Elio Motors Has Spent More Time Lobbying For Three-Wheel Cars Than Building Actual Cars

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Elio Motors was founded in 2009 for an ambitious effort: bringing 3-wheeled, fully-enclosed trikes capable of achieving 84 miles per gallon to market for just $6,800. The company began taking “refundable reservation agreements” as much as $1,000 in 2013, for a debut on July 2014. Then the third quarter of 2015. Then mid-2016—right around now, actually. You still can’t buy one—but the company has spent years changing the laws in nearly every state in hopes that someday, you might be able to drive it.

It’s been an ambitious effort.


In 2012, just 11 states had provisions for “autocycles.” Today Elio announced that four years later, 30 more states have joined the fray, for a total of 41: Rhode Island and New Jersey were the most recent to set definitions for autocycles. Eight more states are reviewing their own legislation. If they do follow through, Elio will have paved the way to tap a non-motorcycling market across every state.

Here’s what the company said:

“We’ve made great strides in helping draft legislation that defines the autocycle category,” said Elio Motors founder and CEO, Paul Elio. “Harmonized state and federal legislation not only allows ease of movement across state jurisdictions for autocycles, but it also satisfies one of our key ‘Must Haves’ of uncompromised safety by defining higher safety requirements than what currently exists in the motorcycle category.”


An autocycle has a steering wheel, a conventional bucket-type seat, and no more than three wheels. It is fully enclosed. It would meet both car safety standards (anti-lock brakes, stability control) and motorcycle standards (lights, mirrors).

The goal has been to make it so the owner would not need to spend the time and money obtaining a motorcycle license to drive one, nor would he or she have to wear a helmet: in a vehicle with crumple zones, a roll cage, three-point seat belts, airbags, and a roof, what’s the point?


“The Elio is not a motorcycle. We’re creating a new segment.” company CEO Paul Elio told Jalopnik. “The Walkman didn’t make home stereos obsolete. The Elio won’t make cars obsolete, but be its own unique thing.”

A roof is not always a requirement, however. In some states, an autocycle the Morgan Three-Wheeler and the Polaris Slingshot, but not the rolling-hairhat Can-Am Spyder—motorcycle-style handlebars disqualify it—would be valid to operate without a motorcycle license. (Such is the case in Pennsylvania, according to recently-proposed legislation.) The Campagna T-Rex, shockingly still in production, would count. This thing would count. If Toyota builds its i-Road, it would also be classified as an autocycle.


But for now, the definition seems “custom-made for Elio,” said the East Valley Tribune in 2014. In the state that Elio Motors calls home, just 14 percent of Arizonans have a motorcycle license, and for company lobbyist Joel Sheltrown, that is a problem. “I want for our customers to be able to drive without fear of getting a citation,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to take that chance.”


So in 41 states, anyone with a driver’s license can drive an Elio now!

The question now is: when can they?