The Elio is technically a motorcycle, but is a whole lot easier and safer to drive.
Most Americans--about 93%--drive to work alone. So why use a car that’s big enough for four? A new vehicle that’s half-motorcycle and half-car is designed to replace sedans and SUVs on morning commutes and help save money and emissions in the process: The Elio costs $6,800 and gets 84 miles to the gallon. It’s possible to drive 672 miles on a single tank of gas. That's the distance from New York City to Detroit.
Paul Elio, founder of Elio Motors says.
“The premise behind the concept is that most households have at least one vehicle that’s single occupant. Even if you have kids, you probably have an SUV or minivan, and then a small sedan with dust on the backseat. We can be that car.”
The Elio actually has two seats, set front to back for ideal aerodynamics, in case the driver needs to give someone a ride. Inside, it looks and acts pretty much like a car; it’s fully enclosed and has car seats and seatbelts, air bags, and options for manual or automatic transmission. It's more like a car than this somewhat similar vehicle from Lit Motors. But because it has three wheels, it’s classified under law as a motorcycle.
The motorcycle classification leads to some strange consequences--in a few states, under current law, you’d have to wear a helmet even though the vehicle is enclosed. But it also has benefits. Elio says.
“As a motorcycle, you can go in the HOV lane by yourself.”
It also meant the vehicle can come to market more quickly, since there’s less red tape involved in manufacturing a motorcycle.
Even though regulations don’t require it, the company plans to comply with all standards for cars that apply. Elio says.
“We’re engineering to achieve a 5-star crash rating in all directions. We’re going way beyond the minimum.”
Still, there are a few idiosyncrasies--the headlights, for example, can’t comply with car standards because motorcycle lights are required to be brighter by law.
Because the vehicle is so lightweight--about half the weight of a typical small car--the company can save on materials costs. Elio has also tried to optimize other steps in manufacturing to keep costs down. He says.
“We get all 34 of our suppliers together once every four to six weeks and we work on the vehicle as a group. That’s never been done before. All of these things add up to a lower price.”
When the vehicle comes to market next year, the Elio plans to have innovative financing to make the vehicle even easier to buy. Elio says.
“It’s actually cheaper to drive a brand new Elio than a clunker.”
The company will offer the option to buy the car with nothing but a special credit card for gas; every time someone buys gas, they’ll pay extra to make a car payment.
“If you buy $10 of gas, it will show up as a $30 charge on your statement--that $20 extra is your vehicle payment. As long as you drove into the dealership with something that gets 27 miles per gallon or less--and we know there are 100 million of those cars out there--you’ll be paying less, and you’ll have a brand new vehicle under warranty.”
You'll also be helping reduce pollution. Elio says.
"If you drive it 20,000 miles per year, an Elio produces less emissions than one cow’s flatulence during the same time. We’re cleaner than a cow. After 10 years of sales, we expect to save 8 billion gallons of gas."
COMMENTARY: 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. According to Paul Elio, the company hopes to ultimately achieve a five-star safety rating. 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.
Keeping Costs Low
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.”
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.
The Entrepreneur Behind The Elio
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.
Elio told The Associated Press.
“As I matured I decided that was as likely as playing in the NFL.”
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.”
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. 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.
Elio Motors Makes Progress in Helmet Exemption Legislation
Louisiana is the most recent state to declare helmet exemption exemption for the Elio, which is federally classified as an enclosed motorcycle. House Bill 218 was unanimously approved in Louisiana, where the Elio will be manufactured, in late June. New York also has an exemption on the books, allowing the Elio to be driven around the progressive state without a helmet.
Another legislative success is quickly emerging. Michigan Senate Bill 390 was recently passed, and is expected to pass through the House unanimously, following Louisiana’s lead. This is good news for the company, which will base their corporate headquarters out of the state. Louisiana, New York, and Michigan join 42 other states which allow the Elio to be driven sans helmet.
There are only 4 or 5 states left that technically require a helmet with this vehicle, since its licensed as a motorcycle. They've managed to get exemptions in numerous states already. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Among the 5 states that technically require helmets to be worn while driving the Elio, are Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Nebraska.
Elio Motors’ Vice President of Government Affairs, Joel Sheltrown says,
“We are actively working with the five helmet states’ legislators to work through any issues they may have. Given our success in the other 45 states, we are optimistic about solving any issues we may face.”
Sheltrown adds that Missouri, a helmet-state, has already identified bill sponsors and drafted legislation to exempt the Elio from their helmet laws.
Big Plans To Expand
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.
The Caddo Parrish's Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust is responsible for selling and cleaning up former General Motors properties and has agreed to sell the shuttered General Motors plant near Shreveport, La., to Elio Motors. The start-up carmaker plans to hire 1,500 new workers.
Elio Motors will rent approximately 1.5 million square feet of the 4.1 million square foot building from Industrial Realty Group, who leases the GM plant.
The deal was heralded by Louisiana politicians as an economic victory for a community devastated by GM's contraction. The state was expected to provide incentives for the project, but details were not immediately available.
I remain skeptical that Elio Motors can raise sufficient startup capital to modernize and equip their plant in Shreveport, Lousiana in time to begin production of the Elio car by fall 2015. According to Paul Elio, Elio Motors CEO, the company is trying to raise $165 million.
By comparison, Tesla Motors had to raise over $500 million, which included a $465 million direct loan from the Department of Energy, just to have sufficient capital to hire plant workers, modernize and equip their plant in Fremont, California in order to build the Roadster, their first all-electric car.
Tesla Motors required much more startup capital because the Roadster, a four-wheeled and all-electric sports car was a far more complex automobile to build, requiring parts from hundreds of vendors. The Roadster is a two-seater sportscar that weighed over 2,700 lbs, could travel about 245 miles on an electrical charge, has a top speed of 187 mph and could do 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds. The price tag: $109,000.
By comparison, the Elio is a three-wheeled car/motorcycle that uses a three-cylinder motor and weighs only 1,600 lbs, with a top speed over just over 100 mph, and a range of 672 miles (highway) on a tank of gas. The price tag: $6,800. According to Paul Elio, Elio Motors CEO, the majority of key parts and components are sourced from about 30 vendors.
If Elio Motors can raise the startup capital they need (see above), they could conceivably begin limited production in late 2015, but I doubt they can deliver 27,000 vehicles (their current pre-orders, but I wonder how many of those pre-orders are solid) in 2015. It takes time to hire plant workers, especially skilled factory workers when the U.S. auto industry doing so well, and workers will be reluctant to leave a well established, well-financed employer for a startup like Elio Motors.
Courtesy of an article dated March 31, 2014 appearing in Fast Company Exist, an article dated January 18, 2014 appearing in the Shreveport Times, an article dated September 30, 2013 appearing in Technology Tell, and an article dated January 8, 2014 appearing in USA Today