The party line: A divorced dad of three boys, Paul Elio felt "ridiculous" commuting to work in his minivan after the kids had gone back to mom. So, with gas prices soaring in 2008, he conceived the three-wheel namesake, a motorcycle being manufactured to act like a car.
Pledging 2.9 litres/100 km highway/4.8 litres/100 km city, and a sticker price of $6,800 (U.S.), the Elio had been scheduled to roll out in the United States later this year, thereafter in Canada. Production's been pushed to 2016 as the company looks for up to $185-million in financing.
Elio dubs his creation an "and car" – a complement opposed to a substitute to your SUV – meant for solo commuting while having the capacity to carry a passenger in a tight back seat. Slightly wider than half a Mazda3, the vehicle is equipped with a concealed roll cage and three air bags. Inside a stationary model on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, the feeling behind the wheel felt cockpit-like and low to the ground, as though sitting in an IndyCar. One unique, cool feature: a dashboard tablet dock, enabling your iPad to run the infotainment.
"I was talking to a guy with a three-year-old Maserati whose son was trying to persuade him to trade it in because infotainment sucks," Elio, an automotive engineer, says with a laugh. "This way, your vehicle's infotainment stays relevant."
For those thinking the Elio is yet another – albeit strangest looking – creation to emerge from the hybrid/hydrogen fuel-cell/solar/plug-in movement, in fact the small displacement engine is gasoline-powered, a three-cylinder about the size of a lawnmower, being built from scratch.
The business model departs from the norm, too. Elio is to be sold in 120 strip-mall stores, Tesla-style, and be distributed from seven regional "marshalling centres", Amazon-style. The bulk of the vehicle is to be assembled in Shreveport, La., at a facility where GM once built the Hummer, with options added at the distribution centre. There will be two models, one with automatic transmission, one manual. Customers may order options individually rather than in trims. "If you want the orange colour with automatic transmission, power leather seats and blind-spot detection, we can deliver it to you the next day," Elio says.
Will this company succeed? Elio Motors cites U.S. Census Bureau stats indicating that more than 75 per cent of Americans drive solo to work, and unattributed information that 95 million cars on the road are on average 11 years old and getting 13.8 litres/100 km. So, theoretically, there's a market. The company claims to have received nearly 40,000 pre-orders though, as of this writing, the next spot on the production line, No. 12,800, could be reserved online at eliomotors.com by committing $1,000.
As with the major manufacturers trying to sell $40,000 hybrids, America's $2 per gallon gasoline may be zapping momentum from Elio's word-of-mouth/social-media movement. More problematically, while Geico is already offering insurance, states classifying it as a motorcycle may require the driver to wear a helmet, according to various reports.
Looks: The front wheels extend from the nose like a crocodile's legs and the aerodynamic body is shaped like a bloated cucumber. With this vehicle, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Interior: A tablet dock lets drivers plug an iPad into the dashboard for personal entertainment. Change tablets? No problem, the system adjusts. The dashboard lighting can be adjusted to a colour of preference. The front is designed to accommodate a 6-foot-1, 220-pound person. There's room for your dog in the back but a medium-sized adult would feel his head pinched against the ceiling.
Performance: Elio commissioned German company IAV to develop a new 0.9-litre, three-cylinder internal combustion engine, which is to be demonstrated in Plymouth, Mich., on Feb 6. IAV developed several components to suit the Elio including the cylinder block, cylinder heads, CAM cover, front cover, oil pan, crankshaft, camshaft, valve train, pistons, connecting rods, bearings and water pump. The emphasis is on manufacturing simplicity and fuel efficiency. Elio claims the vehicle will go from 0-to-100 km/h in less than 10 seconds with top speed greater than 160 km/h.
Technology: Standard features include power windows and locks, three air bags, one auxiliary port, ABS and traction control. A 30-litre tank feeds the engine.
Cargo: There's room for and a couple of grocery bags in the trunk. Fold down the back seat, there's room to squeeze a set of golf clubs, maybe a hockey bag.
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