Three-wheeled Elio gets closer to going on sale

Your next commuter car could have two seats, three wheels and get 84 miles to the gallon
Associated Press
Aug 16, 2014

 

Elio Motors wants to revolutionize U.S. roads with its tiny car, which is the same length as a Honda Fit but half the weight. With a starting price of $6,800, it's also less than half the cost.

Phoenix-based Elio plans to start making the cars next fall at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport, Louisiana. Already, more than 27,000 people have reserved one. Elio hopes to make 250,000 cars a year by 2016. That's close to the number Mazda sells in the U.S.

Because it has three wheels — two in front and one in the rear — the Elio is actually classified as a motorcycle by the U.S. government. But Elio Motors founder Paul Elio says the vehicle has all the safety features of a car, like anti-lock brakes, front and side air bags and a steel cage that surrounds the occupants. Drivers won't be required to wear helmets or have motorcycle licenses.

The Elio's two seats sit front and back instead of side by side, so the driver is positioned in the center with the passenger directly behind. That arrangement, plus the low seating position — the Elio is just 54 inches tall — and the lack of power steering take a little getting used to.

But after a couple of spins around the block in this Detroit suburb, it felt like any other small car. That's partly because its two front wheels stick out by a foot on both sides, aiding balance and preventing the vehicle from tipping. The Elio has a three-cylinder, 0.9-liter engine and a top speed of more than 100 miles per hour. It gets an estimated 84 mpg on the highway and 49 mpg in city driving.

Elio keeps the costs down in several ways. The car only has one door, on the left side, which shaves a few hundred dollars off the manufacturing costs. Having three wheels also makes it cheaper. It will be offered in just two configurations — with a manual or automatic transmission — and it has standard air conditioning, power windows and door locks and an AM/FM radio. More features, such as navigation or blind-spot detection, can be ordered through Elio's long list of suppliers.

Germany's Daimler also promised to revolutionize American commutes with the Smart car, but that hasn't panned out, says Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. Smart sold just 9,264 cars in the U.S. last year.

The Smart has a starting price of $13,270 for a gas-powered car and gets 38 mpg on the highway — not enough savings or fuel economy to justify sacrificing comfort in the tiny car. But, Brauer said, the equation might work in the Elio.

"If it really gets 84 mpg and doesn't drive terribly, it would justify the compromises you're making in size and comfort," he said.

Elio will also save money by selling the cars directly through its own stores and not through franchised dealers, similar to electric car maker Tesla Motors. Elio plans stores in 60 major metropolitan areas. They'll be serviced by car repair chain Pep Boys.

Paul Elio, a one-time stockbroker and New York City cab driver, dreamed as a kid that he would one day own a car company called Elio Motors.

"As I matured I decided that was as likely as playing in the NFL," Elio told The Associated Press. But he did earn an engineering degree at General Motors Institute — now Kettering University — and started his own company engineering products like children's car seats.

In 2008, tired of high gas prices and the country's dependence on foreign oil, he started working on a fuel-efficient car. Equally important to him was creating U.S. manufacturing jobs and making the car inexpensive enough to appeal to buyers who might otherwise be stuck in old, unreliable clunkers.

"Whatever matters to you, this can move the needle on it," he said.

The recession killed his engineering company, but it also provided the opportunity to buy the Shreveport plant when GM filed for bankruptcy protection. Elio Motors plans to employ 1,500 people at the plant.

The company has also applied for a $185 million advanced vehicle development loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Paul Elio said so far, reservation holders are older, more affluent buyers who will use the Elio as a second or third car for commuting.

"It's an 'and' purchase for a lot of folks," he said. "So keep your SUV or your minivan or your large sedan, and when you're driving back and forth to work all by yourself, take the Elio. At this price point and this mileage, that works financially for folks."

Eventually, though, he believes the car will appeal to high school and college students as well as used-car drivers who want something newer and more reliable. He also hopes to eventually export it to other countries.

Comments

arnmcrmn

....and wouldn't survive the slightest crash.

holysee

Not that you would really know anything about this automobile and the data from crash testing, but I will bet this company makes it big because the price point is within the reach of so many who really need a car like this.

holysee

84 mpg means you can drive to Chicago for less than ten bucks fuel.
Many use that much fuel in their suv just to go to the beer port for a 6 pack.

sugar

Who the He** wants to drive to Chicago? Aside from it's obvious lovely amenities that thing on 80 would be crushed. Who's coming with you? Someone who can climb over your seat and squeeze into the back. This is the Lefts War on Families!

KnuckleDragger

Neither would you since according to a previous article I read on this vehicle they have thus far declined to have it tested by government agency responsible for this.

arnmcrmn

Looking at the pure size of it, its not hard to speculate and be accurate. My Ford 150 XLT vs this thing = my Ford with some minor damage vs that thing being totally obliterated along with its passengers at 50 mph head on.

Ill take my SUV's and Trucks. Love em.

holysee

Valid point but not everyone has that paranoia about accidents and are willing to take that chance, just like mc scooter trash.

Licorice Schtick

I think drunk drivers like big vehicles so that when they eventually plow into someone, the other person dies, not them. This is not speculation. I've heard them say as much, though not quite that directly.

arnmcrmn

So from my comment you are saying Im a drunk driver? Because I like my truck and SUV? Wow, talk about crazy talk.

ram03

I own two trucks and a large SUV. Gas is a killer, luckily they are almost paid off. I would consider one of these for the little errands around town, and if I had any long solo trips. I have always purchased based on large size. But at that price point I would consider one.

The Bizness

Your thought process is perfect.

KURTje

Failed dr. realize some facts. Application specific. One size does not fit most. And carbon fiber is huge...that's race car stuff. Yet it applies to daily drivers.

arnmcrmn

Now how does name calling get you anywhere in life kURTje? How can one be a failed Dr? Off topic.

Never said this car isn't applicable. I just said its limited because it won't work in many areas and in many states. Winter time? Heavy rain? Very windy?

sugar

What I see is 185 million dollar loan from the US Dept of Energy. You mean from the taxpayers, most likely another big fat waste of my money. If no one in the private sector was interested, what does that say?

OMG.LOL.WT_

The government has plenty money. They have the printing press.

ohioengineer

Three-wheeled cars have been around since the turn of the last century (that's 1900 to you youngsters). One of the reasons they never caught on with the driving public is that their geometry makes them inherently unstable in turns. Hopefully, with computers to aid in the design this manufacturer will be able to overcome that deficiency.

But safety aside, this article makes an interesting point: namely that automobiles, like much of life, does not have to be an all or nothing experience. In other words, the choice is not necessarily between SUV's and Smart Cars; rather you can have both. In my case I own a farm, so my F-150 is an indispensable tool for hauling heavy loads. But I admit there are also times that I use its 400 horses to run me to the corner store for a gallon of milk.

Therefore a small car like the Elio makes sense AS A SECOND CAR, which by the way most American families have today. So despite the cries of the fanatics on both sides, the great thing about capitalism is that there is room for every idea under its large and shining tent. (Now if we can just get the government out of the loan business, life will be good.)

KURTje

Because of the narrow mindset. Just as Tata Motors holds the patent to the Singh Grove, so too does this vehicle hold much promise. LOREMO, VW-XL & more. Wish Deutz Tractors were more prominent. Watch Gashole...makes you wonder.

knowitall

Look, the government gives loans or backs loans to many businesses, like farmers. Private industry does not want to spend research dollars on a project that will be pilfered by another company. They cannot make a profit. Sometimes, for the good of the whole country and even the world, government has to be involved. Privatizing everything is not the answer, like total government involvement is not the answer. It is a mixture. We seem to argue about what the right mix is.

ohioengineer

Just for the record, I have never received a government loan for my farm. But you make a good point and I agree that government funding can help some areas of basic research where the end result is so far removed from the marketplace that the work might otherwise never be done. In cases like this, taxpayer dollars are being spent not with the hope of making a return, but to further science. Most would agree that this is a worthy cause.

However, Elio is a company with management in place, a business plan, a manufacturing facility, a targeted market and a distribution network. As such, they should be able to convince private investors to risk their money - if their idea is indeed sound. If it is not, then let's not put tax dollars at risk.

knowitall

Glad you didn't need it. But, I think it is OK if you did. Just pay it back. Lol. Our country is built on credit. What would happen to our economy if there were no more credit cards?

ohioengineer

Absolutely right: credit is a great thing. If you are credit-worthy, then banks or credit card companies will be happy to lend you money. If you are not credit worthy, don't come begging for my tax dollars.

Sign in Bar: "The bank and I have an agreement; they don't serve drinks and we don't give credit." If only our government would follow the same rule.

knowitall

I am with ya!

Factitious

OH, no! Not another one!

When it comes to stability, four wheels is better than three, due to physics. But people keep trying, and at least two models were notorious scams. One element of most cons is novelty, and three wheels on a car seems to provide that.

In 1974 a transsexual counterfeiter, Jerry Dean Michael, posing as Liz Carmichael (CARmichael - get it?) introduced the "Dale." He skipped bail and wasn't recaptured until 1989 after being featured on "Unsolved Mysteries."

http://unsolved.com/archives/eli...

Gary Davis of the Davis Motorcar Company was probably initially more sincere, but he went to jail for fraud, too.

http://simanaitissays.com/2013/0...

He proposed a three-wheel version of the Jeep for the Army and it's hilarious.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fil...

Only three were built and you can see one at the "National Automotive and Truck Museum." The name exaggerates its importance of the place but I'd take a look if I were in the neighborhood.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/national...

knowitall

Remember when office chairs went from four legs to five? Stability.

MrGadfly

At this time, there are reservations for approximately 27,000 Elio vehicles. I am reservation number 1788.

I travel about 20,000 miles per year for my business. The cost savings on fuel will pay for this vehicle in less than 3 years. It's a no brainer for me.

Projected five star crash rating, roll bar and three airbags makes this vehicle as safe as any other vehicle.

This vehicle will not replace my family car. It will be my business vehicle. Over 95% of my time in this vehicle will be alone by myself.

I have sat in the prototype vehicle a couple of different times. For one person it's very spacious.

Starting in December of 2015 I will be driving my Elio around the Sandusky area. I will be more than happy to let you check it out.