Company Profiles

Elio Motors to offer three-wheel car with 80 mpg fuel efficiency

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Created in Phoenix in 2008 by Engineer Paul Elio, now the company’s CEO, Elio Motors plans to begin mass production of its three-wheeled automobile sometime midyear 2014. To date, the company has raised some $50 million in investment capital and intends to produce some 250,000 cars per year to start, with advance orders for the car coming in at around 3,000.

Born in Arizona, made in Louisiana

According to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that the company’s manufacturing facilities would be located in his state. These gasoline-powered vehicles will be produced in a renovated section of the former General Motors Shreveport plant. Occupying more than 1 million square feet of the former plant and employing some 1,500 workers, Elio Motors will produce three-wheeled cars capable of “attaining a highway mileage rating of more than 80 mpg,” according to Businessweek.

Of course, as one might expect, the vehicle is a bit unconventional. Some have equated it to a motorcycle, as it also fits only one other passenger, and some states will classify it as such, but to all appearances, it is a car. What makes it quite unlike any other car on the market (as well as its three wheels) is its low price tag. The first cars to roll off the assembly line in Louisiana will be priced at a mere $6,800, according to the New York Times.

Car’s design and features

The new vehicle, as yet unnamed, will feature a 50-horsepower 3-cylinder engine, as well as air conditioning, power windows and doors, AM-FM radio and an “automated manual” transmission, according to the New York Times. Because of the tandem seating, meaning the passenger sits behind the driver, there is no rear door. Nor do the back windows come down, they are merely in-place glass. There’s also some question about whether there will even be a rear window in the actual automobile, given the vehicle’s unique design, but final production details are still being worked out.

The final vehicle is intended to have acceleration of zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, with a top speed approaching 110 mph. The driver is seated low in the vehicle, akin to a Ford Mustang, but that is adjustable. For those who have test-driven the prototype, it appears that once inside the vehicle, things are much more roomy than one might expect, even for the back seat passenger.

The car’s aerodynamic look (two front wheels and a single in the rear) is akin to the Edison2, an innovative prize-winning design, although that vehicle has four wheels. The Edison2 was created to be a simple, efficient and environmentally sound light-car and was lauded for its innovative approach at the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition.

Motivation for creating the Elio vehicle

Founder Paul Elio suggested to the New York Times the motivation for creating his car stemmed from 2008 gas prices. They just kept rising, noted Elio, and instead of simply complaining about the situation, he decided to do something about it. As a budding engineer with a degree from Michigan’s GMI Engineering and Management Institute (today known as Kettering University), Elio believed he could make cars more fuel efficient and reduce drag by placing a vehicle’s sole passenger behind the driver.

Moving forward and potential setbacks

While the Elio vehicle has yet to pass safety inspection tests (for which it expects to gain a five-star rating) or be certified by the EPA regarding its fuel mileage in actual tests, the biggest hurdle facing the vehicle will likely come from its classification. While Elio Motors considers its creation to be a car, many states are likely to certify it as a motorcycle instead. That may result in the need for some drivers to get an additional license from their state and/or wear a helmet while driving, despite the car’s airbag system.

It may be hard to believe such an unusual vehicle is going forward so quickly with so many issues still in doubt, but for Paul Elio, there’s nothing but open road ahead.

More about this author: Christine Zibas

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