Elio Motors’ first car is gearing up to be the most drastic change in the industry since the invention of the cupholder. Here are the figures: 84 MPG, 5-star crash test rating, 3 wheels, 2 seats, and a reported price of $6,800. Sound too good to be true? Here are a few reasons why it might be.
Yes, the Elio’s 3-wheeled design makes for a striking appearance, allowing people to pester the prospective owners with questions like “Where’s the rest of it?” and “When is the cast of Family Matters doing a reunion show?”, but there’s a very good reason why Elio Motors decided to make do with one less wheel than your average Ford Pinto: it’s technically a motorcycle, which means that in most states, you’ll need a motorcycle license to drive one.
Hell, in some states, you’ll be required to have a helmet on while driving, which should put quite a dent in the potential pool of buyers. But don’t drop your pumpkin spice lattes just yet, there’s more!
With the Elio’s motorcycle classification, there is no federal mandate to actually crash test it to make it legal to drive on US roads, which is why the 5-star crash test rating is theoretical, as no actual testing has been done. That means if you buy an Elio, there’s a good chance that you’ll be moonlighting as a crash test dummy without knowing it, which should be pretty familiar if you drive any car made by GM in the last 20 years.
On top of the lofty and unfounded claim of perfect safety ratings, there’s the lofty and unfounded claim of the environmental impact of its fuel-sipping powerplant. Here’s an excerpt from Elio:
This is a very green vehicle – and we’re not just talking about the color. Yes, it gets an absurd amount of MPG on the highway, but you’ll be doing your share of city driving, too. Fear not, with its projected city rate of 49 MPG, you’ll be consuming only 1/3 of what the average American vehicle consumes.
Keep in mind they don’t mention emissions at all, because the motorcycle designation legally allows them to forego all that messy and expensive emissions equipment, like evaporative emissions canisters, exhaust gas recirculation, and even the staple of cleaner air technology in cars - the catalytic converter.
What this potentially means is that without these necessary additions, you could have something that pollutes the atmosphere as if its sole purpose was to fingerblast the ozone layer. It has the clean-air restrictions of a chinese-made, gas-powered leaf blower. (Elio, for their part, says the vehicle will meet or exceed stringent California emissions requirements.)
Yes, motorcycles have this same issue, but the majority of motorcycle owners don’t use them as daily commuter vehicles and the climate in most of the country prohibit their practical use year-round. If Elio really does have up to date, emissions-compliant equipment on board, that will truly be an amazing feat. However, something tells me that this is a far stretch, because...
If one does a Google search on “Elio Motors engine”, you’ll have a few options that pop up - the Suziki G10/Geo Metro 3-cylinder engine that you see here, and the rendering of one Elio plans to design and build in-house. That’s the one that allegedly gets 84 miles per gallon on the highway, and that’s the one that hasn’t been implemented yet. See the problem?
In all of the preliminary reviews and first look videos of the car, the prototype vehicles have different production engines, none with the proprietary Elio powerplant, and that should be particularly troubling if you pre-ordered one of these things, as the proposed start of production is summer 2015, and their engine designs and testing are far from complete.
New engine development, testing, and tooling takes years, and for Elio to put such a close deadline on production, it’s all but impossible for them to fulfill their initial promises, as was the case when they delayed the car again and again.
But what if one could develop and engine in that time? Well, it turns out...
In order to get the ball rolling on this project, Elio Motors needs about $200 million. Yes, folks, starting your own boutique, affordable car company is very, very expensive. As of five months ago, the company raised $55 million, in large part due to its successful pre-order campaign, which left a monetary gap of $145 million, to be filled by the middle of next year, all on the hopes of few prototypes that aren’t indicative of the final product and by some reviewers, “going to need a considerable amount of work”.
As it stands now, there are 35,000 pre-orders for the trike, which does help with fundraising, but even in the best case scenario, that leaves about $100 million needed to actually start production, and in my opinion, the second people start pulling out en masse because of years of delays and underachievement, the company will be the embodiment of the vaporware title it so often denies.
In this case, the only thing that could realistically bring potential buyers is a killer marketing campaign. Unfortunately...
Elio Motors, with such a limited budget, doesn’t have the disposable funds to throw away on a multi-tiered advertising campaign. What they’ve chosen to do is to use word of mouth and report to news, bloggers, and take to YouTube and Facebook for their marketing, which has arguably worked...sort of.
The problem lies in the fact that instead of attacking particular market segments like every other car manufacturer does, Elio Motors throws spaghetti at a wall and sees what sticks. They literally compare their cars to an impossible perpetual motion machine, talk about performance using words like “liquid cooled engine”, and note the fact that their cars fit 95 percent of all people. Wow! A car made for people to sit in! We truly are living in the future!
When watching this hokey trailer featuring a prototype of a prototype, one must ask themselves, who exactly is this geared towards? They’re completely vague about certain information, like the performance of the car, by saying “This vehicle will get you on highways faster than you can say “Yeehaw”, unless you’re one of those rare people that can utter ‘yeehaw’ in less than 10 seconds. The ridiculous trailer also alludes to women stopping in the middle of the road just to look at you in your irresistible Elio, dubbing it “Elio envy.” Yes, seriously.
The amazingly enthusiastic announcer then says you can get groceries, go shopping, or take your kid to soccer practice in this thing, but may God have mercy on your soul if you decide to do more than one of those things in one trip. The Elio has enough luggage space for one small carry-on bag, and enough room for a set of golf clubs if your kid doesn’t mind staying at home so you can fold the seat down, while you quietly fantasize about running away with your caddy to a place where they don’t judge.
Elio Motors bill it as an “and” car, meaning that it’s an addition to another car, that I would assume functions as an actual car, and not some spaceless mid-life-crisis fashion statement.
Since the company doesn’t want to narrow their market down, by their own criteria, I’ve taken it upon myself to write a description of the person who would likely buy one. This person:
- Has another car
- Has a motorcycle license and helmet
- Has no desire to drive other people/has no friends
- Has no family
- Has a maximum of one child, NO BABIES.
- Doesn’t care about performance
- Doesn’t care about refinement/noise level
- Doesn’t care about ride quality/comfort
- Doesn’t know the difference between emissions and fuel consumption
- Desperately needs attention/female companionship
- Has the disposable income to donate thousands to vaporware on a second car, but cheap enough that they can’t afford to buy anything else
- Has AAA, because there’s no spare
That’s an awfully small window. But there’s something even more damning that all of the previous points combined:
The truly epic game changers in the car industry are the ones that add functionality, not replace it and tell you what you don’t need. Tesla is a great example. Their Model S, on top of being a stellar electric car, has more space than an SUV, has a better weight distribution than anything this side of a Mclaren P1, can out-accelerate anything in its price range by a fair margin, can seat 7, has the best safety ratings of any car ever, has all amenities of a luxury saloon, can be taken to a Walmart parking lot or a gala event, and doesn’t use one drop of gasoline to do it. The only things you give up by buying that car are your preconceived notions, and of course your cash, because it’s a premium vehicle.
With the Elio, you have to always be in economy mode - you can’t take too many things or too many people. Here’s something an Elio owner will never say: “Sure, I’ll take you guys to the airport”. It’s not much smaller than a subcompact, and just as wide, which makes parking not as easy as in a Smart Fortwo or Fiat 500 because the Elio is longer and doesn’t have a rear window. You need to have another car to do regular people things, as this vehicle is nothing but a novelty.
It’s the new Segway, promising dreams on par with Solar Roadways without actually outlining any potential issues with the logistics of such an endeavor. The Elio three wheeler is the KONY 2012 of cars, and it’s something I just can’t get on board with. It’s built on broken promises, appeals to emotion, and vague promotional messages, when in reality it’s just quirky, likable, and affordable vaporware.
I’ll end on the immortal words of fellow Car Buying author Tom McParland, as he draws parallels between Elio Motors and Ellio’s Pizza:”Elio is not quite a car, just like Ellio’s is not quite pizza. One will satisfy your transportation needs while the others will satisfy your hunger...you will not be happy with either.”
(Photo Credit: ElioMotors.com)
If you want actual bargains on cars cheaper than an Elio, check this out:
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.