This is not what it looks like. Oh, sure, it’s awful close to the 1968-87 Citroën Méhari. I mean, it was built by folks who specialized in manufacturing parts for them, so that makes sense. But under the familiar plastic body lies a completely new EV chassis. This is not a conversion, nor is it a replica. It’s much better than that.
Méhari Loisirs Technologie (MLT) is a small company operating in southeastern France, far away from major industrial hubs, but right where Méharis make sense as a daily driver. Most of the classic flat-twin Méharis one sees in France are puttering about the sunnier parts of the country, after all. The design sort of warrants that.
But MLT understood something about the Méhari that Citroën obviously did not: air-cooled flat-twins are noisy, rather dirty and (somewhat) thirsty – a bit 20th Century, really – but the body, odd styling included, is what makes Méharis still so popular. Launched in late 2017, the E-Story was the perfect solution: a classic and extremely versatile shape with a (modest) electric motor.
When I state that Citroën did not understand this, I mean that quite literally. They launched the E-Méhari (above), based on the Bolloré Autolib, in 2016 and took an absolute bath with this second edition of their legendary vehicle. Citroën only built a few hundred per year until the model was put out of its misery three summers later. Meanwhile, MLT are able to sell their electric beach car at a much higher price than what Citroën wanted for one of their unloved windowless e-blobs, all because the cool/nostalgia factor was cranked up to 11.
The secret of the third Méhari was to stick as much as possible with the first. Glancing inside, the first thing that really looks off is the missing umbrella-handle gearchange. But otherwise, everything looks pretty much like the original. Oh, but then what’s the deal with the switches and why is there a smartphone instead of a tiny 2CV speedo?
The 21st Century modifications are more visible from this angle. The E-Story gets away with not having an airbag because it is a “quadricycle” for the French taxman. Its limited top speed (90 kph) means it cannot be used on highways, but drivers as young as 16 can take the wheel. The motor that drives the front wheels only provides 20hp (15kW), so this ain’t no Tesla, though MLT did go for lithium-iron-phosphate batteries like those used by the American EV giant. The modest autonomy (150km, or about 100 miles) belies the fact that a lot fewer batteries are used in the E-Story than in larger EVs. But then the car is fully recharged in only six hours via a standard home electrical socket.
The original Méhari was basically marketed as a one-size-fits-all, but MLT elected to create two variants to add to the standard four-seater: one is a strict two-seater with a flat rear to serve as a commercial light pickup (and thus subject to a lower purchase tax), and the other is the 2+1, which has an extra rear “door” for the rear passengers. Smart thinking.
With their ultra-niche product and quasi-artisanal production methods, MLT are sitting happy on a completely full order book and a bank account well into the black. But they are also adding an electrified 2CV (or 2EV? Geddit?) to their budding range.
One thing present-day EVs often lack is charisma and the cool factor. Nothing like a sixty-year-old design in curious orange to fix the charisma. And if you cannot be cool (and air-cooled) in a Méhari, there’s no hope for you.