By Allen Penticoff
With gasoline prices well below two dollars for the foreseeable future, why would anyone invest in a small “car” that gets 84 miles per gallon on the highway without the use of hybrid technology? For one, the Elio three-wheeled car is sleek and cute. It will definitely save fuel and may be ideal as an urban transport vehicle – although I certainly expect to see them on the highway, just as SmartForTwo two-seat cars travel the fast lane.
Despite low fuel prices, even if the stuff was free, we need to keep the exhaust out of our air and the oil in the ground. Most of this cheap oil is being sold to us by people who don’t particularly like us. So whatever we can do to defund anti-Americanism is a benefit as well. In our transition to a hydrogen and electric powered future, vehicles like the $6,800-$7,600 Elio are encouraging us to go in the right direction.
The Elio is a two-passenger car-like motorcycle brought to life by Paul Elio, founder of Elio Motors headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. While still awaiting funds to go into full-scale production at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, the Elio may become the U.S. made vehicle with the highest domestic content – with 90 percent U.S. sourcing and manufacturing expected while employing 1,500 workers in Shreveport in the beginning.
There have been many three-wheeled vehicles brought to market over the history of the automobile. The cute little refrigerator-doored Italian Isetta bubble car comes to mind first. And these little commuter cars have been popular in Europe and other places where the cost of fuel has been expensive. It is a step up from an open motorcycle in that you don’t get wet when it’s raining. Indeed the U.S. government considers three-wheeled vehicles to be motorcycles. This has allowed past makers of these machines to circumvent the normal safety equipment requirements of an automobile. This is where the Elio is very different – it has all the safety and comfort features of a four-wheeled car.
Using a four-cylinder 0.9 liter 55 horsepower front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive to propel this 1,250 pound vehicle, it is anticipated they will get 49 mpg city, where it’s slippery aerodynamics doesn’t help that much and no conventional vehicle gets good mileage while going nowhere at a stoplight. But it is moving along all the side-door crash beams, three air bags, heater, defroster, air conditioner, stereo, seat belts, power windows, stability control, a windshield wiper and a reinforced roll cage – certainly not your average “motorcycle.” Elio Motors is pressing all the states to make an exception to their motorcycle regulations that require the wearing of a helmet and the possession of a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license. They have accomplished this in most states already.
The passenger rides behind the driver. A small luggage space behind the passenger will hold a carry-on sized bag, or with the seat back folded down, a set of golf clubs in a bag. Since the vast majority of our miles driven are alone, it makes perfect sense to have a comfortable minimal vehicle whose simple purpose is to move one person from Point A to Point B. Considering the low expected price point, they will be popular with students and young persons new to the job market due to a minimal outlay in cash and fuel.
They certainly look like they would be fun to drive – Mr. Green Car could see himself owning one as he has long thought designs like this were the logical way to get around. As for performance, the Elio is expected to have acceleration of 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds – not blazing, but pretty good for its fuel economy. Top speed is 100 mph, so it can certainly handle a 70 mph trip on the interstate. I think I’d want one in a bright orange or yellow – you’ll be a bit hard to see otherwise.
The Elio should be in production already, but there have been snags in the $300+ million in financing needed. But reports are that they are awaiting approval of a $185 million loan from the Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicles, while the Italian company Comau is helping with refurbishment of the plant equipment and sale. Some crowd funding is hopefully going to enable the factory doors to open this year. I hope they succeed and get this neat little car rolling. Perhaps one will be at the upcoming Chicago Auto Show – over 49,000 people have reserved a spot to buy one so I expect before long we’ll be seeing these sleek little cars on our roads.
For those interesting in seeing video of the Elio in action visit eliomotors.com/gallery/.