exhilarating, right?

By today’s standards, it’s awful in almost every way. But back then the technology was revolutionary. According to Hemmings, the slab of steel started at $6,495, and over 4,000 of them were built up until 1981. Then, in 1991, the design patents were purchased by Norwegian company Kewet and produced as recently as 2013. It’s the simplest an electric car could get. But in order for it to be a postal van, it needed a few tweaks.

The ComutaVan was upgraded for postal duties

A fleet of ComutaCar Postal Vans
ComutaCar Postal Vans | Peter Crisitello

Starting with the name, ComutaVan, the body was made much larger than the original ComutaCar, which meant it got heavier. To supplement that, the government required that the vehicle had a larger battery and more power. What manifested was a 72-volt battery powering a 12 horsepower motor. An absolute screamer in comparison to its commuter-car counterpart.

Vanguard was originally commissioned to build just 500 of them starting in 1981. A small-scale test of the potential electric postal van. However, due to largely unknown legal complications, only 367 of the EVs were built before the partnership ended in a lawsuit. The ones that were registered were done so as 1981 and 1982 vans, but the rest were sold off to the public.

The remnants of the ComutaVan

An electric Citicar SV48 parked next to a building
Citicar SV48 | Eric Kilby

With less than 500 ComutaVans ever made, one could say they’re a rare specimen. But the elusiveness of ComutaVans is balanced out by the fact that very few people want to drive an EV that only goes 40mph at its absolute best. While very few of them are out there, they’re out there, such as this ComutaVan on sale for $12,000. It’s no Tesla, but it’s also cheaper than a Tesla.

The more common ComutaCars, on the other hand, can go for as little as $5,000. They plug into the outlets you have at home, and they go 30-some miles a day. If you can live a very simple life, and never need to go above 40mph, a ComutaCar could be the perfect vehicle for you. And while it wasn’t the perfect postal van (part of me doubts it ever would’ve been), it’s fun to know that government-funded electrification efforts have been around a while.

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