Startup automaker Elio Motors announced at the beginning of this year that they are taking over a former GM truck plant in Shreveport, Louisiana to make a three-wheel economy car they call "the next big thing in transportation." They need one pesky Louisiana law to change before they can start selling them en masse.
That's because Louisiana law considers a three-wheeler to be a motorcycle, according to KTBS. In order to drive an Elio, a buyer needs a motorcycle endorsement on their license and must wear a helmet.
This isn't terribly uncommon. Several states treat three-wheelers as motorcycles, even if they don't have mandatory helmet laws like Louisiana does. But most drivers don't have a motorcycle license or endorsement, so Elio fears this provision could keep people from buying their cars.
For this reason, they are advocating for a bill in the Louisiana State Legislature that would deem these cars an "autocycle" and remove the helmet and motorcycle endorsement requirements. Local government officials believe this bill will pass, especially since the state committed about $150 million to bring Elio to Louisiana.
Elio Motors' lobbyist claims the changes are fair since the vehicle — which supposedly will cost less than $7,000 and get 84 highway mpg out of a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine — drives more like a car than a motorcycle anyway.
Presumably, Elio will have to get similar laws changed in other states as well to bypass this issue.
It sounds like they have time to do it. Elio hasn't started making any cars yet, and they say they're five months away from even taking ownership of the GM plant. Founder Paul Elio said production won't start until early next year.
We'll see if they pull it off. When and if the company starts producing cars and hiring workers, and when they complete capital expenditures, they will qualify for tax incentives in Louisiana for as much as 10 years.
As we reported a few months ago, a previous deal to take over a Pontiac factory in Michigan fell through in 2010, and some have accused the company of peddling vaporware.
I hope for the sake of Louisiana that it won't be.