Mr. Elio showed off his newest Elio Motors P5 prototype today at the LA Auto Show, surrounded by an applauding crowd of freaks, fools, and local amateurs. Here is the halfway not-a-car that they so desperately desire.

I cannot stress enough how packed the crowd was with those cast off by the rest of society, desperately hoping to cling to something, anything, to keep them going. Utilikilts, white people dreadlocks, and bluetooth headsets were the norm. Wide, bright eyes staring at camcorder screens, recording for five-view youtube pages hailing a new savior for their economy, their country, their life.

Elio is supported by individual deposits of a few hundred dollars down on a $6,800 final vehicle. It was a crowd of the easily suggestible. More than that, everyone seemed to have a hairbrained theory or scheme of their own. I stood and watched as Mr. Elio himself had to listen a big, bland, divorced-looking dude talking about some environmental bicycle or I don’t know what. Elio’s face could not have looked more flat.

The feeling surrounding Elio has changed. It used to feel like Kony 2012 in a car—half-baked and never going to happen. Now that it’s been years that Elio has been around, for years, it has a kind of momentum. It might be weird and out-of-place, but it could very much happen.


Their financial reliance on money down and government funding doesn’t sound particularly sustainable or viable, but weirder things have happened.

Elio took the cover off this three-wheeled vehicle to show that it’s the first time Elio has put its own engine in its own car.


What’s weird is that you can tell that this is still a project rooted in the swirling toilet bowl of the Great Recession—that ‘Elio’ engine is actually a redesigned version of the three-cylinder engine out of the Geo Metro, the car that was so beloved back in ‘08, when Elio bought into it.


In all of these years, 0.9 liter has become so extensively reworked that “the only thing that’s the same is that it has three cylinders,” as Mr. Elio put it.

Still! Look at how low-rent this thing looks, inherently unbalanced like all inline-threes. They bent the dipstick to fit under the hood.


The Elio will be built in a factory GM ditched back in ‘08 as well. The tear-stained tinge of the American economy shredding to pieces still lingers on this economy car.


Only it’s not technically a car—this is, as Mr. Elio explains—classified by the US Government as a motorcycle.

Also of note, the Elio is to be officially serviced not at a dealer, but at Pep Boys.


It is not a glamorous machine.

It reminds me of the little plastic-bodied cars that you see running around Italy and France for invalids and ex-drunk drivers. Those things can be driven without a driver’s license because, like the Elio, they aren’t classified as cars.


And you know what? America could use some demi-cars like that. We could use a not-quite-automobile for the marginalized people of this country. There’s a long way up the pay scale to even snatch a Honda or a Nissan these days.

Judging by the fervent throng in front of this little commuter pod, there may be room in the market for something willfully devoid of any of the normalcy of the American auto market.

Maybe we could use this three-quarter wheeled, three-quarter engined, three-quarter car.


Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove

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