This story has been updated with new information.
All-American dreams die slowly, and Paul Elio’s — Elio Motors — clings to life as he attempts to nurse his three-wheeled car company back to health. Now the vehicles are powered by an all-electric powertrain with a “targeted” starting price of $14,900.
“We never quit working to make this dream happen,” said Paul Elio, CEO of Elio Motors, in a press release. “The market has changed, and investors and consumers are looking for innovative, environmentally conscious, low-cost electric vehicles, and we have a great option that will appeal to a very large underserved market.”
Elio, who also heads his own engineering firm, formed the company in 2009 looking to provide inexpensive, but reliable vehicles. The original Elio was a three-wheeled autocycle powered by a 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine. Initially, it was slated to cost $6,800, later rising to nearly $7,500. An email to Elio Motors had not yet been returned as of publication of this story.
The powerplant produced 70 horsepower, offering fuel economy as high as 84 mpg, but it was formally rated at 49 mpg by the EPA. The car, which was to be built at a former General Motors plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, reportedly ran from 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds.
However, it never got to full production, building several prototypes. While many assumed it quietly shuttered its operations, the company — once based in Detroit, but now headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona — is apparently mounting a comeback, pinning its hopes on a new electric powertrain and the rise of other three-wheeled vehicles from Arcimoto, Aptera and more to add legitimacy to the effort.
The new Elio
Using what appears to be the same shell, the front-wheel drive three-wheeler reportedly enjoys a 150-mile range and a top speed of 110 mph. It features the Elio Safety Management System that includes three airbags, unibody frame, anti-lock braking system and electronic stability control.
The vehicle’s 160.5 inches long with a 110-inch wheelbase. It’s 75.5 inches wide and 54.2 inches long. Most of the width comes from the front wheels and suspension as it’s a 2+1 set up like most three-wheelers in the segment.
It can handle two passengers, who sit one behind the other, just like on a motorcycle. This differs from some other three-wheelers where driver and passenger sit side-by-side. According to the company’s website, the new version will be available in rocket silver, sour apple, creamsicle, red hot, true blue, licorice and marshmallow. It will also come with a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty
The company, according to its website, plans to develop a network of “stand-alone Retail Centers in the top 60 markets across the country.” Those sites reportedly will be located in 32 states, with at least one store in each region of the country, and they’re expected to have a unique feel.
“The Elio retail experience won’t follow the crowd, but it’s certain to attract one. Think ‘genius-bar’ as opposed to in-your-face plaid jacket high pressure,” the company claims on its website.
Special “financing” method
While the company will take a full cash payment, it’s proposed a different way of allowing owners to “finance”the vehicle: a credit card.
The plan allows you to pay for your Elio over time when you charge fuel. Each time, there will be an extra charge equal to twice the fuel amount that automatically applies to the vehicle price.
“Think of it this way: For about what you have been paying to fuel your existing vehicle, you can fuel your Elio and buy it too!” the company said on the website.
Plenty of competition
The first issue the company faces is that there are several electric three-wheelers already or nearing availability, including Arcimoto, Aptera, Electra Meccanica and Daymak’s Spiritus, plus others, like Sondors, which has a prototype, but isn’t on the road yet.
Arcimoto, which is based in Oregon, is the most like the Elio, in that passengers sit one behind the other. Unlike the Elio, it’s not completely enclosed, but it also offers a delivery variants that makes it appealing, especially for last-mile or local delivery needs.
Launched earlier this year, it reports a top speed of 75 mph and a “city range” of 102 miles. Starting at $17,900, they’re currently they’re available in Washington, California, Florida and, of course, Oregon with “more states to come.”
Aptera roared back to life last year with a new formula: solar panels to help with charging.
“With Aptera’s Never Charge technology, you are driven by the power of the sun. Our built-in solar array keeps your battery pack topped off and anywhere you want to go, you just go,” said Co-Founder Chris Anthony in a statement.
Never Charge is built into every Aptera, designed to capture enough sunlight to travel more than 11,000 miles annually in most parts of the U.S. Aside from the solar cells dotting the top side of the vehicle, the Aptera vehicle is made of lightweight composites, allowing its unique body shape to slip through the air with an unheard-of drag coefficient (Cd) of .13. The result is about 45 miles of range without plugging in.
It’s powered by two liquid-cooled electric motors, the Aptera races from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, topping out at 110 mph. All-wheel drive and vectorized torque control provide the driver with plenty of stability and excelling handling, the company claims.
Pricing is between $25,900 and $46,900, depending on which spec you choose. Some of the models have already sold out, the company said.
Change is not a guarantee of success
In addition to competition, the company faces other headwinds as it attempts a comeback, including making the wrong choice initially.
“(It’s) what they should have been all along,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst, Guidehouse Insights.
Abuelsamid wasn’t particularly optimistic about the shift to an electric powertrain, “particularly in North America. There’s just not much of a market for a vehicle of that type. Maybe in India … in India and Southeast Asia there is a lot more demand for this type of vehicle. If they were going to sell it there, they might be able to find a market for it.”
However, even that comes with issues as he notes it would be unlikely it could be built in the U.S. — it’s still scheduled to be produced in the Shreveport plant — and still be profitable. Still, there is a bit of hope, he suggested, if expectations are scaled back.
“These guys have been kicking around for a long time. They’re like (Aptera), which was around for a while about 10 years ago and is now back again,” he said. “I think there’s a niche for those types of vehicles, but I don’t expect it to ever be a huge market in North America. It’s got to coexist with so many other large vehicles. People here don’t want small vehicles, they want larger ones, like SUVs. People who are into motorcycles who might be interested. Europe is another potential market where you have a chance.”
The “old” Elio
While dormant, the gas-powered model may not be entirely dead — it’s now the Elio-G and there’s a chance it could return.
Elio Motors secured more 65,000 reservations for the (Elio-G) gas-powered vehicle, proving the demand for its unique styling and design. Once the electric version is produced, Elio plans to potentially launch the Elio-G for consumers looking for a gas-powered alternative. There is no word on whether or not those reservation holders are still eligible for either the electric- or gas-powered versions.